Story of forgotten massacre wins Sunday Times non-fiction award

Vivien Horler

Cape Town writer Mignonne Breier has won the 2022 Sunday Times Literary Award for Non-Fiction for her searing book about a little-known massacre by police in East London’s Duncan Village almost 10 years before Sharpeville.

The book is Bloody Sunday: The nun, the Defiance Campaign and South Africa’s secret massacre, published by Tafelberg last year. (Read my 22021 review here: Uncovering the terrible truth of a secret massacre)

It describes the lead-up to the killings that took place at an ANC Youth League event in November 1952 and their devastating fall-out. The killings were never formally investigated.

The award, presented in partnership with Exclusive Books, was given to Breier in Johannesburg on October 27.

Tshidiso Moletsane won the fiction prize for Junx (Umuzi).

Griffin Shea, chair of the judging panel for the non-fiction prize, said: “For a moment when we are trying to figure out how the country, and the world, have ended up such a mess, Breier’s Bloody Sunday reminds us that things were always messy.

“True to her journalistic tact, she quotes others to convey those meanings she wants to get across. She quotes Njabulo Ndebele in a speech he gave at the anniversary of the massacre: ‘The more we tell the story of what we did, we create the possibility that through our efforts we can create the future that we still desire’.”

The official death toll was eight people killed by police gunfire and bayonet and two people killed by a mob in retaliation, including Irish nun and medical doctor, Sister Aidan Quinlan, who lived and worked in Duncan Village.

Today it is believed between 80 and 200 died that day, most buried quietly by their families, who feared arrest if they sought help at hospitals.

Breier said: “I’m thrilled that Bloody Sunday has received this recognition and that more people will find it now. There is a lot in our history that has been covered up – both sides committed violence, but nobody wants to present an unheroic story.

“So, the story got buried. We can learn a few things from our past, reflecting on our mistakes so we don’t repeat them in the future.”

  • Moletsane took home the fiction prize for Junx (Umuzi). Judges called this debut novel “a tour de force. Bold, raw and surprisingly elegant Gonzo-style writing”. Moletsane’s  story begins at a party in Dobsonville.

Both writers won R100 000.









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