Who is your favorite crime novel writer

Roger Smith: "Apartheid is still an economic reality"


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ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Smith, are you sensitive to smell?

Roger Smith:(laughs) Smells are strong, maybe even the strongest triggers of memories. South Africa is a country with pungent smells. You can smell the flowers, but also fear and fear.

ZEIT ONLINE: In 1994, eighteen years ago, apartheid was lifted. Some see social inequality as the new apartheid. How do you assess the situation?

Smith: Although apartheid ended legally, it is still an economic reality. It is sad and a shame for South Africa that it is black and mixed races those who suffered the most under apartheid are still doing the worst. Very few have benefited from the changes over the past twenty years. Some things have even gotten worse. South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. The time after the liberation in 1994 was wonderful. For me too. I've always been a leftist. But after Mandela came politicians who were less heroic and "more normal" to power. They focused on their own narrow interests and not on improving the living conditions of the masses.

ZEIT ONLINE: Your new novelSilent death plays largely in the so-called Cape Flats. What makes this area such an interesting place?

Smith:Cape Town is the only city in South Africa where the majority of the population is not black but is of multi-ethnic origin. Of the approximately seven million people in the greater Cape Town area, four million are mixed , around two million white and the rest black. I grew up in Johannesburg and know Soweto and other townships. As bad as apartheid was, the mood in these black settlements was always optimistic.


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ZEIT ONLINE: Do you observe new forms of racism, for example on the part of the ANC?

Smith: There is no doubt in some groups, but above all a great deal of anger. The Reconciliation Committee was a fantastic place to bring perpetrators and victims together, but there were plenty of people who longed for more severe punishment for the guilty.

ZEIT ONLINE: A main character in Silent death is the policeman Vernon, also "Vermin" ( Vermin, editor's note ) called. He murders when it suits him, beats and blackmailed. Can he be seen as representative of the South African police force?

Smith: The sad truth is that the police machine is not working. There are several reasons for this. During the apartheid regime, she served as a watchdog for those in power. White, brutal racists were in power. Black cops are at the helm now, but they are not well trained. The experienced, apolitical criminal investigators of the old days mostly left the police, often for ideological reasons, also because they were not promoted.

ZEIT ONLINE: And what about the police today?

Smith: Police officers are paid so badly that they have to generate additional income. Police work is insanely dangerous. A patrol in the townships is shot at because they are on the road with flashing lights. It's easy for a young, idealistic police officer to end up in the gangs. The statistics say: 80 to 90 percent of them are linked in one way or another to the gangs in Cape Flats. The police are corrupt and ineffective. Unfortunately that's how it is.

Two years ago the national police chief was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for gang crimes. His successor had to leave four months ago because of corruption. And those are the top cops! What can you say about a corporal in the Flats. So it was never my idea police procedurals to write like the Swedes: A few good cops and a few bad ones operate in a functioning legal system.

ZEIT ONLINE: In Silent death the young detective Erasmus is pursuing Vernon for corruption. But when he gets the opportunity to put pressure on a rich white software developer, he seems to be following in Vernon's footsteps himself.