After countless meetings with lawyers, record executives and journalists, the Linda family will finally receive some royalties for their father’s masterpiece, Mbube.  However, one question remains unresolved -who will pay them reparations for the years they spent in poverty?

The narrative has been that they were poor because their father, composer of one of the most widely recorded melodies of all time, was never recognised or compensated for his brilliance. I am sure many journalists thought themselves geniuses for recognising this “irony” but, truthfully speaking the Linda sisters did not languish in poverty because their father had not received royalty cheques. The Linda sisters remained impoverished because they had, just like their father, been disenfranchised by that thing that happened (as if by magic) called apartheid. That thing that most South African’s-including those who would later defend Linda- let happen.

In his seminal piece, In the Jungle, Malan chronicles the genesis of Mbube from its inception as a masictanya melody to its most profitabele, and final reprise in the Lion King as In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle. The characters and charactures are terrific-from duplicitous record executives to morally compelled lawyers, and jiving labourers. It reads like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking bird and would, without a doubt, make a blockbuster biopic.

However, the only  mistake Malan makes is that he talks much about the  villains and the  antagonists, and even “the local black bourgeoisie” who had a distaste for Linda’s style of music,but there is little discussion of Linda‘s life as a migrant worker. It was, after all, this life that had inspired songs like Yetulisgqoko” (“Take off your hat”, Gallo GE 887) which recall treatment by Pass Office officials. The writer forgets to mention that proverbial backdrop against which all of this took place, and the quiet protagonist who only reveals their true identity in the end-that white South African.

For many, it is all about those people from overseas who did that bad thing to Linda, but how does one imagine that a man who did not have his human rights protected would have had music rights to anything. It would be wrong to say that no exploitation took place on the part of Gallo Records or RCA or even American composer David Weiss. None the less, the fact is that not a single South African who could really do anything acted for Linda until years later, much like Howie Richmond and Al Brackman, whom had nothing “preventing him from making a claim on his (Linda) behalf”.

The only thing worse than the blame-game, is the let’s-shift-the-blame-game. Why was it Richmond or Brackman’s responsibility to ensure that Linda was protected? Malan himself describes how “even though they had no legal obligation”, the two should have acted on Linda’s behalf. The same could be said for the millions of South African’s who failed to act against that unjust system. It was that system which meant that Linda could have no equitable recourse. Apparently, allowing the exploitation of black people is only bad when other people do it. In fact the only time white South Africans were involved in the misfortune was when they came to the rescue.

Malan applauds that “young Afrikanner lawyer” who years later “devoted countless hours” to correcting this injustice and without whom none of the recourse would have been possible. We cannot deny that what the young man did was “good” but it was not a good deed. Why is it that for pale people it is “the administering of justice” or “the honourable thing to do”, but for the brown it is seen as a kind deed. In reality this was due legal action which someone had to initiate eventually, and work that was rightfully Linda’s. Even all those eloquent articles that emerged from the controversy were not acts of kindness they were good journalistic practices-uncovering the truth at any cost. There is  a sense that what had been done was morally outstanding in one way or another, like the white lady who so “honourably” called the police when her neighbour, Chris Hani, had been gunned down in his driveway.

In light of this apparent act of kindness, why should South African’s pay reparations to the Linda family for the years they spent in paucity. Why should we ask where Malan was at the time of the crime? It is not as though he was responsible for brokering the dodgy deals that meant Linda would never receive full compensation for his work.

The answer is patently obvious and yet thus far no writer, definitely not Malan, has been willing to accept this truth.  No South African has been willing to accept that whether they were sunbathing at luxury resorts, rubbing shoulders with those sinister “architects of apartheid”, or very simply getting on with their lives, they were part of the reason why Linda died almost as penniless as he was when he was born. His children could have had better prospects for their lives. They could have been allowed to get an education, and could have had the chance to make something of even the little they had. Maybe that $12 000 would even have been the pittance that it really is or they would have made the claim themselves. In this alternate plot, all they would have been fighting for was the memory of their father.

We would like to believe that this account has been addressed, but the story of Solomon Linda, forces us to visit the possibility that today is yesterdays chronic hangover-throbbing and uncomfortable.Stories do not begin with prefaces or end with post-scripts; they extend beyond those pages and take on a new form and a life of their own. If you are a Malan, or even Hendrickson they may haunt you. These are not characters, they are human lives-they are the culmination of actions or the failure to act. These are trajectories that no amount of writing or reparations could ever undo. It is all very simply, too little too late.