Can Jacob Zuma speak Afrikaans

CRIME No landscape painting, but gripping tension - the successful South African author Deon Meyer and his recently published book, "Cobra"

Meyer does not want to use the stereotype of the violent South Africa


Bennie Griessel examines the crime scene smelly and wrinkled. The guest house of a winery on the Cape, two well-trained types lie in their blood, around them cartridge cases with enigmatic snake engraving. A ravaged bedroom. No trace of its resident, a foreign scientist. Which means anger, much worse than a local dead. For Griessel, the alcoholic who has been dry for more than 400 days, this is also the greatest temptation. Especially since he still has problems with the task force between his legs since he has been living with his girlfriend, the famous singer Alexa.


Afrikaans is spoken in the books of Deon Meyer, the great South African thriller. People address themselves as “Mevrou” and “Meneer”, and Griessel's colleagues at the “Valke”, the falcons, the special police department for capital crimes, are black, white or colored. Some, like his perpetually teasing colleague Vaughn Cupido, also master the simple "Kaaps-Afrikaans" of the Cape Coloreds. Some speak English, some Xhosa or Zulu, like the ambitious Commissioner Mbali Kaleni. The German translation often states which language is currently being spoken, but the flow comes across surprisingly well.

The local flavor does not detract from Meyer's worldwide success; meanwhile it is read enthusiastically not only in Europe but also in the USA. In 1994, when post-apartheid South Africa emerged, Meyer was the first to write in the crime genre. And he still believes in the “Rainbow Nation” project to this day - despite all the disillusionment and its dwindling radiance, also domestically.

The 2010 soccer World Cup has long been forgotten. Now South Africa is making a name for itself with hair-raising corruption cases. Or with the massacre of striking platinum miners in August 2012 by the police and the inconsequential investigation of the events. Or racist attacks and, most recently, tumults in parliament in connection with the multi-million dollar renovation of a private villa owned by Prime Minister Jacob Zuma at state expense. Zuma's nepotism is hard to miss. During the work on "Cobra", Meyer's fourth Griessel thriller, a law was fiercely debated that grants the South African secret service at home and abroad, SSA, under the direction of a close Zuma confidante, extensive powers in the curtailment of civil rights.

Meyer has emphasized several times that he does not want to use the cliché of the violent and criminal South Africa. But the new law obviously went against the grain of the otherwise always optimistic author. In the plot of his thriller about the missing inventor of the algorithm, he also built a decent squabble of jurisdiction between the police and the SSA. After a fiery speech by colleague Kaleni about the new conditions, which in her opinion are very similar to those during the apartheid era, Griessel's unit immediately agrees on obstructive further investigations.

And Meyer, who always reveals a lot about the social conditions in the Cape in his books, sends a little pickpocket along with the cops in the countdown in rapid scene changes. Tyrone Kleinbooi accidentally crosses the path of the cobra killer when he steals a wallet full of hot contents. The smart Cape Colored senses a great opportunity, as he wants to finance his sister's studies at the University of Stellenbosch, once the Boer cadre school.

“Cobra” continues what has recently been announced by Meyer, who publishes at ever shorter intervals. It is true that the suspense-generating conflicts, which are driven towards the end with a lot of pressure, are still well developed. But there is little air left for the atmosphere and the description of the landscape, on which Meyer's fame was once based. You are compensated with an excellent conspiracy thriller in which Meyer spans the bow globally for the first time, and very, very smoothly.

■ Deon Meyer: "Cobra". From the Afrikaans by Stefanie Schäfer. Rütten & amp; Loening, Berlin 2014, 448 pages, 19.99 euros