Book Review: The Land Of Green Gold

Saturday, 14 June 2014
Illovo Sugar Ltd

"Book Review: The Land Of Green Gold"

‘Some History of Natal and Zululand’
Author and publisher 2013: Daryl O’Connor
R250 - Available at Adams Books, Amazon, Kindle and I-Pad

ANYONE with an interest in KwaZulu-Natal, its past, its people or its sugar industry, will enjoy this book. Author Daryl O’Connor was a young accountant whose job gave him a ringside seat on what became known as the Sugar War of 1962, when the region’s major industry was split from top to bottom by a boardroom battle of almost apocalyptic proportions that monopolised newspaper headlines for weeks.

He was determined to write a story about it one day and fifty years later has done just that – not the novel he had envisaged at the time, but the whole story, a sweeping account of the land of “green gold” (the contemporary phrase that sums up how people had come to regard sugar cane) from earliest geological times to the late 20th century.

It’s an ambitious timeline but O’Connor is undeterred and has assembled his players piece by piece into a vast panorama that is easy to read, honest and modern in its outlook. And what a story it is – a roll-call of people and events that made this extraordinary land a special place, with names that have reverberated down the decades.

They are all there, the good, the bad and the ugly – the San, the Nguni people, the shipwreck survivors, the Dutch and the English, Shaka and the Zulus, missionaries and voortrekkers, settlers and churchmen and farmers and soldiers and Indians; fortunes, reputations and battles won and lost; intrigue, heroism, skullduggery and tragedy; wars that left memorial plaques you see today in churches throughout the British Commonwealth; daft decisions taken in London in attempts to control a recalcitrant colony.

And from the mid 19th century onwards, a band of sugar farmers who managed to ride this turbulent wave of history, to survive, to grow and to prosper, emerging in the 20th century as an economic and political force to be reckoned with, controlled by men he describes as “flamboyant characters” whose names became legends in the sugar lands. Addison, Armstrong, Campbell, Crookes, Hawksworth, Hulett, Kirkman, Pearce, Platt, Reynolds, Saunders and Smith – as individuals or family dynasties, they all come to life again in these pages.

For his measured build-up, the author has drawn on, and scrupulously acknowledges, a variety of recognised sources. He recounts many great stories, some half forgotten, such as the famous rescue march of 7 000 unarmed Zulu miners from the Highveld back to Natal through Boer towns and commandoes at the start of the Boer War, led by John Marwick, Natal Native Agent in the ZAR. But the climax of the book is his blow by blow account of the events of 1962 which left an indelible impression on the young man watching from the sidelines.

It all adds up to a saga of breathtaking scope - yet ends on a note of caution about where the KZN sugar industry is headed today. Wendy Vineall

AUTHOR Daryl O’Connor on a visit to Illovo Sugar’s Head Office (ABOVE) checks out the album of newspaper cuttings discovered in the company’s archives at the 11th hour which he used to illustrate the 1962 Sugar War chapter in his book “The Land of Green Gold” (BELOW).


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