Keeping things in the family

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I have been thinking about family murders – there has been a rash of them recently and they were, at one time, the quintessentially South African crime. But I can’t focus. There are just too many weddings on at the moment.

Weddings say as much about social fault lines, tension and desire as murders do, even if they rarely feature in crime fiction. There is the royal wedding in London next week. Buckingham Palace has been polished, there are flowers in the parks, the television channels are booked, commentators are digging deep into the mine of platitudes for things to say. However, despite the huge effort at whipping the dead horse of British public spirit into some semblance of enthusiasm, there seems to be little interest in the nuptials of Kate and Wills.

The press draws parallels with Kate and Diana constantly and it does seem as if the injured spirit of Princess Diana is hanging over the whole affair. When Diana married the unappealing and unfaithful Charles, the world was riveted. Diana was so young, so innocent, so virginal, the last in a centuries long line of girls (like the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey who was executed at seventeen) who were married off for dynastic purposes. Looking at those old wedding pictures, Diana looks like the human sacrifice she was. A living creature cynically used to keep the Royal Family going. Even if it was not novel, it was still a crime.

The wedding of Kate and William seems different. It is at once contemporary and old-fashioned. For one thing, Kate is old enough to know what she is doing. Kate has also been living with William for years, so the mythic spectacle of offering of an innocent virgin to a cynical and powerful man will be absent from this wedding. It is just a wedding, a knowing exchange of looks, power and money that might or might not last. It seems like a strategic and contemporary couple career move more than anything else. And they seem happy for it. Kate gets a balding but presentable man headed for a top job, if not the top job, in a firm that will survive the recession. William gets a socially adept woman who seems like one of the people because she is one of them, just wealthier and better groomed. Kate grew up with the era of celebrity frenzy that hounded her groom’s mother to her death and she has learned to handle the press with aplomb. It is not the stuff of fiction – not even Barbara Cartland could find romance in such a protracted and pragmatic courtship – but it will live forever on YouTube, as do those home movies of cats falling into the bath.

This past Easter weekend South Africa celebrated its own Wedding-of-the-Year, complete with salmon, silver Laboutin shoes and elephants. A real – perhaps surreal – event that took place in the entirely fictional – and perhaps criminal – universe of South Africa’s political elite.

Conspicuous poverty can be irksome. The poor, fed false promises until their stomachs turned, wear their hunger without shame. Poverty is not something that one can hide. But overt displays of deprivation could really get a bride down, especially when her day job is running the Zuma Foundation for Children and Destitute Women. No one wants to take work with them on their wedding day, especially not when one is wearing a Swarovski encrusted, off the shoulder dress and a diamond necklace so large that it looked at first like a Kevlar vest.

The photograph that filled the front page of the Sunday Times showed a beaming Duduzile flanked by two men. Not her new husband and her father, as one would expect, but her father and the jeweller who loaned her the diamonds. The perfect set up for a heist novel, of course, but that would not be the focal crime if I were to turn this flashy and rather tasteless event into a novel.

Because no diamonds were stolen – or lost – despite the obvious anxiety of the jeweller. What has been lost is a sense of political and moral decorum. It was rumoured last week that Ms Zuma organised twelve Lamborghinis to ferry guests to her Parisian-themed wedding. This might or might not be true, but the lavishness of the vehicles that whipped the invited elite to the wedding venue, a luxury game lodge in the impoverished Eastern Cape, carried more than a touch of the hubris of Marie-Antoinette.

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