Book review: The Bitter Olive

The Bitter Olive

Ronald Samuels

Ssali Publishing House

Review: Simonéh De Bruin

Successful businessman Ronald Samuels’ memoir, The Bitter Olive, is an unpretentious account (much like the author I suspect) of how apartheid and its evil machinations ripped a 9-year-old boy from his family and Pretoria home in 1978, making him an unwilling victim of segregation to be resettled on the Cape Flats.

Ronald’s story is one of many, many stories of devastation wreaked by the apartheid government who cared nothing for the lives they so callously destroyed – all based on how much, or little, melanin was in your skin cells to give your skin its pigment.

Ronald, while both his adoptive and birth parents are white, is reclassified coloured because he is darker than his adoptive parents and siblings.

He is transplanted from his middle-class upbringing to the alien surroundings of the Cape Flats, where he is adopted by a coloured family, and so begins a new chapter, one in which he will need all his stamina, resilience and grit.

Although similar to the story of Sandra Laing, who was classified as coloured by authorities during the apartheid era, due to her skin colour and hair texture, although she was the child of at least three generations of ancestors who had been regarded as white, Ronald and his first adoptive parents still manage to retain contact though their years of separation.

“As much as my parents loved me, they were up against monumental obstacles. It would not have been practical for them to keep me with them. There was too much against us staying together, particularly the law,” says Ronald.

His (first) adoptive parents’ love for him is evident in a very moving letter they penned to him on July 28 1978. “Words fail us to say just how thankful and proud we are to have been blessed to have reared and loved you into boyhood… and love you we always will…”

While there are many accounts in the book that take us back to just how inhumane and deranged apartheid was – if ever you needed a reminder – Ronald’s memoir in no way professes to be a political discourse on what we have survived. His story, told simply, yet eloquently, emphasises what the human spirit is able to overcome; that it is not what has happened to you that counts in the end but what it is that you do about it that really matters.

The purchase of a guest house situated on an olive farm in the Karoo presents Ronald with an intriguing metaphor for his life story.

The first fruit of an olive tree is essentially inedible, its bitterness an effective defence mechanism. However, once the olives are cured and treated not only do they become palatable, they are considered a delicacy.

Ronald is currently the chief executive officer of Botswana Life Insurance Limited but his dream is to one day be a full-time farmer and provide food security for the nation.

His other heartfelt wish is that South Africans are able to put their differences aside because “there is still so much we as South Africans can achieve – individually and as a nation.”