Muizenberg author Mignonne Breier, the current winner of the Sunday Times Literary Award for non-fiction, will be taking part in the Books on the Bay festival on Saturday March 11.
Ms Breier’s award-winning book, Bloody Sunday: The Nun, the Defiance Campaign and South Africa’s Secret Massacre, explores the massacre, in 1952, at an ANC Youth League event in Duncan Village, East London, where police killed more than 200 people and where an Irish nun was slain by an enraged mob.
Ms Breier said a family connection to Sister Aidan, who was also a medical doctor, sparked her interest in this hidden chapter of South African history.
“When I was a child, my mother told me of a nun who had been killed by people in the ‘location’ that she served. My parents taught at mission schools in the Transkei at the time, and I think my mother was traumatised by the nun’s death,” she said
Many years later, Ms Breier learnt the woman her mother was referring to was Sister Aidan Quinlan, who was at the heart of the events of Bloody Sunday.
“I think they met at one of the Catholic hospitals where Sister Aidan worked as a medical doctor. My mother never told me the details of Sister Aidan’s death, and I didn’t ask her. When I started to research the nun’s life and death, I realised how much had been covered up, on both sides of the apartheid divide.”
Ms Breier spent nearly seven years researching the book in her spare time, and she said she took six months of unpaid leave from her job at UCT to work on it and then retired early to complete it.
In October last year, she won the 2022 Sunday Times Literary Award for non-fiction.
“This is a very prestigious award, and I am grateful for the acknowledgement and the affirmation that all the hard work and expense that went into the book was worth it. Bloody Sunday is now being read far more widely.”
Books on the Bay co-organisers UWC lecturer in education Darryl David and UWC extraordinary professor David Attwell said they were thrilled to host Ms Breier at the literary festival.
“She has through her book, brought to light one of the most shocking moments from our past, an event so unspeakable that it had all but slipped through the cracks of history. This book will undoubtedly be one of the most talked about books at the festival,” said Mr David.
Mr Attwell added, “It’s a beautifully written, compassionate book about a little-known, dark chapter in our history.”
Asked what she hoped people would learn from her book, Ms Breier said, “I hope they will see the complexity of the events of that day and the potential for history to repeat itself.”
She added: “Today the ANC is squabbling internally, as it was in East London in 1952, Duncan Village is as poverty-stricken and the youth are just as desperate. I hope that readers will also see the humanity in all the people involved in the events of that.”
The Books on the Bay festival will run from Friday March 10 to Saturday March 11. Tickets cost R60 and can be bought from Webtickets or Pick n Pay.
Visit booksonthebay.simonstown.com for more information and a detailed line-up.