Southern Crosses: An African Ghost Story, written by DA Winstead and self-published in 2012, brings together two women—a black American, and a South African of mixed race. Both have grown up in rural and racially oppressive environments and both have challenges to contend with in their adulthood. But they help each other in different ways and develop a remarkable and enduring friendship along the way. The story is rich in historical and cultural detail on the black American past, and on pre and post-Apartheid South Africa. It’s also a skillful insight into the possible dynamics and intrigues within foreign offices.
The story is told through Sarah Johnson, a high level black employee of the American foreign office, recently posted to South Africa. The year is 2010. Sarah is well informed on the South African situation and identifies with its past, having grown up in rural North Carolina during the periods of school integration and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. She’s been in the American foreign service for 24 years and has survived her harsh, backstabbing environment by being smart, hardworking and abrasive. Her experiences have left her feeling bitter and empty.
However, Sarah’s apparent clout in the foreign office brings her to the attention of a South African woman, Anne Ross, her mother Gracie and their guardian angel—a remarkable ghost named Mary Margaret. Helping them will bring normality to their lives, they hope, and enable Mary Margaret’s ghost to finally be laid to rest. At first Sarah is reluctant to help but becomes increasingly won over, the more she learns about their collective past which is a story of murder, domestic violence, philanthropy, religion and mysticism, dating largely from the Sharpeville Massacre of the 1960s. Assisting them will put her job at risk but it’s also a chance to channel her anger productively while settling scores in her work place. So she sets about her task while drawing inspiration from Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, a book with much to teach her about life’s challenges.
Southern Crosses: An African Ghost Story is an inspiring tale about people letting go of their ghosts and moving on. DA Winstead uses his 22-year experience as a senior employee of the American foreign office to convincingly show how Sarah Johnson is able to manoeuvre her way within a complex system. Her background in rural North Carolina is detailed and gripping and is skilfully correlated to Anne Ross’s South African experience, also outlined in impressive detail and a testament to DA Winstead’s six-year stint in Africa and his frequent visits to South Africa.