The Lion Conspiracy – Book review

This is the 3rd in Peter Hain’s ‘Conspiracy’ series of thrillers and doesn’t disappoint.  Set in his beloved South Africa the plot moves back and forth between the apartheid period, the impact of corruption, particularly during the Zuma period and the ongoing battle with the international criminal trade in animal products, gold, diamonds and currency fraud.

As the drama unfolds, Hain reintroduces us to some familiar figures. Central is ‘the Veteran’ a thinly disguised Ronnie Kasrils, former MK intelligence director and subsequent minister in several South African post-apartheid governments.

The Veteran leads a team of activists and specialists combatting the slaughter of endangered species for rich pickings. Increasingly they are engaged in challenging and exposing on an international basis, the secretive criminal figures behind these and many linked crimes. Key to the team is ‘Thandi’ who is the main activist and investigator. Another interesting figure is ‘the Sniper’ a former assassin for the apartheid regime now employed to challenge the poachers on the many vulnerable game reserves which they target.

As always, Hain surrounds his story with contemporary issues arising in South Africa. This volume is published just before key national elections for President and Government where the ANC is facing its greatest challenge for power since 1994.  The background of corruption, cronyism, state capture and failure to deliver key services brings the story to life.

Another timely addition is the reference to the ‘London Recruits’ as the film telling their story has just featured at the Joburg Film Festival where it won the award for Best Feature Film. It will be released for viewing in the UK in the near future. Readers may be familiar with these, mainly white, young men and women who were recruited by Kasrils to infiltrate South Africa and carry out illegal propaganda activities for the ANC and Communist Party in the 1960s and 70s.

The Veteran confronts Thandi’s fear as she contemplates further action against the criminal gangs backed by and sometimes led by politicians or former politicians in South Africa. He tells her of Young Communists from Britain who in the words of former President Thabo Mbeki ‘came to help us in our darkest hour’. He tells her about Brian Nean (someone I’m rather familiar with) and the Balls brothers, Trent and Ron, (who may also be known to many of you).

In a debriefing with Brian Nean he explains ‘Brian told me – rather reluctantly … how frightened he’d felt all the time he was in South Africa.  Every time someone stared at him, he became convinced he’d been rumbled’. Helping Thandi address her fears the Veteran pointed out that Brian and his many comrades went on to complete many successful operations.

Hain maintains his previous practice of weaving fiction with fact exploring in greater detail than before the all-encompassing stranglehold by the corrupt political elite on the political and economic life of South Africa. As the plot thickens we are thrown into the frightening scenario of a possible coup by former leaders around the disgraced President Jacob Zuma. There is an interesting moral debate which takes place around the teams involvement in action to prevent this.

The theme shared by all four novels in the series is the threat to the survival of wildlife particularly in Africa. The book dramatically shares statistics showing the virtual destruction of such noble beasts as elephants, tigers, lions and rhinos along with the impact on the environment this is causing.    

Whilst in the field of fiction, Hain highlights the fragile qualities of South African democracy and the many ongoing threats to it. All this in a global scenario in which former colonial powers and those wishing to gain new power and influence compete at the expense of the people of South Africa and those of Africa as a whole.

I would question some of the author’s descriptions of that international struggle and in particular some of the words he places in the mouth of the Veteran about the nature and motivation of Soviet support for the liberation struggle. However, the novel is a very good read and, as with the previous two in the series, I would highly recommend it.

Bob Newland is a Liberation member and London Recruit

The Lion Conspiracy by Peter Hain is published by Muswell Press

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