It is never pleasant to receive news of an author’s passing; the fact that his book is still in its final stages of completion makes it even less so. Hidden Histories of Gordonia: Land dispossession and resistance in the Northern Cape, 1800 – 1990 is without a doubt Martin Legassick’s ‘magnum opus’, to borrow the description used by historians Neil Parsons and Robert Ross.
The book will be published in May 2016. It is a great sadness that Martin will not get to hold a physical copy in his hands. He worked on it, between all the other writing, peer reviewing, activism and lectures, for close on 25 years, and we hope it’s a book he would have been proud of.
Martin had a remarkable gift for storytelling and in this final work he brings to life the craggy, desert-like landscape of the Northern Cape and its histories of the ‘black’ and ‘brown’ people, who are often rendered mute or to mere footnotes in mainstream narratives. It is a fascinating and deeply moving work with a historian’s eye for detail and the long view.
While working with Wits University Press on this manuscript, he did not mention his illness. He cooperated with Karen Press on getting the manuscript polished and ready for publication. He remained committed throughout the process to ensure a work of profound quality, even when some of our queries tested his patience!
When we shared the book cover with him, his spirits lifted. He wrote: “It is fantastic, much superior to anything I could have expected”. Covers always test the author/publisher relationship and his approval and delight are even more poignant in this moment. At least he could imagine the book as a tangible object and we’d like to think it brought him joy during a time of physical pain.
Martin contributed chapters to many Wits Press publications and peer reviewed a number of manuscripts. He was a tough but fair reviewer – much like he was in life. The scholarly community has lost a gem.
It is a great pity that he missed seeing the publication by two short months, but we believe it will stand as a testimony to the intellectual legacy he has left behind.
Rest in peace, Martin Legassick.
* Hidden Histories of Gordonia: Land dispossession and resistance in the Northern Cape, 1800 – 1990 will be published in May 2016 by Wits University Press.