Home is nowhere – Part 2

Home is nowhere – Part 2

Readers may have gathered last week that I find the constant speech-making in Mngadi’s novel to be irritating; I keep wondering, would a character rattle on and in such a formal way in such a situation? I find myself wondering also whether the characters’ sermonising or indulging in oratory can be classified as a standard characteristic in the narrative procedure of southern African language literature during a certain period of its history; you find it also in works by Khaketla, Mofokeng, Mqhayi, and to some extent in Mofolo.

The plot of the novel darkens again when Thabekhulu seduces Dubazana’s wife, MaZondi, and she gives birth to a son who is “the spitting image of his father.” Dubazana, meanwhile, has been imprisoned in a frame-up (and I am withholding information here so as not to do a spoiler) and Thabekhulu’s wife is aware of her husband’s infidelity, so there is an interlinked disintegration across both families.

What follows confirms that ubuntu is now in fragments. Here, now, one is a person, if at all, despite other people. This horrific recognition is the driving motor of the novel. As Thabekhulu says to Dubazana: “’Apartheid created a precipice in your home down which my family plunged into an abyss.’” Spoiler alert at this point……….. Following Dubazana’s death (reminiscent of one of the ghastlier episodes in ancient Greek tragedy) we hear that “’this funeral represents all the millions of people of this land who have passed on without smelling, even for a second, the sweet aroma of freedom.’”

Mngadi comments further: “the smoke that has been seething for years, fanned by winds from all directions, eventually erupts into flames that engulf the whole country . . . The prevailing grief and desperation confuse people, making them align themselves with various political formations that have constitutions and procedures that they hardly understand.” He then draws the chief distinction between “those who have gallantly and tirelessly fought against the apartheid system through negotiations” and those “who are trigger-happy and want to keep the country in flames.”

Mngadi, controversially, never specifies whether the latter constitute Umkhonto we Sizwe and other armed forces of the liberation struggle, or Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s separatist, accommodationist movement, the Inkatha Freedom Party.

He does, powerfully and persuasively, depict the actions of those who are inspired by the message of Christ: “the army of peace soldiers trudges on steadfastly. MaZondi and Thabekhulu are now collaborating with other activists, black and white, coloured and Indian.”

This once again raises the question precisely which forces Mngadi is referring to: is he suggesting that peace is diametrically opposed to struggle?; in relation to negotiations with the apartheid regime, can the choice of the word “collaborating” be regarded as a Freudian slip, or may this be a problem in the novel’s translation?

In the last fifty pages of the novel, the emphasis is on compassion and forgiveness amongst those who have suffered so much and who, in desperation, have turned on each other, wrecking each others’ lives: all this counterpointed with the efforts of those who lead new initiatives, which are underpinned by acceptance of Christ’s message—something Mngadi handles with great beauty and tenderness.

He speaks of “the daunting journey that the nation still has to travel to level the mountains of past mistakes”: writing in 1993 he could hardly have foreseen how triumphant that journey would be, and yet how many injustices would still (in 2020!) remain to be addressed. The novel ends, nonetheless, with a scene of apocalyptic violence—one of the most distressing I have ever encountered—interspersed once more with long, impassioned, yet formal speeches.

A very, very important novel, then, but one about which I have some doubts. Do try to get hold of it and judge for yourselves! It can be ordered from Oxford University Press, Vasco Boulevard, Goodwood, N1 City, P O Box 12119, Cape Town, RSA.

Chris Dunton

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