by Zakes Mda (Umuzi) ISBN 9781415209042
Zakes Mda’s latest historical novel is based on the assassination of Magistrate Hamilton Hope in 1880, by the amaMpondomise army in the Qumbu region of the Eastern Cape. The consequences led to the exile of Mda’s family to Lesotho, and changed the history of the Eastern Cape irrevocably.
Mda’s skill is that he delivers his unflinching account of how Hope attempted to bring the tribes in the region under British rule by telling a love story of enormous power.
His protagonist is Malangana, a hot-headed young groom to King Mhlontlo, who falls–unsuitably–in love with Mthwakazi, a young San Bushman girl. In the wars that follow, they are separated. But her memory drives him to seek her out once more, some 20 years later.
Reading this felt as though I could be sitting with the author, around a fire, sipping “Queen Victoria’s Tears” (the strong Brandy of the colonialists) and listening to a story filled with imagery, emotion and many lessons.
I found it hard to look at how disrespectfully Magistrate Hope treated the amaMpondomise people, their beliefs and culture. But I was completely engrossed in this tale of love and transcendence. And it has made me think very deeply about the past and where we are in South Africa today.
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