The Social and Political Tensions in South Africa, in ‘Disgrace’ by JM Coetzee

A look into post-apartheid South Africa.

The South African Flag

Fifty-two-year-old David Lurie has an affair with one of his university students, jeopardising his reputation and his job. He leaves Cape Town to stay with his daughter on a farm in the Eastern Cape. His stay turns out to be longer than he had planned and things are hurled into chaos when there’s a violent attack on the farm and father and daughter are left wounded in many ways.

Disgrace is set in post-apartheid South Africa and shows a shift in power among the races, and it explores these social and political tensions through compelling storytelling. The protagonist, David, illustrates this shift in status. He goes from being this snobbish university professor in the city to a peasant.

Violence is also woven into the story and plays an important role in setting the direction in which the story goes. It is also shown in its different forms, not just the assault which takes place on the farm but also with his affair with a young student as well as the way he justifies it as desire.

South African history and cultural interactions are adequately portrayed, and you love and hate the characters, and go on a rollercoaster of feeling towards them. It is interesting and broadens your understanding of some of the crucial bits of South Africa.

Disgrace – J. M. Coetzee

Exploring South African History in ‘Mhudi’ by Sol T. Plaatje

A Story of Love and War

A South African epic that spans the period of war between the Matabele and the Barolong from 1832 to 1837. This historical novel gives an illuminating account of a part of South African history and culture. It’s also a story of love, following the journey of Mhudi and her husband Ra-Thaga against the background of the tragedy that befalls the Barolong people and the rise and fall of King Mzilikazi.

The pastoral and idyllic life of the Barolong is disturbed by the invasion of the Matabele, whose King imposes taxes on them. One day when the Matabele tax collectors are killed by the Barolong, he warns them of the tragedy which will befall them, and how they will pay with their blood and the blood of their children. Indeed, the Matabele mercilessly attack Kunana village.

From here on we are introduced to Ra-Thaga and Mhudi and how they fled the massacre. We follow their love story, their life in solitude without any of their people, and making a home in the forest. We’re also introduced to the arrival of the Voortrekkers and their alliance in defeating Mzilikazi.

Mhudi is based on historical facts, the actual events of King Mzilikasi’s battle against Barolong. I discovered the connection between the Zimbabwean Matabele people and the South African Zulus here in Mhudi. King Mzilikazi detached from Shaka’s Zulu tribe and he moved off to Transvaal, where the battle with the Barolong follows, and after his defeat he ended up in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), settling in the regions of Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, and Bulawayo.

In addition to the rich historical context of the novel, Plaatje’s style is also interesting. The disjunctive way he tells the story; the deviation in chronological order and the way he gives the reader an opportunity to see and understand the events from different angles and different points of view.

It’s a magnificent and profound book and one which, hopefully, is included in African literary syllabi to add to the learning of South African history.

Book Review: The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa

#Blessed

Bontle Tau is a fierce, beautiful, ambitious and street smart girl who uses her good looks and charm to secure a glamorous life from her blessers.

To keep the cash pouring in to maintain her lifestyle, she must maintain her physical appearance through beauty clinics and spas, be available when they want her and her heat button must always be ON. The expensive clothes, the penthouse in Sandton, VIP status in clubs, avalanche of expensive champagne, holiday trips and the luxury German machine she drives are all paid for by her looks and what she does with them.

She’s a not-so-academically-smart girl from Mamelodi with a dark family past and an unhealthy relationship with her ex, but she claims to be quite astute in what she calls MENcology. She’s also cunning and will go to great lengths for money and the things it buys. For a long time, she manages to maintain a sort of balance with more than two blessers and their demands.

The glamour starts to rust when the blesser she snatches from her friend enters her life, while her two other blessers have personal problems that wholly affect her opulent life. The family secret that’s long been buried comes out and her life takes on a chain of calamities.

The Blessed Girl delves deep into the blesser-blessee culture that appears so dazzling and desirable to many girls but has its downsides, much harsher for most than others. Through Bontle’s life, we see the depression, the drugs, and sacrifices that come into play in this kind of lifestyle. It also highlights the extreme things that young girls will do for this lifestyle when they don’t see any other option available.

There is also the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and it’s not just for the two parties, but also other blessees involved, as well as the spouses of these blessers. We also see how some families accept that kind of lifestyle because their daughters pay for that acceptance with money.

It’s a funny, simple and enjoyable read. If you’re South African or have been exposed to its culture you’ll enjoy it even better, because of the raw South African tone, lingo and characters. When I started the book, I felt the writing was dull and heavily laden with that South African attitude but as I went along I figured that it is part of the story’s makeup. It’s a very easy read, entertaining and insightful.

Title: The Blessed Girl

Author: Angela Makholwa

Published: Bloomsbury Publishing

Genre: General Fiction