Mugabe ‘Would Not Let Me Resign’, Says Ex-VP Mujuru

[News24Wire] Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ex-deputy, Joice Mujuru, says her former boss refused her a chance to resign when she was still in government because the veteran Zimbabwean ruler would have been “portrayed as someone who did not want …

[News24Wire] Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's ex-deputy, Joice Mujuru, says her former boss refused her a chance to resign when she was still in government because the veteran Zimbabwean ruler would have been "portrayed as someone who did not want to leave office".

source: AllAfrica News: Zimbabwe

Ukambani Leaders Lash Out At Jubilee Lobby Over Campaigns

[Nation] Jubilee candidates in Ukambani are trading accusations with a party lobby group over low key campaigns to marshal support for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election in the opposition stronghold.

[Nation] Jubilee candidates in Ukambani are trading accusations with a party lobby group over low key campaigns to marshal support for President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election in the opposition stronghold.

source: AllAfrica News: Kenya

The Call That Brought Freedom to Kenya’s Longest Serving Prisoner

[Nation] Convict Kisilu Mutua had been in jail for 35 years, accused of killing politician Pio Gama Pinto in February 1965, when an anonymous caller to the Nation newsroom spilled the beans on what apparently transpired on the morning the firebrand ind…

[Nation] Convict Kisilu Mutua had been in jail for 35 years, accused of killing politician Pio Gama Pinto in February 1965, when an anonymous caller to the Nation newsroom spilled the beans on what apparently transpired on the morning the firebrand independence politician was shot dead. The new information proved there had been a miscarriage of justice: That Kisilu wasn't the person who pulled the trigger but merely a fall guy. The outcry sparked off by the Nation expose led to unconditional release of prisoner Kis

source: AllAfrica News: Kenya

Ghandour Calls On Bulgarian Vice President, Iotova

[SNA] Bucharest -Foreign Minister, Professor Ibrahim Ghandour who is currently on visit to Bulgaria at the invitation of his Bulgarian vis-à-vis, met with the Bulgarian Deputy President, Iliana Iotova.

[SNA] Bucharest -Foreign Minister, Professor Ibrahim Ghandour who is currently on visit to Bulgaria at the invitation of his Bulgarian vis-à-vis, met with the Bulgarian Deputy President, Iliana Iotova.

source: AllAfrica News: Sudan

Bulgaria Says Sudan Vital Partner in Combating Terrorism and Human Trafficking

[SNA] Bucharest -Bulgaria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ekaterina Zaharieva, has welcomed the visit by the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Professor Ibrahim Ahmed Ghandour, to her country saying the Sudan remains one of the best partners for the EU in com…

[SNA] Bucharest -Bulgaria's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ekaterina Zaharieva, has welcomed the visit by the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Professor Ibrahim Ahmed Ghandour, to her country saying the Sudan remains one of the best partners for the EU in combatting terrorism, violent fundamentalism, illegal migration and human trafficking.

source: AllAfrica News: Sudan

Children Left At the Mercy of Rogue Drivers and Motorists

[Nation] As six-year-old Jeremy Masila, who was crushed to death by a school bus last week, was buried at their rural home in Kitui on Saturday, questions still abound about the safety of learners on Kenyan roads.

[Nation] As six-year-old Jeremy Masila, who was crushed to death by a school bus last week, was buried at their rural home in Kitui on Saturday, questions still abound about the safety of learners on Kenyan roads.

source: AllAfrica News: Kenya

‘Dancing the Death Drill’: historical fiction that tells us about today


The Mendi shown here in pre-war days in use as a mail ship. Courtesy of the John Gribble Collection

In his keynote speech at the recent Sunday Times Literary Awards novelist, Zakes Mda, said that “we write historical fiction to take history to the level of what was it like to be in what happened”. Mda said that as a historical novelist, he writes,

historical fiction to grapple with the present. Great historical fiction is more about the present than it is about the past.

This is a truism that has always informed, I suspect, most practitioners of historical fiction. It is one not different for Fred Khumalo in his latest novel, “Dancing the Death Drill”. Although Khumalo says that he wrote the novel in order to remember black South African soldiers who played a role in World War 1, and those who perished in the SS Mendi ship, this is equally a novel about the present, and the ills that continue to bedevil us.

While doing his early education, Khumalo’s protagonist tells his teacher, Madame Christine, that,

I want to be a voyager, I want to travel on ships, I want to discover new places, engage in long conversations with strangers, play with ideas, experiment with things.

This is obviously a mind of a precocious teenager; curious about the world and intent in finding out more about it. But this precocity is, inevitably, also naïve. The young Roelof de la Rey, who subsequently changes his name to Pitso Motaung (after he is deserted by his white Afrikaner father), is unfortunately still somewhat unaware that his desire to travel, and meet new people, can never be easily realised due to the sociopolitical landscape that he finds himself in in the early twentieth century.

As Pitso becomes an adult, he begins to realise that there are a lot of things that he has to deal with and that have to do with his identity and how people react to him because of it. He finds himself constantly having to confront the fact that contrary to his desires of only wanting to belong to the Sesotho-speaking tribe, that he is instead seen as a coloured person and consequently treated in this manner in colonial South Africa.

He in fact says to someone, as he does several times in the novel, that,

if you ever call me a coloured person or a mixed-race person, I shall make you swallow your faith, I am Pitso, the son of Motaung. The roaring cub of the Bataung people.

Dominant discourses of the day

It however becomes increasingly clear to Pitso that to be in the world is to be marked and that people’s perceptions of you are dependent on the dominant discourses of the day. Thus against his will, and his constant desire to be regarded in his singularity, or as belonging to a group of his choice, he is forced to learn to accept the impossibility of this desire.

If Pitso’s ambitions, as stated earlier, are to travel and see the world, this does in fact happen. But as with most things in life, this happens by chance. Pitso and other young men hear from the South African government that they need to go and defend the British against Germany. They’re promised that if they do this, they will be well paid and that when they return to their country, the government will offer black people more freedoms than they currently enjoy.

It’s on this journey to France, in the SS Mendi troop ship, that Pitso and his countrymen encounter a crisis; the sinking of the ship, that was carrying 802 men of the South African Native Labour Corps, and the unimaginable suffering this brings. This was after colliding with a British merchant ship on 21 February 1917 – a total of 618 men drowned in the icy Atlantic.

It’s one of the tragic histories that is rarely spoken about in South Africa and the act of writing this novel, then, should be seen as an important archival project since it brings a repressed and difficult history into the spotlight.

A time rife with complexity

One of the strengths of Khumalo’s novel is that it shows the early twentieth century, similar to other times, as a time that was rife with complexity. This means that while a reader might expect the black soldiers in the novel to be portrayed as mere victims – without any agency – this is in fact not the case.

It is clear enough in the novel that Khumalo is deeply aware of time, and of the ways in which it shapes identity and one’s experience of the world. This does not however mean that those who were dispossessed did not also work to manipulate time in order to lessen their suffering. In the novel this is most clear when the ship starts sinking.

Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha starts preaching to his fellow soldiers that:

I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers. Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies.

It’s from this that they start dancing the death drill,

Not crying, not panicking, not screaming at the approach of death. In Africa, even in the times of death, people celebrate. Death becomes a spectacular, moment of defiance, the defiance of death itself.

It’s with such understanding that the soldiers approach their unexpected catastrophe with grace. It’s reported that more than 600 black soldiers lost their lives when the ship sank. Pitso survives this tragedy and it’s his narrative that drives much of the plot after this event.

One of the obvious challenges of the times that we live in is that we are coming to the realisation that Hegel long taught us, which is that “we learn from history that we do not learn from history”.

What then, with this in mind, might be the purpose of historical fiction? Perhaps it’s not so much that there’s something to “learn” from it. Perhaps the goal is a much more humble and subtle one which is to recognise and pay tribute to lives that came before us.

In doing so to connect the past with the present and to allow readers to recognise how much of their lives have changed and unavoidably, to pay attention to the many things, and ills, that remain the same. “Dancing the Death Drill” is a fine glimpse into this turbulent historical period in our calendar and what we do with this narrative, as the cliché goes, is entirely up to us.

The Conversation

Manosa Nthunya does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

The Mendi shown here in pre-war days in use as a mail ship. Courtesy of the John Gribble Collection

In his keynote speech at the recent Sunday Times Literary Awards novelist, Zakes Mda, said that “we write historical fiction to take history to the level of what was it like to be in what happened”. Mda said that as a historical novelist, he writes,

historical fiction to grapple with the present. Great historical fiction is more about the present than it is about the past.

This is a truism that has always informed, I suspect, most practitioners of historical fiction. It is one not different for Fred Khumalo in his latest novel, “Dancing the Death Drill”. Although Khumalo says that he wrote the novel in order to remember black South African soldiers who played a role in World War 1, and those who perished in the SS Mendi ship, this is equally a novel about the present, and the ills that continue to bedevil us.

While doing his early education, Khumalo’s protagonist tells his teacher, Madame Christine, that,

I want to be a voyager, I want to travel on ships, I want to discover new places, engage in long conversations with strangers, play with ideas, experiment with things.

This is obviously a mind of a precocious teenager; curious about the world and intent in finding out more about it. But this precocity is, inevitably, also naïve. The young Roelof de la Rey, who subsequently changes his name to Pitso Motaung (after he is deserted by his white Afrikaner father), is unfortunately still somewhat unaware that his desire to travel, and meet new people, can never be easily realised due to the sociopolitical landscape that he finds himself in in the early twentieth century.

As Pitso becomes an adult, he begins to realise that there are a lot of things that he has to deal with and that have to do with his identity and how people react to him because of it. He finds himself constantly having to confront the fact that contrary to his desires of only wanting to belong to the Sesotho-speaking tribe, that he is instead seen as a coloured person and consequently treated in this manner in colonial South Africa.

He in fact says to someone, as he does several times in the novel, that,

if you ever call me a coloured person or a mixed-race person, I shall make you swallow your faith, I am Pitso, the son of Motaung. The roaring cub of the Bataung people.

Dominant discourses of the day

It however becomes increasingly clear to Pitso that to be in the world is to be marked and that people’s perceptions of you are dependent on the dominant discourses of the day. Thus against his will, and his constant desire to be regarded in his singularity, or as belonging to a group of his choice, he is forced to learn to accept the impossibility of this desire.

If Pitso’s ambitions, as stated earlier, are to travel and see the world, this does in fact happen. But as with most things in life, this happens by chance. Pitso and other young men hear from the South African government that they need to go and defend the British against Germany. They’re promised that if they do this, they will be well paid and that when they return to their country, the government will offer black people more freedoms than they currently enjoy.

It’s on this journey to France, in the SS Mendi troop ship, that Pitso and his countrymen encounter a crisis; the sinking of the ship, that was carrying 802 men of the South African Native Labour Corps, and the unimaginable suffering this brings. This was after colliding with a British merchant ship on 21 February 1917 - a total of 618 men drowned in the icy Atlantic.

It’s one of the tragic histories that is rarely spoken about in South Africa and the act of writing this novel, then, should be seen as an important archival project since it brings a repressed and difficult history into the spotlight.

A time rife with complexity

One of the strengths of Khumalo’s novel is that it shows the early twentieth century, similar to other times, as a time that was rife with complexity. This means that while a reader might expect the black soldiers in the novel to be portrayed as mere victims – without any agency – this is in fact not the case.

It is clear enough in the novel that Khumalo is deeply aware of time, and of the ways in which it shapes identity and one’s experience of the world. This does not however mean that those who were dispossessed did not also work to manipulate time in order to lessen their suffering. In the novel this is most clear when the ship starts sinking.

Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha starts preaching to his fellow soldiers that:

I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers. Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies.

It’s from this that they start dancing the death drill,

Not crying, not panicking, not screaming at the approach of death. In Africa, even in the times of death, people celebrate. Death becomes a spectacular, moment of defiance, the defiance of death itself.

It’s with such understanding that the soldiers approach their unexpected catastrophe with grace. It’s reported that more than 600 black soldiers lost their lives when the ship sank. Pitso survives this tragedy and it’s his narrative that drives much of the plot after this event.

One of the obvious challenges of the times that we live in is that we are coming to the realisation that Hegel long taught us, which is that “we learn from history that we do not learn from history”.

What then, with this in mind, might be the purpose of historical fiction? Perhaps it’s not so much that there’s something to “learn” from it. Perhaps the goal is a much more humble and subtle one which is to recognise and pay tribute to lives that came before us.

In doing so to connect the past with the present and to allow readers to recognise how much of their lives have changed and unavoidably, to pay attention to the many things, and ills, that remain the same. “Dancing the Death Drill” is a fine glimpse into this turbulent historical period in our calendar and what we do with this narrative, as the cliché goes, is entirely up to us.

The Conversation

Manosa Nthunya does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

source: Arts + Culture – The Conversation