By Ogova Ondego
Published December 24, 2012
A historical novel on South Africa has been released. The book, Smoke of Forgiveness: The Songbirds’ Revenge, is written by Nelson Makhubane Tshabalala and tackles issues such as racism, violence, torture, brainwashing, discrimination, dehumanisation, cultural beliefs, religious notions, love across the ‘colour-line’, unfaithfulness in relationships, poverty, and homelessness.
It also touches on the various initiatives aimed at bringing about reconciliation between the white and black races in South Africa after the fall of Apartheid in 1994.
Telling the story through the lives of Zwelinzima Mazibuko (Zweli) and Baas Potgieter, Tshabalala tries to fit 40 years of the history of South Africa in 520 pages of print and thus enriches the reader of South African history by giving names and faces to the otherwise faceless people who took part in the struggle for majority rule in that country.
Another plus for Tshabalala is that he appears to tell his story from a ‘bottom-up’ perspective. Instead of the usual up-to-bottom approach that appears to rule the modern world, Tshabalala makes farmers and families who experienced various forms of violence and abuse to tell their own stories.
Though Tshabalala can tell a good story engagingly, one well versed with the principles of fiction as not being synonymous with falsehood gets the impression that his characters are not fully developed. The events, too, may not only appear rushed but sometimes also seem to lack some level of believability. A case in point is Zweli’s apparent extra-ordinary intelligence, god-like abilities and superhuman entrepreneurship for a man born in an occupied territory without any semblance of freedom.
Zweli’s meeting with an Apartheid policeman and his family in a Johannesburg recreational park while on the run after destroying a white settler’s farm in the Orange Free State and being housed by the very policeman, a Zulu masquerading as a ‘Coloured’ who should have arrested him, just does not make sense. Is it a case of fortitude? Maybe.
Zweli’s relationship with women in South Africa, Nigeria and England sounds stranger than fiction. Then there is his student and career life in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and England: His rise to a ‘Professor’ and an attorney in private practice are other aspects that may make Tshabalala’s story appear to be far-fetched and based on an unplanned story-telling; storytelling as an end in itself.
The writer says ‘Smoke of Forgiveness is set against the flow of history from Apartheid South Africa to the current day’ and that it attempts to touch on every aspect of moral choice where the nation still stands divided in its thinking.
His book, Tshabalala says, ‘lays bare the anguish evoked by atrocities committed against rural farm-workers where beatings and rape were used as punishment.’
Further, the book is said to acknowledge the role played by several Christian groups in furthering the education of previously disadvantaged people, the belief in the role of the ancestors and the need to guard against African spirituality being watered down by Christianity.
Saying ‘Cognisance should be taken that Smoke of Forgiveness also speaks to the hope of reconciliation and the ability of the perpetrators of Apartheid to see the error of their ways and change’, Tshabalala opines that it is also ‘a sincere attempt to set the stage for South Africa emerging from the baggage of the past.’
Smoke of Forgiveness encourages a call to awaken an entrepreneurial spirit that will take the economy of South Africa to new levels to meet current challenges as well as a call to generosity on the part of those who succeed so they can ‘give back’ to the needy, Tshabalala says.
But one who understands the history of South Africa well may also take issue with Tshabala when he conveniently fails to state the impediment the Inkatha Freedom Party, a Zulu party, opposed to the collective struggle of majority rule in South Africa, posed to the black majority rule; there is not a mention of it anywhere in the entire story.
Smoke of Forgiveness: The Songbirds’ Revenge is published in 2012 by Reach Publishers and is available for sale from the author at the discounted price of ZAR160.00 or could be purchased as an e-book at US$29.00 or ZAR180.00 from amazon.com, kalahari.com, or exclusives.co.za.