Author: Sol T. Plaatje
Having been a lover of African literature for a long time, I found myself in a state of ecstasy when I came across this book. Ever since I read his other book – Native live in South Africa – Sol T. Plaatje has been one of my favorite South African men of letters. Mission-born and mission-educated, Plaatje had worked extensively as an editor for three different newspapers – Koranta ea Becoana, Tsala ea Becoana, and Tsala ea Batho. In 1912 he was elected secretary General of the South African Natives National Congress (now the African National Congress) and later travelled to Britain “seeking imperia veto of the White Union Parliaments iniquitous Natives’ Land Act of 1913.”
In the preface Mr Plaatje explains that this book was “written with two main objectives in view, vis., (a) to interpret to the reading public, one phase of the back to the Natives mind; and (b), with the readers’ money to collect and print (for Bantu Schools) Sechuana folk tales, which, with the spread of European ideas, are fast forgotten.” It was published in September 1930 by the Lovedale Press in Alice. It is the only novel that Sol Plaatje ever published and was completed in 1920 – ten years before its eventual publication. It is a story about the disposition of the Barolong by the Matebele and the subsequent revenge of the Tswana and the Afrikaner people – and it is based on events that happened over a hundred years prior to its publication. In the introduction of the book A E Vass describes the books’ historical span as stretching between August 1832 and November 1837. She also describes that Plaatje dedicated Mhudi to the memory of his daughter Olive.
Like mentioned, the book is set up in the 1830’s and tells the story of different Tswana tribes and clans coming together to avenge the killing of their people by Matebele impis. It tells the story of Mhudi who, after having her home town Kunana (which was the Barolong capital city at the time) destroyed by the Matebele tribe – after the later had two of their indunas killed by members of the former while collecting the annual tribute for their King, Mzilikazi – was separated from the surviving members of her tribe and spent months alone in the wild. After spending months alone she came across a man – Ra-Thaga – while she was fleeing from a lion that she stumbled across. Ra-Thaga was another member of the Barolong tribe who survived the massacre of their people by the Matebele and was also roaming the wild alone. The two, having come across each other after losing hope of ever coming across other survivors, grew very close and ended up sharing a very strong bond. They lived together for months until they came across another tribe, the Qorannas, that took them in.
A member of the Qoranna tribe, Ton-Qon, in an attempt to widow Mhudi so he could take her as his wife, made a failed attempt on Ra-Thaga’s life and ended up being banished from his tribe by their chief – Chief Massouw. Mhudi and Ra-Thaga, after the attempt on the latter’s life by Ton-Qon, decided to journey to Thaba Ncho in the Basotholand where they believed another clan of the Bachoana tribe that was very close to the Barolong lived. They journeyed with the hope that they would find other members of the Barolong people. They in Thaba Ncho weeke later to welcomes by lost family members and they developed a new life for themselves amongst their own people.
Months after their arrival at Thaba Ncho a group of Voortrekker Boers passed through Thaba Ncho ‘in search of some unoccupied territory to colonise and to worship God in peace.’ The Boers were running away from the oppression they faced from the English run government of the Cape. The Boers then agreed to, once they have settled down and found their land, ‘pay Mzilikazi back for all the Barolong women killed by his army.’ The Boers soon found a place to camp (which was later called Battlehill) where ‘they remained in their wheeled houses and peacefully fed their children’. This continued until Mzilikazi, without warning, sent his army to kill the unfortunate settlers. The Boers were looted of all their possessions by the Matebele army and after hearing this news, the people in Thaba Ncho sent help, in the form of oxen to help drag the wagons of the Boers back to Thaba Ncho, and allowed the Boers to settle in Thaba Ncho in a section called Moroka’s Hoek.
A friendship between Phil Jay, who was one of the Boers, and Ra-Thaga developed during the Boer’s sojourn. The friendship started with the two talking about their distaste for the Matebele and their King Mzilikazi, and later developed to them plotting revenge for the evils caused by the Matebele on their people. They became very good friends and grew closer with time. Their friendship was looked down upon by the rest of the Boers, as they believed that they, as the God chosen ones, must never interact with heathens and kaffirs.
The book also tells the story of Mzilikazi and his rule as the King of the Matebele people. A man drunk with power, Mzilikazi only had a kind heart towards his beloved wife Umnandi. It is only when she’s involved that he behaves like anything close to a human being, and when issues deviate from her, he turns into a blood thirsty beast that only cares about turning the Matebele into a tribe feared by all who come across it. This book takes you on an en enlightening journey into the history of South Africa and shows a site of the African people that most didn’t know existed.
The book ends with a “love conquers all” note with Mhudi and Ra-Thaga “riding off into the sunset” heading home in an ox wagon given to them by their Boer friends after they conquered the Matebele. Phil Jay weds his long time love – who he had love but from a distance – Annetje Van Zyl and Umnandi, after a long disappearance caused by the lies told about her by the main wife of Mzilikazi, returns to her husband. It is a wonderful read for anyone in search of “the other side of the story” regarding the history of South Africa and its people.
It is by far one of the best books I have read so far.