Review: Roshiela Moonsamy
Sue Nyathi’s book captures the experiences of the thousands of Zimbabweans who have had no choice to but to leave their country in search for work.
In most cases a number of people’s survival – old parents, young children and everybody in between – depends on just one other person going into the great unknown to earn money to send home.
A work of fiction, the stories in this book will nonetheless be all too familiar for our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters who now live right beside us but face additional problems, including xenophobia and sometimes being in South Africa illegally.
It is set in the mid-2000s and follows the journey of one taxi-load of desperate souls who have to be smuggled across the border into South Africa because they have no passports or travel documents as the Registry Office has stopped issuing them.
Among those who set out to make the treacherous journey are driver Melusi, co-driver Givemore, twins Chamunorwa and Chenai, Dumisani, Portia and her son, Nkosi, Lindani, Thulisiwe and Malume.
At least two of them fall prey to bandits at the border and don’t make it across.
Their destination is the City of Gold, Johannesburg, but what they find there is anything but beautiful.
Penniless and illegal, they are at the mercy of others, including unwelcoming and opportunistic family members who are themselves struggling to survive.
While the book is easy to read, the content is sometimes difficult to take in. The characters are subjected to some of humanity’s worst depravity.
The women in particular face sexual exploitation at every turn.
Added to this is the strain the forced migration places on relationships as families are torn apart; marriages broken, parents and children never seeing each other again.
The obstacles seem endless, however, there is also kindness, love and a few helping hands along the way.
The neatly woven narrative brings the characters together for the taxi ride, tells each of their background stories intermittently, then sends them out into Johannesburg.
We then find out what happens to each of them and how, at times, their paths do cross, though they don’t always know it.
Not all their journeys has a bad ending but all the characters have their fair share of hardship.
Nyathi also raises tribal, class and identity issues, between Shona and Ndebele, domestic workers who find themselves with black madams, and Zimbabweans who hide their nationality to try to assimilate a bit easier into South African society.
I found all the characters sincere and believable but I sometimes thought the situations they found themselves to be in too far-fetched, although I did wonder if I was being naive about the world.
Sue Nyathi is an investment analyst by trade but she is obviously also deeply insightful about human nature.
This is a multi-layered tale, a fine piece of contemporary writing and well recommended.
The winners of the Who are you, Mr Goo? competition are Nawaal Richards of Goodwood, Gwendoline Meyer of Parow North, Yumna Variawa of Walmer Estate, Jordyn Lee Davids of Rocklands, Mitchell’s Plain, Lauren Green of Wetton, and Amanda Roos of Table View.