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REVIEW: The Longest March by Fred Khumalo

Before reading The Longest March by Fred Khumalo, I was completely unaware of an important part of South Africa’s history back in 1899 when 7,000 Zulu mineworkers walked from Johannesburg to KwaZulu-Natal fleeing a war between the Boers and the British Empire - a war that had nothing to do with them at that time, but everything to do with their future. As a result, I found myself fascinated.

Khumalo recounts this journey through three colourful characters. Nduku, who after years of running away from his destiny agrees to lead the march with the help of his well-respected friend Xhawulengweni, and a strong motivation from his partner Phillipa, a mixed-race woman from Kimberley.

During the trek they reminisce on how they met each other in Johannesburg. It is through this storytelling that dark secrets of the mineworkers’ gay culture are revealed in an attempt to ease the longing for their wives back home. This is also a contributing factor to the mess and love triangle in which Nduku and Xhawulengweni find themselves.

In addition to my intrigue on South African history, I also could not ignore the picture Khumalo paints of our country’s beautiful landscapes and breath-taking hill and valleys in their purest form.

It is these wonderful sights that accompanies the mineworkers’ way home, from the busy streets of Joburg to the peaceful homelands of Natal. That is where Nduku and Phillipa come to realisations about their longest march as a family.

On reading this book I became more enthusiastic and enthralled about our history as a nation as well as African literature.

The amount of research Khumalo put into this book is evident in the way he tells the story, describing the different areas dating back to the 1800s to connect the reader to more than just a story, but a visual idea of what Johannesburg looked like then.

Khumalo also took me out of the technological world in which we live to a time when personal banking was not something we could even begin to imagine and written letters were the best form of communication.

The jaw-dropping moments which left me yearning for a conversation with a fellow reader mean it is ideal for book clubs, as well as for students of history and politics to read and discuss and also question how far South Africa has come and the direction it is taking to carve out social cohesion.

Amo Ramela is an EWN traffic reporter.

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