Only A Free Man Can Tell the Truth

“To know is not enough. One must try to understand too. There will be a lot of talking in the Cape these days, one man’s word against another’s, master against slave. But what’s the use? Liars all. Only a free man can tell the truth. In the shadow of death, one must walk on tiptoe, for death is a deathly thing.”

In the early nineteenth century, a slave rebellion, one of the very few that ever existed, rises in the Cape Colony in the heart of South Africa. On a farm, the master’s family and the slaves co-exist, at first without really interfering with each other; the white master, Piet, is tough and inflexible farmer, Alida, his wife is sad, nostalgic about her youth in the Cape. As their two sons Nicolaas and Barend get married and build their own lives on separate farms, the slave community has to follow the new masters. With time, new tensions and passions form until a rebellion eventually occurs.

The increasing tension is at first framed by an act of accusation of the slaves, the novel is literally the chain of characters’ voices speaking; all characters, dead and alive, have their say in this literary chorus. It is this tense climate that the debate on the abolition of slavery reaches the ears of the Bokkenveld inhabitants, disrupting the established relationships between masters and slaves, men and women, friends and enemies.

The atmosphere of the book is very similar to one before a storm; there are signs of change, the wind silently blowing in different directions… As the abolition of slavery comes to the front stage, the established norms in human relations change and even blur; old friends are set apart by ambition or rivalry, wives question their husbands and their precarious status. A Chain of Voices is at the same time a chorus of different tones and complaints, and the clanging echo of chains breaking to set the human spirit free.

A Chain of Voices by Andre Brink

 9781402208652| 2007| Sourcebooks Landmarks

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

South Africa: Men in Chains | Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali

The train stopped

at a country station.

Through sleep curtained eyes

I peered through the frosty window,

and saw six men:

men shorn

of all human honour

like sheep after shearing,

bleating at the blistering wind,

‘Go away! Cold wind! Go away!

Can’t you see we are naked?’

They hobbled into the train

on bare feet,

wrists handcuffed,

ankles manacled

with steel rings like cattle at the abattoirs

shying away from the trapdoor.

One man with a head

shaven clean as a potato

whispered to the rising sun,

a red eye wiped by a tattered

handkerchief of clouds,

‘Oh! Dear Sun!

Won’t you warm my heart

with hope?’

The train went on its way to nowhere.

 

Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali was born in KwaZulu-Natal in 1940. Apartheid legislation prevented his enrolment in University after he finished secondary school, but he studied via correspondence, obtaining a diploma with Premier School of Journalism and Authorship, affiliated to London University. He worked as a messenger in Johannesburg, drawing on his observations of the city to write his first collection, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum. Published in 1971, this book went on to become the best-selling poetry book in South African history.

Following the his successful debut, Mtshali studied at the International Writers’ Program at the University of Iowa. This was followed by undergraduate studies at the New School of Social Research, and an MFA from Columbia University. His second collection, Fireflames, was published in 1980. He taught in the USA until his return to South Africa in 2007. His focus now includes the lexicography of Zulu, a translation of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ into this language, and the collection and recording of its folk songs.