A stowaway at 26, about to escape his extraordinary past, about to sacrifice the love of his life, Adam resorts to writing his confession, iAfrika! His admission fulfills a boyhood promise made at the murder of wise old M’dhalha, his Matabele mentor. It gives indelible significance to a turbulent childhood on a North Rhodesian wild game farm in the 50’s. Even as a boy, Adam had to kill a man. Sent to Pretoria at Zambia’s independence, 1964, Adam strikes up an illegal interracial relationship with Muhle, the maid next door. Did she ever get free? At boarding school in Kimberley the gauntlet of tests continues. Conscripted to the army in the 70’s and defending the border Adam meets with his lifelong nemesis, Aikimbo. Was that fate? As a railway stoker in Zululand’s Valley of A Thousand Hills he finds no alternative but to seek escape. Hidden aboard a Union Castle ship, trying to write as so long ago promised, iAfrika! is Adam’s atonement to the many remarkable characters that define his passage. Might it be his exoneration too? But first he has to countenance the rest of old M’dhalha’s prophecy: iAfrika!
iAfrika!: 113,303 words. Literary/Mainstream. By R. Francis Michelle-Pentelbury
Adam, at four years old, waits alone at the Ndola station. Very late, his new guardians, Kassie and Sarel, eventually fetch him. Kassie sets the tone for the next seven years: “I’m your mother’s sister, see? But since she’s now dead, when was it, last year? No, the year before that, 1954. ’53? Anyways, since our mother, your Ouma down in South Africa says you’re too big for your boots, you’re here in Northern Rhodesia to stay. We gots a wild game farm, wild animals, so you gets to work. No reading things too big for you! Understand? And you call us Mammie and Pappie. Ja? ” He nods. Intuitively, he does not let his new guardians see his children’s encyclopedia.
Adam befriends M’dhalha, an old Matabele warrior. M’dhalha tells Adam he is destined to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. He is to be the Bietjani Zimba, the Little Lion who eventually is to “Write everything important, everything you remember … about everything with a connection.” The wisdom of M’dhalha’s benevolent influence pervades. But it is Adam’s kindly Aunt Valerie, Kassie’s friend, who brings books “for you to learn from.”
During the chaotic time of Zambia’s struggle for independence Adam looks for significance in extraordinary encounters with snakes, baboons, a crocodile, a leopard, and having to shoot his pet donkey. Trying “to understand others” sustains him through the cruel beatings dealt him by his aunt and uncle. In Adam’s tenth year Aikimbo, a teenaged black boy arrives from the Congo. Adam’s own stupidity gets Aikimbo’s father killed by a trapped leopard. Aikimbo vows revenge. When Adam’s beloved Aunt Valarie is murdered by Aikimbo, who also stole M’dhalha’s knife, Adam feels himself to be the cause.
When Adam’s ‘real father’ after a six year absence arrives for Adam’s tenth birthday with the gift of a bicycle the reflectors in its pedals seem to be the realization of M’dhalha’s old prophecy about the “stars at the cub’s toes.” M’dhalha, fearful, is convinced they presage his own death.
Adam’s new-found father is given conditional permission to take Adam on a monthly Sunday-visit to his England-born grandparents, living in nearby Luansha. Disobeying his grandfather and almost getting killed by an incarcerated rabies-infected servant, Adam, rather than a beating, receives the unusual experience of unconditional love, acceptance, and hope. His father plans to take Adam to England for a year, but Adam is given to understand that they cannot reclaim him from his Afrikaner family. And, he is told, he must return to Africa.
In his “eleventh year” Adam is allowed to go with his father to England. Physically mature for his age, Adam is seduced by a teenager on the ship and in a decision that has far-reaching consequences vows never to have children. In Babbacombe Bay, while on a rowing skiff, they encounter a Baskin shark and his alcoholic father’s cowardice sets up an irreparable relationship. Yet later, in Scotland, Adam tearfully entreats his dad that they ‘hide’ in Britain.
Ineluctably returned to the clutches of his relatives and into the blistering birth of Zambia’s independence, Adam meets unexpectedly with Aikimbo, his childhood enemy. He is challenged to return with M’dhalha to retrieve his stolen bicycle and to reclaim M’dhalha’s old knife. Adam becomes an inadvertent accomplice during the fateful spearing of M’dhalha. He gets the knife back as well as his old bicycle, but searching with spear in hand, Adam does not find Aikimbo.
The night of the plunder and pillage of Adam’s childhood home on the threshold of Zambia’s independence and the murder of his guardian parents leads to a terrifying struggle in the dark and Adam kills one of Aikimbo’s gang. He manages to hide, and crazily waits to see if he can retrieve his treasured old encyclopedia from its hiding place in the house. In finding it Adam narrowly misses getting killed as Aikimbo’s bullet grazes his forehead, and Adam eventually escapes by frantically bicycling all day, the reflector-pedals blazing at his feet, his book and his knife in hand, towards the safety of his grandparents’ homestead. Within weeks, however, he is again legally claimed by his Afrikaner grandparents and sent to live down in South Africa.
On the train down to Pretoria Adam meets the Rev. Martin Moore who ignominiously has been sent by the church back to England. The contact is years later to prove most beneficial to Adam.
Living in Danville once again with his deceased mother’s impoverished, crowded, and dysfunctional family, Adam is subject to ongoing abuse. As Afrikaners they hold it against him that his English father had impregnated his mother, and thereby brought about her social, moral, and physical demise. On a horrific afternoon Adam has little choice but to countenance his pedophiliac uncle, victim of polio. Yet as a consequence of the confrontation there is an auto accident that eventually results in Adam becoming his uncle’s nurse. Adam’s Ouma also has a vision that he will be a great leader in their church. For a while he converts and immerses himself within the compass of the congregation, but soon gives in to his dangerously secret and forbidden inter-racial interest in Muhle, next door’s pretty black maid. The horrendous culmination of their liaison is the climactic day when, after being savagely whipped by his family on the backyard washing-line pole in the name of redemption, he manages to escape while they’re at church, thanks to Muhle using his old knife to cut him down. Once again, his bike beneath him, his knife and his encyclopedia in hand, Adam sets off into the unknown.
Thanks to the intercession of an insightful schoolmaster Adam is sent to boarding school in Kimberley, where the cycle of extraordinary events continues to clamor. A bully steals Adam’s bike and is killed by a car, the bike undamaged. In fury, in attempting to rid himself of the one thing that seems to symbolize the old prophecy’s hold on him, Adam hurls the bicycle with its ‘stars at his toes’ into the vast open mine crater of Kimberley’s Great Hole. Harrowingly, he almost plunges in with it. Saving himself, he realizes a turning point in his apprehensions and soon confronts the Headmaster about the value of competition and of financial independence.
Following graduation the old prophecies continue to haunt him. He is conscripted into the army and becomes a sniper on the Rhodesian border. While on reprieves he meets the love of his life, Felicity, but she wants children, and Adam lets her know he’d vowed never to sire any. The army sends yet another Call Up and while serving on the border Adam has a final confrontation with his old enemy, Aikimbo. The poetic incident serves to convince that he no longer can support Apartheid or S. Africa’s expectations of him. He decides to stowaway on a ship, but in doing so he must choose to escape an old life by sacrificing his new love. Or must he? At last on the ship, as prophesied, he tries to fulfill the mandate of his childhood promise: “Write, write about it all.”