Like the Tugela River valley which splits the hills in two in an angry gash, so do we live in a world of black people and white people who inhabit separate and opposite spaces. It is our birthright that we pass like silent shadows from a white to a brown world, blending from one to the other with the ease of chameleons. These two worlds, their conflicts, their warm embraces, and their battles to the death have shaped us as surely as the river shaped the valley we call home.
Third World Child
GG Alcock’s parents, Creina and Neil, were humanitarians who gave up comfortable lives to move to rural Zululand. In a place called Msinga, a dry rock-strewn wilderness and one of the most violent places in Africa, they lived and worked among the Mchunu and Mthembu tribes, fighting for the rights of people displaced by the apartheid government’s policy of ‘forced removals’. They also fought against the corruption of police and government officials, as well as local farmers, which did not sit well with their white fellow citizens. When GG was fourteen his father was assassinated by rival tribesmen.
GG’s early life in rural Zululand in the 1970s and 80s can only be described as unique. He and his brother Khonya, both initially home-schooled by their mother, grew up as Zulu kids, herding goats and playing with the children of their neighbours, learning to speak fluent Zulu, learning to become Zulu men under the guidance of Zulu elders, and learning the customs and history of their adopted tribes. Armed with their father’s only legacy – the skills to survive in Africa – both young men were ultimately forced to move into the ‘white’ world which was largely unknown to them.
In many ways GG Alcock’s story mirrors that of many of his people, the journey of a tribal society learning to embrace the first world. He does not shy away from the violence and death that coloured his childhood years surrounded by savage faction fighting, nor how they affected his adult life. His story is one of heartbreak and tragedy and, paradoxically, of vibrant hope and compassion. A restless energy and sardonic humour permeate his writing, which is compelling in its honesty and spontaneity.
"You might think you know South Africa, but this book will show you otherwise."
- RIAN MALAN, author of My Traitor’s Heart
THIRD WORLD CHILD has been longlisted for the 2015 Alan Paton Award.
'The ride has been a hard and exciting one for this skinny white kid. I’m definitely not a Zulu, not until I open my mouth'
My bike bucks and rattles on the stony ground as we pass the places of my youth, memories flashing through my mind as I ride past the once familiar landmarks. The ride has been a hard and exciting one for this skinny white kid. I’m definitely not a Zulu, not until I open my mouth, that is, or when I think; like Khonya, I think in Zulu, and when I can’t find the English words I say it in Zulu, the language of my upbringing, a poetic, humour-filled language of warriors.
Fire bursts around me, the flames flickering light and shadow in a black and red dance, soft crying comes from the hut as the fire seems to envelop it. A man lies very still on the ground, his blood a dark stain in the mud, his eyes open in death. The only life is the fluttering reflection of the flames.
I slow down the memory flashing through my mind as I pass the stone grave where this happened, and the rebuilt huts. The rear tyre slides aggressively as I stand and power the bike around the corner, stones, like memories, scattering into the past.
Khonya has stopped. I pull up next to him and he points up towards Darkest Africa, the marula and tamboti trees and acacia thorn bush are impenetrable and their dark vegetation rises vertically up a volcanic-like peak. I can see why they called this farm what they did. A young girl runs up to Khonya and half kneels, gazing down, not at him, and claps her hands.
‘Buthi omkhulu,’ she says. Big brother. ‘Umalume, uncle, Masoka said ibandla.’ The elders need you to come to a meeting at the umncaka, the red ivory tree.
The young girl glances at me as I remove my helmet, then surprise lights up her red ochre painted face, so at odds with her sexy Nike top. ‘Buthi omdala, ubuyile?’ she smiles. Older brother, you are back?
Khonya chats to the girl while I gaze curiously at the new Zulu homesteads dotting the hills below Darkest Africa’s highest peak. We could never have imagined black people living here again during the bleak times when we fought for their rights to this land.
On we ride. We pass a tree which serves as a taxi stop, a scattered pile of red boulders used as benches. There an old granny sits, or a group of chattering school kids, maybe a flashily dressed young man fresh from eGoli, the City of Gold. They wave and shout greetings, dogs yapping at our dust, their voices light and distant as we pass. ‘Bafana bakanumzaan, buthi omkhulu, MaKhonya niyaphi?’ Numzaan’s boys, big brother Khonya, where are you going?
The road twists and turns through narrow rocky passes, along great muddy rivers and among idyllic Zulu kraals, two white boys in a sea of Zulus, but we are riding the paths of home, our ancestors and their ancestors rest together now. This hard brutal place is home