Dancing the death drill BOOK REVIEW

My most recent read is by Fred Khumalo, you’ll notice I am being intentional in my selection of authors, this book was an interesting read. The author is Fred Khumalo.

Fred Khumalo was born on 4 August 1966 in Chesterville, Durban KwaZulu-Natal, having grown up in the township he was exposed to a lot of crime from a young age, which urged him to focus on his education as a way to escape the violence and poverty that enclosed him. It was also during this time, as a young man, he remained focused on his studies throughout his childhood and decided to become a writer while still in high school.

Khumalo later graduated from DUT (Durban University of Technology) after studying journalism and completed his MA in creative writing at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, Gauteng) with distinction.

He is an accomplished author of both fiction and non-fiction books, as well as an award-winning journalist and columnist. He has also published several short stories in commercial magazines and literary journals like Drum, Tribute, Pace, and Staffrider. His journalistic work has been published in South Africa, Canada, and the United Kingdom (UK). He has achieved high acclamation and respect for his work.

The book if fictional and is inspired by the events of the SS Mendi.

The SS Mendi is a boat that sunk on the 21 February 1917, more than 600 men of the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC) lost their lives in the sinking of the SS Mendi– the largest single loss of life for the non-combatants in the SANLC during the First World War.

The Mendi was carrying the SANLC to France, where they were to serve as essential support to the ongoing fighting, where the men would provide assistance with physical labor, when the SS Darro, a mail ship three times it’s size, struck the troopship, in thick fog 19km south of St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight. The Darro survived the collision but the Mendi sank quickly, leaving 607 men dead.

Some were killed on the point of impact, many others drowned. The extent of the loss of life in the Mendi disaster established its status as a national tragedy in South Africa, which briefly overwhelmed racial divisions. The entire South African House of Assembly rose in silence on 9 March 1917 as a mark of respect.

The story which I won’t overly indulge you on, in hopes you’ll purchase the book yourself is excellent penmanship from Khumalo, which centers around the life of Pitso Motaung, a young man who had to find his identity in a world that was tremendously difficult to navigate. The book is an ode to all those who passed, the 607 men, that I would like to call heroes, who were brave and had been driven to fight in a war that was neither for their country and did not in any way contribute to their well- being.

Having lost their lives on this journey, so little was done to commemorate these men and the unlikely friendships that were struck, across all cultural divides and racial barriers, it is only much later that they were truly honored, I love this book as it is a tangible form of celebration and all the stories they carried. A timely contribution. GET YOURSELF A COPY FRIEND!

In Fred Khumalo’s words…

To the unsung heroes and heroines throughout history, in all wars known to man. But more specifically to those gallant souls who were aboard the ss Mendi when she went down.

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