Nomavenda Mathiane is a journalist who has worked for most major South African newspapers. She cut her teeth at The World during the turbulent student uprisings of 1976, and later joined Frontline magazine where she specialised in writing about life in South African townships. She has authored Beyond the Headlines and South Africa: Diary of Troubled Times.
Her latest novel, Eyes in the Night, is a young Zulu woman’s story of drama, regret, guilt and, ultimately, triumph – set against the backdrop of a Zululand changed beyond recognition. A true story almost lost, but for a chance remark at a family gathering.
Nomavenda Mathiane stumbled upon her grandmother’s story well over a century after the grueling events of the Battle of Isandlwana that formed her life. Astounded to hear how her grandmother had survived the Anglo-Zulu War as a young girl, Mathiane spent hours with her elder sisters reconstructing the extraordinary life of their grandmother. The result is a sweeping epic of both personal and political battles.
In writing the novel, Mathiane hopes to encourage young people to interrogate their family’s history. In an interview with Jennifer Platt of the Sunday Times (republished in Books Live) she stated:
Young children, both black and white, must question their parents, their grandparents: where do we come from? You cannot know where you are going, if you don’t know where you come from. It’s time that we told our own narratives. This is the first book of the victims of the Ango-Zulu War. Nobody has ever written about what ordinary Zulu people went through. I would implore you to talk to your children.
Excerpt from Eyes in the Night – An Untold Zulu Story (2016):
They left her with Grandmother. Sis Ahh was practically raised by her. I think Ahh was ideally suited to be the one entrusted with the information. She has a calm personality and is blessed with an excellent memory. In her quiet and soft manner of speaking she recalled incidents and events that took place many years ago and related them as though they had happened yesterday. She is a retired nurse and her last post was at the local hospital in Hlabisa, a facility that has become internationally renowned because of the role it has played in treating patients who are suffering from HIV and AIDS. Having trained and worked in many parts of that region she knows and understands the lie of the land and the practices of the area like no other person I know.
Sis Ahh told me her bedtime stories were never about Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, or about cannibals and giants. They were about the battles between the Redcoats and the various Zulu regiments. They were about our great-grandmother’s survival, her unfailing support and nurture of her two young daughters and of their eking out a living on roots and rats in the caves in the Shiyane mountains; and about the final horror of witnessing corpses lying all over some of the valleys and gorges in Zululand. Even Great-grandmother’s given name has sadly been lost to the ravages of time and history.
1989. South Africa: diary of troubled times. New York, N.Y.: Freedom House.
1990. Beyond the headlines: truths of Soweto life. Johannesburg: Southern Book Publishers.
2016. Eyes in the Night: an Untold Zulu Story. Johannesburg: Bookstorm.