The JRB presents an excerpt from Daughters of Nandi, the debut work of adult fiction by Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang.
Daughters of Nandi
Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang
Read the excerpt:
1827, The Valley of a Thousand Hills, KwaZulu, South of Africa
My people, I have no regrets. I, Nandi Queen of the Zulu Nation, have lived a life anointed by the ancestors. I was chosen to birth a king and lead my people. I called him uMlilwana. The fire to warm my heart and hands. But little did I know he would later turn into a flame that would burn brightly, illuminating the future of our nation. He would become an inferno that would rage ferociously for one decade, but forever changing the histories of many nations across the African continent. Yes, my son gave me a life like no other. UShaka kaSenzangakhona.
They called him Ilembe eleqa amanye amalembe ngokukhalipha. They called him uNodumehlezi kaMenzi—the one who gets famous although he is sitting, idle. Poets are liars! When was my son ever idle? The African ant, ever frenetic, would have been shamed into a stupor of helplessness by Shaka’s boundless energy, his tirelessness.
The sharp spear of the Zulu Nation.
Indeed, even as I birthed him, welcoming him into the world, I could sense that he would raise me high above nations. UShaka akashayeki. Undefeated in life and in death. There, the poets were right!
My people, I will say it again: I have no regrets about my life. I have lived and loved and reigned over the great people of the heavens, uZulu. From the north where Soshangane of the Nxumalo people established his nation, along the mountains of Ukhahlambain the eastern most part, where the valleys are deep and green and alive with the beauty of the heavens. Where the hippos groan and grunt, and the titihoye bird sings so melodiously. Along the coast of Empangeni, kwaDukuza, kwaBulawayo, where herds of buffalo can be found gamboling joyfully as if taunting the lions who sit on their haunches, biding their time, waiting for a stupid buffalo calf to stray from the herd. A land so beautiful it seems to stop time in its tracks and demand admiration from all in its presence. The land of the Zulu people, where heaven is indeed on earth and many nations have fought over who has the legitimate claim to this breath-taking fertile and glorious land.
I have ruled over a thousand lush valleys and heard the songs of praise from amabhungu and amatshitshi, the young men and women of KwaZulu who have lived and loved for generations. They who claim a lineage from Mnguni the original ancestor of AmaZulu. Mnguni father of Luzumana, father of Malandela, father of Zulu great great great grandfather of Mageba who fathered Ndaba, whose son is Jama who fathered the love of my life, Senzangakhona. He who does well. Senzangakhona.
My people, I repeat: I have no regrets about the life I have lived. My great loves, my great losses, are mine to tell. Regret is the mother of grief, bitterness and scorn. After all, my name is the antithesis of bitterness. I am Nandi, the sweet one. Yes, I am sweet. Until you cross me. But wait, we shall get there.
The people who birthed me are called abantu baseLangeni. People of the sun. Powerful and warm as the sun’s life-giving rays. Abantu base Langeni prize courtesy, warmth, love and kindness above all else. They are a peace-loving nation that abhors and avoids war at all costs. Like the many clans and families that formed the Zulu nation, the people of eLangeni knew peace for generations. We lived in harmony. The skirmishes that took place between clans were triggered by minor disputes over grazing land. The weapons used, the long throwing spears were flung from afar, and resulted in minor injuries rather than fatal blows. We are part of the Nguni nations. Abangoni, they who harm no one.
My people, nestled in the hills and valleys aseLangeni, had plenty to eat. Women and men worked hard to ensure that food reserves were always high. The days were ordered around the business of finding and keeping food and love. Opportunities to find love were as plenty as the many feasts and festivals to celebrate abundance. The most celebrated of the feasts was Umkhosi wokweshwama, the feast of the first fruit. This is when the nation comes together to give thanks to our ancestors uNomkhubulwana, the giver of agricultural abundance, uMvelinqangi, the God above, for the abundant food that we enjoy. The divine spirit of uMvelinqangi touches everything on earth. It is the spirit of growth, the energy that gives us rain and endows the seeds we plant with the will to flourish and become plenty.
I am no longer of this world. I have returned to the heavens. My people of eLangeni claimed back my spirit from the life of restless wandering and loss. I am safe in the valley of happiness, nestled by the sun and covered in eternal love. I have time and love on my side. My hope is that time and the eternal love of the Divine will heal the wounds in my womb and in my heart. This hope is unfulfilled. My words spoken again and again in blinding anger during my lifetime, are a sad echo across time. An echo carried across many voids of the living, in flesh and in spirit. Words become manifest. In anger, my words poisoned my bloodline. I can hear their echoes still. Children of my children echo my tears across the ages.
A curse upon the house of eLangeni for what they did to me. Rejected by Senzangakhona, his sister Mkabayi, even my own father Bhebhe chief of eLangeni. Yes, my father shrunk in shame and looked at me with scorn when I was forced by the Zulu royal family to return home. From now to eternity, generations of my beloved children will know the pain of my humiliation. They will know hurricanes, whirlwinds and unending rain. They will know the searing pain of a red hot spear through a lover’s longing heart. Till eternity the line of Nandi Mhlongo, Queen of the Zulu Nation, will know no peace. Lovers will betray and spit upon the children of the sun. Their hearts will break into a million pieces. Again and again. Marriages will end in misery and hopelessness. Children of my children will breathe heartache, separation and loneliness. Violence, disease and poverty will seep into the line of Mhlongo and Zulu. A union the ancestors refused to bless. I call on the power of my pain. Let it be so.
- Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang is an academic, filmmaker, broadcaster and author of six books for younger readers. A previous winner of the Bessie Head Writing Fellowship, Mazibuko Msimang is a Pendoring Awards finalist for her latest children’s book Qhawe! Mokgadi Caster Semenya. She is a Fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Research Institute. Daughters of Nandi is Mazibuko Msimang’s debut work of adult fiction.
As she took her dying breath, Nandi Mhlongo, mother of Shaka kaSenzangakhona, cursed the house of Zulu and her family, the Mhlongos, for the disrespect she endured at their hands. In the ancestral realm, Nandi worries that her malediction may have been rash and too dangerous for the descendants of the two houses. The curse can be undone but it will need a human medium to convey the message to the progeny.
Through three historical periods, three women who are extraordinary in their different ways will seek to get restitution for Nani. Gentle keeya, a Motswana woman of the House of Moagi who marries one of Nandi’s descendants as the English, the Boers and the Zulu go to the war in the 19th century; Uju, a spirited married woman who carves a space for herself in history during the forced removals of Sophiatown in the 20th century; and in the 21st century Amangwe, who reluctantly joins her fellow students as they speak up against a meaningless freedom during the #FeesMustFall protests.
Will any of these three women manage to ensure Nandi Mhlongo is appeased and if not, what shall be the consequences to the Houses of Mhlongo and Zulu and to the three Daughters of Nandi themselves?
An engaging debut which seamlessly weaves fact, fiction and spiritualities while subverting the way the reader perceives history.