Johannesburg – When Fred Khumalo comes to mind, you probably think of the many books under his belt, which encompass various genres including non-fiction, memoirs and short stories written primarily for the older generation.
Well, the award-winning novelist has recently released his first pure young adult novel, titled “Crossing The River”. The book follows the journey of 15-year-old Nozizwe and her family while on the run from the Zimbabwean farm where her family lives and works.
In an expedition led by Nozizwe’s brave aunt, who guides them across the Limpopo River, the family crosses into South Africa illegally. While crossing the Limpopo River, Nozizwe’s older sister is attacked by a crocodile.
And so begins a long and dangerous journey. “Crossing The River” is a story of migration, xenophobia and human trafficking. It is about the triumph of the human spirit, and the kindness of complete strangers.
Shortlisted for the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature 2021, in his capacity as a journalist Khumalo covered the uprisings in Zimbabwe between 2001 and 2002, and in doing so witnessed the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe during that difficult time. The uprisings prompted the exodus into South Africa.
Nozizwe is then positioned as this character who flees the violence and devastation experienced by black people in Zimbabwe. Written as an adventure story, it becomes relatable to younger readers, and teens will be pleased to know they are catered for here.
In the opening chapter of the book, a character by the name of Nomfundo, who is Nozizwe’s sister, is injured by a crocodile as she crosses the river in Limpopo with her family from Zimbabwe into South Africa. In the scene, Khumalo paints a graphic picture of what happens when one crosses a river into another territory.
Nozizwe realises very early in the story that, as a young woman growing up in a violent society, she has to protect herself. To do this, she then masquerades as a man, calling herself “Sizwe”, and this saves her life. The themes which run through the book are immigration, xenophobia, human trafficking and human invasion, where human organs are harvested from living people.
These themes become a reflection of the issues faced by the country and Africa at large. In this way, the book becomes a celebration of our shared humanity in Africa.
Many of Khumalo’s books have been for and about adults, issues and challenges faced by many. “Crossing The River” is written from the perspective of issues such as immigration and xenophobia having an impact on young children as these are not isolated as “adult” problems.
Khumalo is an award-winning author with 12 books to his name. His novel “Dancing the Death Drill” won a National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) Award and his short story collection “Talk of the Town” won the Nadine Gordimer Award.
A journalist and book editor, he holds an MA in Creative Writing from Wits University, is a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, a Fellow of the Academy of the Arts of the World (Cologne, Germany), a Fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, a Fellow of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study and also a PhD (Creative Writing) candidate at the University of Pretoria.
Readers can order “Crossing The River” from leading bookstores nationwide or online. The book is also available as an e-book.