Reviewer: Rob McLeod
Author: Kagiso Lesego Molope
Set in Johannesburg, this book written for young adolescents, recounts the tale of a teenager Tshidiso. The surface story is of her observations and personal development through a period when she changes schools. Life at the racially mixed convent in town is very different from her township school experience.
Backgrounded during the extremely tense years 1989-90, this 127 page novella weaves a story on two levels. The hopes, fears and changes in a young black woman are recounted against a history of rapid, bewildering political transition. Tshidiso’s personal emotions and development are subtly reflected against the socio-political backdrop of uncertainty and deep yearning. This inside/outside dynamic lends depth to a simple yet engaging story to which many can relate. At once specific and personal, this work reflects the changing society from which it springs without preachy moralizing or glibness about our apartheid legacy.
The Mending Season is the story of a young daughter, Tshidiso. She lives in a home of four women (Tumane the eldest, Malesedi, Malebone her mother and Mabatho), all sisters who are mourning the loss of both parents early in their lives. They have insulated themselves against the gossip, withcraft allegations and social oppressiveness of their township life. Tshidiso, meaning ‘one who brings solace to mourners’, silently sees and takes in much of the world around her. A lemon tree in her yard provides her with a vantage point and listening-post; just as bitter experience offers them all the chance to learn useful lessons from life. Tshidiso’s own mother dies and her aunts ably raise her.
Her household is seen as a den of wild women, when in fact they are merely independent and assertive black women in a frightened world going through massive change. Orphaned early, the aunts boldly decide their own rules, disagreeing with neighbours on money, how to express rage and the role of men in their lives. They incur the judgement and then respect of those around them.
Tshidiso’s own path into an unfamiliar world at her new school is recounted with sympathy. Pressures to conform her speech, clothing and other behavioural and material test her character. Then a racial incident on the netball court threatens the life of the school.
Using a dialogic structure, Malope weaves the personal and the political story using two voices. Tshidiso, the youngest and central character narrates her own story. Periodically a depersonalised, older and vaguely authorial voice recounts some family or social and political context to the unfolding story. This is facilitated almost seamlessly using italics, however opportunities to explore the current relevance of the richly promising social fabric of the story are not explored to depth.
A women’s rights advocate and documentary film-maker, Kagiso Lesego Malope has written another novel in similar vein. Although the author now lives and works in Canada, she writes from her South African experience, having been born in Atteridgeville, Pretoria.
This is a good choice for a school library or a class reader, to which a wide readership can relate.