By Zuko Komisa
Jenny Cryws-Williams spoke to Fred Khumalo author of the book The Longest March. The book speaks about an incident that happened over 120 years ago, where 7000, Zulu mineworkers walked from the gold mines in Johannesburg to Natal, covering a distance of 500 kilometres over 10 days.
The Longest March
Fred Khumalo used an important historical story as the backdrop of his latest novel as an inspiration. Though fictitious, the book has very accurate references to what we know today as the ‘Marwick March”.
The story happens on the eve of the Anglo Boer War, now called the South African War, in 1889 when thousands of black men were trapped in Johannesburg, with no trains to take them back home to their loved ones. A story Fred Khumalo wanted to share, tells of their journey back to Natal, moments before the war would be declared.
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“One group of these black people were a group of between 7 000 and 8 000 Zulus, they desperately wanted to go home with no means to go, so they approached John Sidney Marwick, also known as “Umuhle” — the good one, who worked for the Native’s Affairs Department. Who also recruited some of these men to work in the mines. He organised this march… he wrote a series of letters to the to authorities, to the government saying” I’ll be walking with these Zulu men to Natal & Zululand. Please alert the farmers of the towns to which we will be passing… They shouldn’t shoot we are not an attacking army’.”
A long way from home
On October 6 1889, this journey started; and saw the thousands of workers, women, and children assembled at the Witwatersrand Agricultural Showgrounds being escorted by Marwick. A journey that took them 10 days… leading them to get to Ladysmith during the rainy season.
Fred Khumalo says that part of the reason he wrote the book was to retell history from the perspective of those who couldn’t tell their own story.
“In this case black people who were never able to tell their story, they’ve always been written about, but now I am also giving them a voice, saying you too are also human beings, this is your story.”
Fred Khumalo on the 7th of October 2019 at 05:00; will be walking in the footsteps of these thousands of black South African, essentially retracing their steps. It will take him and his group approximately 10 days.
Listen to a brief book summary here: