In MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH, Dr. Lesego Malepe takes us back in time to the beginning of the end of apartheid. The Dutch and English colonized South Africa in the seventeenth century, but by 1963 the Boers had taken oppression to unbelievable heights of outrage. Black South Africans were foreigners in their own land - required to carry passes at all times and jailed for disagreeing with a government in which they had no representation.
The Maru family has been fortunate. Although they live in a village haunted by the specter of Mamogashwa, a mythical monster that drowns black children in the river, their lives are better than many. Edward is a professor at a university and his wife, Evelyn, is a teacher. The Maru children are following in their parents' footsteps and attend boarding schools, but their world is turned upside down when their brother, Tiro, only seventeen, is arrested at school and charged with sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government. Tiro and his co-conspirators' fictional trial mirrors the infamous Rivonia Trial of 1963-64 in Pretoria in which a number of defendants were accused of similar crimes, including a lawyer and activist named Nelson Mandela.
The trial takes a toll on the entire family, but it especially impacts the Marus' only daughter, Neo. She must draw on the strength and wisdom of her mother and grandmother as she comes of age in a very volatile environment. In the end, Neo leaves South Africa, but returns many years later, triumphant in ways that her brothers only dreamed.
Malepe effectively uses Mamogashwa, a giant snake that is actually a white woman, as a symbol of apartheid. She draws a convincing parallel between Mamogashwa's evils and the horrible iniquity of apartheid, destroying black youth at will. MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH is powerful and patriotic. The Marus' story will bring perspective to how families struggled on a daily basis under apartheid and engender a new respect for the sacrifices of millions of black South Africans.
Reviewed by Kim Anderson Ray
of The RAWSISTAZ™ Reviewers