By Jack Mapanje (University of Leeds)
Meekulu’s Children, Kaleni Hiyalwa. novel, pp.119, Publisher: New Namibia Books, Windhoek Date of publication: 2000 UK distributor: African Book Collective, Oxford ISBN 9991631712 Price £6.95
Set during the conflagration of invading South African apartheid forces fighting the Namibian freedom fighters they called “torries”, for terrorists, Meekulu’s Children, is the story of a 9 year old school girl, Ketja, of the Angola-Namibia border village of Elombe. Ketja comes home from school to find her mother hacked to death and her homestead and the entire village destroyed. Her brother Kamati and sister Estella, both younger than she, have vanished presumed butchered by the colonising forces. Ketja is traumatised. She lives with old granny Meekulu her only companion. Meanwhile, churches, homesteads, villages burn; people die, others flee; the savage war rages on. Eventually Namibia’s liberation is achieved under the auspices of UN troops. But Meekulu, who is dying from war burns in a village hospital, is unable to witness the triumphal return of Kamati, Estella and her other Elombe children. Meekulu’s Children raises crucial questions about the state of writing for children. Unless presented like the classic stories by Mozambique’s Luis Bernado Honwana, We Killed Mangy-Dog, Namibia’s liberation struggle examined through the eyes of Ketja fails to do justice to this complex subject. It is not clear, for example, why Ketja is not allowed to understand the nature of the struggle by the end of the story when she is supposed to be mature. The use of the local idiom in English translation to reflect the protagonist’s childhood encounters does not entirely create the intended reality. Criticism apart, however, New Namibia Books must be commended for publishing this pioneering work. Like their counterparts in the rest of Africa, Namibia primary school children have little reading material relevant to their culture. A start has been made. We hope that publishers can urge their writers to continue to experiment with the novel and language as vehicles of liberation. So, though Hiyalwa’s language might have needed editing in places and the tale amplification, Meekulu’s Children is welcome.
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin, 63 (2000), p.80]