Fransje van Riel is a journalist in South Africa, with Dutch roots. She has published another book before. This was The World according to Darwin and other Baboons. She now has moved from the animal world to the human world.
She has met a Xhosa-woman Nomfusi Vinah Yekani. They have talked and talked and the result is this book about a woman and her life with her husband, her children, her in-laws.
In a way it is a shocking book, especially in what she relates about the relationship with her husband Jongile. When she meets him during a three-day journey to get roofing-material for a new house he has already been married twice. Both women have left. He is a very charming man and Nomfuzi (“she who comes after twins”) elopes with him. Before the wedding takes place officially she develops cold feet and returns to her mother. This seems to be symptomatic for their relationship for in the end (after paying lobola) they get married officially. But Jongile’s thirst for women is not quenched. His life is a string of girlfriends and affairs. For many and many years Nomfuzi accepts it, for the families are bound together due to the traditions of the Xhosa. She disappears to Somerset West (Cape Town) where her brother lives. Here she gets jobs with white families. During the first few years she travels every year to meet her husband and her children. But in the end there are no more journeys.
Nomfuzi gives birth to children, but the relationship she has with her children is marred due to the relationship with her husband. Her in-laws think it is best her children stay with them. Her son Wandile in the end stays with her mother. Between the ages 4 and 17 Wandile does not see his mother.
Her life in Somerset West is a life of work, in the different households she serves she can give a good contribution. For one family she works 24 years. But outside the house the forces of apartheid are strong and vigilant.
Het mother dies in 1989, her husband in 1991, never did they officially divorce.
At the end of the book Nomfuzi admits that she carries with her the load of her past. But at the moment she is thankful for the present freedom.
It is a sad story, about a life that in a way is a divorced life. Divorced from her husband, from her children, from freedom. I wrote earlier that this is a sad book, but at the same time this book shows the strength of one woman. Strength in the midst of her Xhosa-culture, strength in the midst of a patriarchal society, strength in the midst of an apartheid-culture.
Fransje van Riel / Nomfusi Vinah Yekani – The crowing of the roosters – 2004