#38 – Great Zambezi River

“He’s made a deal with the bartender, Smit. Smit sends likely-looking prospectors to Van
der Merwe, and they sign partnership contracts and if they find diamonds, Van der Merwe
takes everything for himself. If they become troublesome, he’s got a lot of men on his
payroll who follow his orders.” “I know about that,” Jamie said grimly. “What else?”
“He’s a religious fanatic. He’s always praying for the souls of sinners.”
“What about his daughter?” She had to be involved in this.
“Miss Margaret? She’s frightened to death of her father. If she even looked at a man,
Van der Merwe would kill them both.”
Jamie turned his back and walked over to the door, where he stood looking out at the
harbor. He had a lot to think about. “We’ll talk again tomorrow.”
It was in Cape Town that Jamie became aware of the enormous schism between the
blacks and whites. The blacks had no rights except the few they were given by those in
power. They were herded into conclaves that were ghettos and were allowed to leave only
to work for the white man.
“How do you stand it?” Jamie asked Banda one day.
“The hungry lion hides its claws. We will change all this someday. The white man
accepts the black man because his muscles are needed, but he must also learn to accept
his brain. The more he drives us into a corner, the more he fears us because he knows
that one day there may be discrimination and humiliation in reverse. He cannot bear the
thought of that. But we will survive because of isiko.”
“Who is isiko?”
Banda shook his head. “Not a who. A what. It is difficult to explain, Mr. McGregor. Isiko is
our roots. It is the feeling of belonging to a nation that has given its name to the great
Zambezi River. Generations ago my ancestors entered the waters of the Zambezi naked,
driving their herds before them. Their weakest members were lost, the prey of the swirling
waters or hungry crocodiles, but the survivors emerged from the waters stronger and more
virile. When a Bantu dies, isiko demands that the members of his family retire to the forest
so that the rest of the community will not have to share their distress. Isiko is the scorn felt
for a slave who cringes, the belief that a man can look anyone in the face, that he is worth
no more and no less than any other man. Have you heard of John Tengo Jabavu?” He
pronounced the name with reverence.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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