The Umzimkulu is the second largest river in KwaZulu Natal. It rises in the Drakensberg and flows southeast, entering the Indian Ocean at Port Shepstone.
The Umzimkulu valley, through which the river runs, remains predominantly rural (until it reaches the coast). Parts of the valley look little different now than they did in the 1940s, when the novel was set.
The Griqua people have their origins in the 17th and 18th centuries. Early Dutch settlers in the Cape formed relationships with the local Khoi people. Their mixed race children grew up speaking Dutch, but did not have the same social or legal status as their white fathers. The colonial authorities formed them into mounted armed commandos, responsible for protecting the new colony’s frontiers against the local Khoi and San populations.
Frustrated by the limitations imposed by the colonial authorities on their rights and freedoms, groups of Griqua migrated from the Cape into the interior. Some moved as far north and west as modern day Namibia.
These groups established four short-lived Griqua states. Griqualand East was one of these. It was founded in the early 1860s by Adam Kok III, and was located between the Umzimkulu and Kinira Rivers. The community was centred on the town of Kokstad, named in honour of its leader.
The territory was taken over by the British Empire in 1874. It was administered by the British as a separate colony for several years, but was incorporated into the Cape Colony in 1879. Under apartheid, the area was incorporated into the Xhosa ‘homeland’ of the Transkei.
Zulu religion includes belief in a creator God, Unkulunkulu, but he is above interacting in day-to-day human affairs. The more strongly held traditional Zulu belief is in ancestor spirits, Amatongo or Amadhlozi, who have the power to intervene in people's lives, for good or ill.
Kumalo is a Zulu, and would be unlikely to call on the Xhosa god. Paton acknowledges that he used poetic license in this regard: ‘I rejected the Zulu word for Great Spirit as too long and difficult.’
These perennial, flowering plants are all native to South Africa.
Watsonia belong to the iris family and grow up to 2m high, producing long stems laden with trumpet-like flowers.
Red Hot Pokers, or torch lilies, are so named for their spikes of upright, brightly-colored, red-to-orange flowers, which are rich in nectar and very attractive to hummingbirds and orioles.
Agapanthus is an evergreen leafy plant that produces large globes of funnel-shaped flowers, in blue, purple or white. The name Agapanthus is derived from the Greek agapé love and anthos, flower. The Zulu and Xhosa have traditionally considered agapanthus to be a medicinal plant, associated with fertility and pregnancy. The Zulu also use it to treat heart disease, coughs, colds and chest pains.
Wattle is a common name for shrubs and trees in the genus Acacia. Acacia previously contained roughly 1300 species, about 960 of them native to Australia, and the remainder to tropical and temperate regions of Europe, Africa, southern Asia and the Americas. In 2005 the genus was sub-divided into five. Acacia was retained for the majority of the Australian species, while most of the species outside Australia were reclassified.
The African wattle is a semi-deciduous tree that can grow up to 15m tall and produces bright yellow flowers in spring and summer. The bark is used medicinally by various African tribes to relieve colic and to treat stomach disorders and sore eyes.
Australian black wattle is grown commercially in South Africa for its timber and its tannins. Its aggressive propagation has seen it become a major environmental threat to indigenous grasslands.
The town of Springs was originally a farm of the same name, so called because of the number of fountains on the land. It lies about 50km south east of Johannesburg.
The area first came to prominence in 1888 when coal was discovered there. In 1890, the first railway in the Transvaal, the ‘Rand Tram,’ was built to carry coal from the East Rand coal mines to Johannesburg. The terminus was on the Springs farm, and six collieries started operations in the area. The town that grew around the terminus was populated mainly by Welsh coal miners.
Coal mining in the area was gradually abandoned, to be replaced by gold mining and industry.
A village was laid out in 1904. By the late 1930s there were eight gold mines near Springs, making it the largest single gold-producing area in the world.
The town is now predominantly industrial, despite its rather pretty name.
The 1913 Native Land Act created reserves in which South Africa’s black population was supposed to reside. The reserves comprised 7% of South Africa, leaving the other 93% for white ownership. Black people could live outside the reserves only if they could prove that they were in white employment.
The reserves were defined along tribal lines – all the Zulus were supposed to live in Zululand, all the Xhosa in Transkei and Ciskei, all the Tswana in Bophuthatswana, and so on, for each of South Africa’s major language groups.
Crowding so many people into such tiny area of the land inevitably resulted in overgrazing and soil erosion, and high levels of poverty and unemployment. This made it easier for the mines to recruit migrant labour, since there was little hope of making a living in the reserves.
Northern KwaZulu-Natal saw a great many bloody conflicts during the 1800s. Today, the ‘battlefields region’ tourism route attracts those with an interest in military history.
The area around Escourt was the scene of several major battles in the 1838 conflict between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus, culminating in the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838.
At Isandlwana, a British force was defeated by 24,000 Zulus in January 1879.
At Rorke’s Drift, a day later, about 100 British soldiers defended themselves for 12 hours against an attack by 4,000 Zulu warriors.
The Newcastle and Glencoe areas were the scenes of several fierce battles between the Boers and the British during the Transvaal war of independence, 1880-1881. Famous sites include Lang’s Nek, Fort Mistake, and Majuba.
Dundee, Glencoe, Ladysmith and Colenso saw a number of battles in the South African war of 1899-1902, which resulted in Britain establishing itself as the colonial power over what would become the Union of South Africa.
The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 quickly turned Johannesburg into a boom town. Today, mine dumps comprised of crushed rock are scattered across the city. There are about 200 dumps in and around Johannesburg, some up to 50 metres tall and containing about 438 million tons of mine dump soil.
Early gold extraction processes were not very sophisticated, so there are still traces of gold in the dumps. In some cases, these are now being extracted using modern techniques. A dump is considered viable when 0.4 grams of gold can be obtained from every ton.
To minimise the dust blowing off the sand dumps, grass and shrubs have been planted on the surfaces. The dumps are, however, a major source of air pollution on windy days.
Headgear, also known as a headframe, gallows frame, or winding tower, is the structural frame above an underground mine shaft. Modern headgear is built from steel, concrete or a combination of both. The headgear houses the hoist or winder, which raises and lowers conveyances within the mine shaft. The three principal types of hoist used in mining applications are the drum hoist, friction hoist, and Blair multi-rope hoist.
The Xhosa are South Africa’s second largest indigenous people after the Zulu.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the mid-17th century, Xhosa peoples occupied much of eastern South Africa. During the 19th century, wars with the white settlers, and with the Zulu, resulted in considerable scattering and fragmentation of Xhosa tribes.
Under Apartheid, the South African government attempted to confine the black population of the country to various ethnically defined Bantustans, or tribal homelands. The Xhosa were supposed to live in the nominally self-governing homelands of Transkei and Ciskei. These areas are now part of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.
The Xhosa language has 15 click sounds.
South Africa’s earliest Sotho-Tswana speakers were concentrated in the north of the country. They are believed to have migrated from the area that is now Tanzania. By 1500 they had spread across South Africa and separated into three distinct regional clusters.
The Sotho nation was established in the 1820s under Moshoeshoe, who used a combination of force and diplomacy to gather together disparate clans of Sotho-Tswana speakers from across the country. A combination of decisive military victories over rival tribes, alliances with neighbouring chiefs, and the inclusion of refugee communities willing to pledge allegiance to him, saw Moshoeshoe establish himself as the undisputed ruler over a large area (modern day Lesotho).
In 1868, after losing some of his territory to the Boers during the Free State–Sotho war, Moshoeshoe successfully appealed to Queen Victoria to proclaim his territory, then known as Basotuland, a protectorate of Britain. Local chieftains retained power over internal affairs while Britain was responsible for foreign affairs and the defence of the protectorate.
In 1966, Basutoland became the independent Kingdom of Lesotho. Today, Lesotho remains an independent mountain kingdom, completely surrounded by South Africa.
Since the late 1800s, many Sotho have travelled to cities such as Johannesburg to work as migrant labourers in the mines. Today, about 4 million people in South Africa speak Sotho as a first language; Sotho is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages.