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New from Umuzi: Zebra Crossing by Meg Vandermerwe

New from Umuzi: Zebra Crossing by Meg Vandermerwe

In June, Umuzi will be publishing Zebra Crossing by Meg Vandermerwe. It is a bold, lyrical imagining of how it might feel like to live in another’s skin. Meg is an exciting young talent who holds a degree in English literature from Oxford University and published a collection of short stories entitled This Place I Call Home in 2010. We’ve got the scoop on the book, the author and how she came to write this novel.

The Story of an Albino and Illegal Immigrants in Underground Cape Town.

Zebra Crossing tells the story of its protagonist and narrator, Chipo, an illegal immigrant in her late teens and her older brother George. Both have fled poverty and political and private turmoil in their native Zimbabwe for a better life in Cape Town. Set during the 2010 World Cup, it explores myth and malice in the Mother City. As excitement about the World Cup grows, so do xenophobic tensions.

Consequently George and fellow Zimbabweans Peter and David attempt to exploit Chipo’s albinism, and local superstitions about the condition, to make their fortunes amongst the illegal soccer betting rings that have sprung up along the city’s infamous Long Street. Their plan is to get rich quick and leave, before the violent rumours that all foreign Africans remaining in the country after the final soccer match will be attacked, come to fruition.

However, their scheme has disastrous consequences.

Meg Vandermerwe was born in South Africa and raised in Europe. She currently lives in Cape Town, where she teaches creative writing and English literature at the University of the Western Cape. She is also responsible for the University’s unique multilingual creative writing programme, UWC CREATES, which she teaches alongside Antjie Krog and Sindiwe Magona. Amongst others, she holds a degree in English literature from Oxford University and received a distinction for her MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia in the UK. In 2010, she published a collection of short stories with Modjaji Books, entitled This Place I Call Home. Zebra Crossing is her first novel.

Meg Vandermerwe was asked where this novel had its origin. She responded as follows:

“The seed for Zebra Crossing was sown for me in May 2008. Like many, I was shocked by the outbreak of xenophobic violence that so starkly contrasted with post 1994 South Africa’s attempt to position itself as a more inclusive, humane society – the so-called, ‘Rainbow nation’. I was living in London at the time, but had already made up my mind to move back to Cape Town (the city of my birth) after more than twenty-two years abroad. I suppose what shocked me most about the violence, was how black South Africans were not turning upon the privileged white minority (as had so long been feared), but other poor black Africans who had come to South Africa seeking work and in some cases, shelter. The disenfranchised and oppressed had themselves become oppressors of those who were even more disenfranchised and vulnerable.

The oppressed oppressing became a central theme in Zebra Crossing. In the novel, not only do we see African immigrants suffering at the hands of locals at a time when as a nation we were supposed to be ‘celebrating our humanity’ (the 2010 World Cup), but we also see the prejudices within the immigrant communities. One character, David, suffers because he is homosexual. And of course there is the protagonist Chipo, who, as an albino, finds herself on the fringe of society – a source of curiosity for some and superstition for the majority. Chipo’s daily existence is shaped by the African myths and prejudices surrounding her condition. However, although these myths have tragic consequences for her in the end, it is Chipo who has the final say. The narrative is hers – told in her voice and from her perspective. And so, in the end, the voiceless are given voice and the powerless, power, through the act of telling.”

CLICK HERE to read an extract from Zebra Crossing

Zebra Crossing will be published by Umuzi in June 2013 and will also be available in eBook format.

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