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Dancing the Death Drill

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Dancing the Death Drill

Fred Khumalo discusses his book Dancing the Death Drill. (Camera & editing: Nicholas Boyd)

24th February 2017

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'Be quiet and be calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place is exactly what you came to do... Brothers, we are drilling the death drill .' - Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha

Paris, 1958. A skirmish in a world-famous restaurant leaves two men dead and the restaurant staff baffled. Why did the head waiter, a man who’s been living in France for many years, lunge at his patrons with a knife?

As the man awaits trial, a journalist hounds his long-time friend, hoping to expose the true story behind this unprecedented act of violence.

Gradually, the extraordinary story of Pitso Motaung, a young South African who volunteered to serve with the Allies in the First World War, emerges. Through a tragic twist of fate, Pitso found himself on board the SS Mendi, a ship that sank off the Isle of Wight in February 1917. More than six hundred of his countrymen, mostly black soldiers, lost their lives in a catastrophe that official history largely forgot. One particularly cruel moment from that day will remain etched in Pitso’s mind, resurfacing decades later to devastating effect.

Dancing the Death Drill  recounts the life of Pitso Motaung. It is a personal and political tale that spans continents and generations, moving from the battlefields of the Boer War to the front lines in France and beyond. With a captivating blend of pathos and humour, Fred Khumalo brings to life a historical event, honouring both those who perished in the disaster and those who survived.

 

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About the author

Fred Khumalo has been described as a ‘reluctant Zulu’, ‘clever black’ and an ‘equal opportunity offender’. He completed his MA in creative writing from Wits University with distinction and is the recipient of a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University.

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His writing has appeared in various publications, including the Sunday Times, the Toronto Star, New African magazine, the Sowetan and Isolezwe. In 2008, he hosted Encounters, a public-debate television programme, on SABC 2. His books include Bitches Brew, Seven Steps to Heaven and Touch My Blood.

Dancing the Death Drill is published by Penguin Random House South Africa

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