Scatterlings: a novel by Rešoketšwe Manenzhe

cover-Scatterlings2Scatterlings: a novel tells the story of a multiracial family in South Africa at the time when the Immorality Act of 1927 is passed.

The Immorality Act
Racial segregation, sanctioned by law, was widely practiced in South Africa before 1948, the year when the National Party of D.F. Malan came to power and gave this policy the name Apartheid. The Immorality Act of 1927 was an act of parliament which prohibited, among other things, sexual relations between white South Africans and people of other races. Those who broke the law, faced imprisonment. In any case, they would face condemnation by society.

The story follows a multiracial family: Alisa is born of black parents but is raised by a white couple in England, her husband Abram is white of British and Dutch descent - they fall in love on the way to South Africa. Two daughters are born of the union, Dido and Emilia. They lead a normal family life until the Immorality Act is passed, when it becomes clear that the lives they lead have become criminalised.

A desire to belong
Alisa’s past and her psychology are important parts of the novel; her past has made her feel unrooted. Although Abram is optimistic as technically the law makes allowances for couples who can prove that they are married, reality proves different when they experience innuendo and prejudice. In her new home in South Africa Alisa still feels she does not belong.

It is also a story about marriage and the attractions and differences within the relationship of the two protagonists. Alisa struggles to find a place to call home but is also drawn to Abram’s sense of belonging, which seems to come from his whiteness. But the differences mount up, the Immorality Act becomes a catalyst, and the family is torn apart, culminating in Alisa doing something terrible. The story ends with Abram and a surviving daughter forced to flee and live in fear and in disguise; the characters questioning their sense of belonging and a feeling of rootlessness is perpetuated. 

The author
Rešoketšwe Manenzhe is a South African poet, short story writer and novelist. Her short stories and poems have appeared in the Kalahari ReviewFireside FictionPraxis MagazineLolweFIYAH, and the 2017 Sol Plaatjie European Union Anthology, among others. She has won numerous awards. In 2021 she was shortlisted for the Sunday Times CNA Literary Awards. She holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Cape Town (UCT), which she obtained with distinction (in 2018). She has worked as a junior engineer for the South African cement company PPC, and as a lecturer and researcher at UCT’s Department of Chemical Engineering. Scatterlings is her debut novel.

For more information on mixed marriages in South Africa, see here for titles in the ASCL library.

For titles on apartheid legislation, see here.

Angela Robson