Retracing the steps of 7 000 Zulu mineworkers, Fred Khumalo walked from Gauteng to Ladysmith. Picture: FACEBOOK
Durban - Author Fred Khumalo retraced the steps of 7000 miners from Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal and wove it into a tale of romance.

This week, Khumalo released his book, The Longest March, telling a tale of 7000 Zulus who walked for 10 days from Johannesburg to Ladysmith on October 7, 1899.

Khumalo said it was a few weeks before British soldiers declared war on the Boers. The Zulus did not have transport to go home because the trains had been seized and they had to walk.

However, they were scared that if they walked, Boer farmers along the way would mistake them for an invading army and attack them.

They approached John Mawick, who worked at the Native Affairs Department and had been instrumental in registering most of them to work at the mines, and he was from KZN.

He was friendly with them because he could also speak isiZulu; they gave him the name “Muhle” which translates as “beautiful”. Mawick wrote a series of letters to magistrates in all the towns the men would pass through, informing them of the mineworkers’ arrival and to urge the magistrates to spread the word to the farmers.

Khumalo, who was born in KwaZulu-Natal, took the story and wrote a novel.

“I used the historic background to tell a love story with the main characters as a Zulu guy Ndukuzempi Mhlongo and coloured lady Philippa Fortune,” he explained, adding that in the novel, Mhlongo is Mawick’s employee.

Khumalo said the journey was physically draining.

“When I left Johannesburg the sun was scorching hot, but I managed to cover 52km on the first day.”

He said the first day was the most challenging of his journey, taking a toll on his feet and, as a result, he walked slowly on the second day.

However, he made it to Ladysmith on the 10th day and was met with an award of appreciation by Alfred Duma Local Municipality mayor Vincent Mayiboyi Madlala.

Khumalo said writing a novel took patience and a lot of reading. He urged young writers to take it one step at a time and to not rush the process.

“If you don’t like reading then forget about ever writing a book,” said Khumalo.

He said he was studying towards finishing his PhD in creative writing and also working to have a stage play and a television series made out of the book.

“The march will take place annually, and I invite people to join me next year on October 7,” Khumalo added.

Independent On Saturday