THWALA, by Eve Clayton, is a fictional story that looks at the practice of ukuthwala – the abduction and forced marriage of young women and girls in the Xhosa culture – often with the permission of parents and relatives.
Set in the 1990s when South Africa was in in the throes of unshackling itself from the oppressive grip of apartheid, the novel tells a story of a white farmer who seduced his black labourer’s 16-year-old daughter and got her pregnant.
The farmer, in an effort to save face with his community and family who lived in a context with no tolerance for multicultural relationships, “used” a tribal law to absolve himself from responsibility.
The young woman survived her thwala after enduring horrendous treatment at the hands of her husband, she moves to Cape Town in an attempt to escape the rural conditions.
The novel unpacks hard hitting issues that prevails in the contemporary post-Apartheid discourse and delves deep in unpacking the perceived shame of multicultural relationships, violation and abuse and objectification of women and young girls as well as the conflict of cultural customs.
Clayton, who has lived in the Shaw Park area since 1983, started writing Thwala almost ten years year’s before but finally decided to publish after her 60th birthday.
A close colleague and friend of Clayton’s who assisted with the Xhosa dialect and traditions in Thwala has shared many experiences and stories of thwala being practiced, prevalent still today in areas of the Transkei.
“My friend has witnessed young women being stripped naked and tied up or locked inside a house. They are left there for days screaming when the thwala is arranged. It’s nothing for people to carry on with life as normal and just ignore the woman,” Clayton said.
Clayton, was born Evelyn Stewart in King William’s Town in 1955, a second child with three brothers, who moved with her family to Grahamstown when she was four years old. She attended Stepping Stones nursery school, Oatlands Pre-primary and Victoria Girls Primary and High, then went on to major in English and Speech and Drama at Rhodes University (1976) followed by an HDE (Higher Diploma in Education).
Clayton went on to teach at Cambridge High School in East London for five years, marrying at the time also her husband, Robin Clayton. The couple moved to Settler Country in 1983 and had two children.
Before writing Thwala, she wrote a historical saga, TV script and a short story – although none were published.
In 1994 Clayton started a six-year spell teaching at Shaw Park Primary, which at the time was a small, white farm school ear marked for closure. As principal she opted to open the doors to all, rather than closing, and the Model C school became a haven for black parents desperate to access decent education.
During her tenure, Clayton kept numerous dramatisations and plays alive at the school. After six years she took a break from teaching and dedicated herself full time to her family and children. It was during this time that Clayton wrote the first version of Thwala, under a different title, but again failed to publish, and so she returned to teaching.
“The aim of this story is to get people to look at each other from underneath each other’s skin,” Clayton said.
Thwala will be launched at the National English Literature Museum in Grahamstown on November 2 from 5.30pm.
TotT will review the book in the next few weeks.