by Candi Miller
KALAHARI PASSAGE is Candi Miller’s second novel in a series about a young San woman, Koba. Its prequel, SALT AND HONEY, establishes fatal links between the Afrikaans Marais family and Koba’s own parents. Orphaned by a hunting trip in which her parents where the prey, Koba is adopted by the hunter’s family and grows up as a ‘Bushgirl’ living in a cave on white property under the apartheid regime in South Africa.
In this beautifully crafted continuation of Koba’s story, Miller extends her exploration of the interracial taboo as KALAHARI PASSAGE is set in the wake of a love affair between the heroine and the son of her adopted white parents. Both Koba and Mannie Marais have been detained under the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and tortured in prison. National newspapers follow the case and Koba soon becomes the face of the new Homeland Policy as police authorities hurry to make her the first successful example of repatriation. But their efforts to return Koba to the Ju|’hoansi people are sabotaged from the outset when the vindictive Andre Marais decides to abduct Koba and kill her in the anonymity of the Kalahari Desert. Miller’s heroine manages to escape, but must now flee from the threat of recapture and trek towards relatives that may or may not accept her after she has been spoiled by the ways of |Ton white people.
It is through this captivating journey that Miller draws the reader into a debate over the idea of home and the prerequisites of belonging in a racially and spatially segregated country. The national government defines both concepts solely on the grounds of ethnicity but Koba decides her ‘true n!ore’ (home) is with Mannie. In their dream home, Mannie and Koba would speak Ju|’hoansikaans or Afringlish, a compound language to embrace both their linguistic heritages. In an effort towards this inclusivity, Miller’s novel is written primarily in English but sprinkled with phrases in Afrikaans, Ju|’hoansi and Zulu, all translated in a glossary at the back.
Miller also questions the relationship between lovers and fighters under apartheid, where Mannie and Koba’s forbidden sexual union renders them unwitting political activists and their struggle to be together becomes tantamount to treason. Throughout the novel, Miller’s narrative flits between several streams of consciousness, allowing the reader an insight into a variety of South African mindsets under apartheid, from Marta’s ‘commie kaffirboetie’ anxieties to the italicised interruptions in Koba’s thoughts from her Insect, the spirit of her late grandmother. This intricately woven plot binds several characters together through a cross-generational tracker tale of love, belonging, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Published by Tindal St Press, 320pp.
Read our interview with Candi Miller.