Talk of the Town - - Front Page - LOUISE CARTER

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 Xhosa cul­ture – of­ten with the per­mis­sion of par­ents and rel­a­tives.

Set in the ’90s when South Africa was 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 sur­vives after en­dur­ing hor­ren­dous treat­ment at the hands of her hus­band, and moves to Cape Town in an at­tempt to es­cape the ru­ral con­di­tions.

Clay­ton, who has lived in the Shaw Park area since 1983, started writ­ing Thwala al­most 10 years 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 ukuth­wala be­ing prac­tised, 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 hus­band Robin Clay­ton.

The cou­ple moved to Set­tler Coun­try in 1983 and had two chil­dren.

Be­fore writ­ing Thwala , she had al­ready writ­ten 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 ear­marked 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.


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