Book review: Hyenas in a Place of Joy

NHLANHLA Maake, dean of humanities at the University of Limpopo, who gave us, Barbarism in High Education, returns with an analysis of uncertainty in the political sphere in his latest historical novel, Hyenas in a Place of Joy.

Title: Hyenas in a Place of Joy

Author: Nhlanhla Maake

Publisher: Ekaam Books


The title refers to teachers, principals, ndunas and politicians in an apartheid setting.

Maake views revolutionary and counter-revolutionary processes as arising "out of the survival of the fittest when the ideas supporting or propping up the old order had become unsustainable".

From here he focuses on the indoctrination of education to children at primary school.

A teacher uses two girls and two boys as examples of moral and sexual decadence. He and his audience are oblivious that he is prophetically weaving a thread which radiates a halo of curses around them. It binds their lives inextricably over the next 30 years, and is only broken by the death of one protagonist and the survival of the other.

The novel is a story of innocence, eloquent silence, deceit and betrayal.

Maake writes in a way that encourages a reader to question the whole idea of "true" history, to question how readers understand history, and to think about the fact that history is always presented to them by powerful (and often unscrupulous) men who have won the war and taken control of the country/ government/ schools and ideas.

This idea of history is very Marxist, in that it is based on the premise that all ideas are produced by men, and ideas are rooted in certain specific ideologies.

Hyenas in a Place of Joy is one of the most vivid and compelling account of the day-to-day details of apartheid.

There were only two professions open to black children in those days. Teaching for men and women or nursing for women, Maake writes.

"Such were the dictates of Bantu education, which had sent many black intellectuals out of the country from the mid-1950s, to provide their skills to other countries on the continent and modern world Those who remained in the country were doomed to an education which prepared them to rise no higher than the role of slavery in the racial capitalist system of the country. Thokoza seemed to be stuck in the deepest of these dark ages, in absolute mockery of its name."

Set in Thokoza, the main characters are teacher Mr Makhohlo, councillor Nkadimeng, Nduna and Aunt Maki (Dimakatso). Maki suffers humiliation when she wants a permit stay in Thokoza or work in Alberton.