The march instils in me new levels of discipline

Fred Khumalo Watching You
Author and columnist Fred Khumalo is on the road as he re-enacts the walk by 7,000 Zulus to KZN 200 years ago. /ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Author and columnist Fred Khumalo is on the road as he re-enacts the walk by 7,000 Zulus to KZN 200 years ago. /ANTONIO MUCHAVE

As promised in my column last week, on Monday I embarked on a 10-day walk in which I will cover more than 400km.

This, of course, is to mark the 120th anniversary of a march by some 7,000 Zulu men, and some women and children, who had to leave Johannesburg for Natal on foot weeks before the British declared war on the Boers.

The conflict, which lasted from 1899 to 1902, claimed thousands of lives.

While the public record shows that 26,370 Afrikaner women and children died in concentration camps set up by their British oppressors, new evidence shows that more than 21,000 black men, women and children also died in concentration camps during the war.

These are facts that inspired me to write the book The Longest March. The release of the book last month, and my public announcement that I would physically be re-enacting the march that started on October 7, 1899, triggered one major question in the public space: you've already published the book, so why put yourself through the tortuous walk, especially in this heat?

Short answer: I am a sucker for physical pain.


The real answer goes something like this: for me the exercise is more intellectual than physical.

As I was busy writing the book almost two years ago, I started toying with the idea of putting myself through the trauma that those gallant 7,000 endured. The idea appealed to me because writing itself is like embarking on a long march. It is intimidating. It is painful, especially when you get stuck.

What I have taught myself over the years is not to look at a book as this 400-page monster. Instead, I set myself a weekly target. Say, 20 pages a week. If I am disciplined about it, I will have about a hundred pages in one month!

But the creative process doesn't always work like that. Some weeks are bad, others are completely terrible.

You produce the required number of words, but the output turns to be insufferable balderdash. So you toss it aside. The consolation, however, is that you have produced something. You've been disciplined about it.

This lesson learned from novel writing came in handy as I embarked on the march. On the first day, I set myself a target of 51.4km - from Johannesburg to Heidelberg.

Although I did reach my first destination - the last 10km in the backseat of a car driven by a team from Sowetan! - I realised that I had to henceforth reduce the number of kilometres covered per day. On the second day, I did only 39km , from Heidelberg to Balfour. On the third, 28km.

What the march is re-instilling in me is discipline, focus, the preparedness to take the pain. It's a lesson that can be applied to all aspects of our lives.

If you want to achieve something, you plan accordingly. Be prepared to endure the pain. Be prepared for disappointment, but don't let disappointment kill your dream.

Be humble enough to reconsider when it turns out that the original plan was too ambitious, or simply unrealistic.

To go back to my intellectual considerations with regard to the march: on embarking on this walk, I sought to draw attention, in as dramatic a way as possible, to the suffering of black during the Anglo-Boer.

As I continue the walk - I am on my fourth day as I write this - I meet people, both black and white, who are shocked that they didn't know about the march, let alone the deaths of black people during the war.

I've been on at least three radio stations, two TV shows and given countless press interviews. I'm happy that my personal ambitions to test my physical prowess are giving me the opportunity to teach and learn.

The march continues.

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