The Power of One
It is 1948, a "great year in South Africa's history." Princess Elizabeth visits the country, and white bread arrives. D.F. Malan, an Afrikaner, leads the Nationalist party to victory in the elections. Peekay says that the struggle between the Afrikaners and English was not an ideological one, but based on the simple fact of bread-the Nationalists promised, in their campaigns, to replace wholegrain bread with white bread. In summary, Peekay says that "Ninetween forty-eight was the year South Africa lost all hope of joining the brotherhood of man." He foreshadows that it will not be until 1952 that the black and "colored" people would protest, under Chief Lutuli of the ANC and Dr. Monty Naiker of the Indian Congress. Peekay says, however, that it is easy to remain oblivious to politics in the shelter of the privileged white boarding school environment.
In 1949, Peekay spends Passover with Morrie, and they pay Solly Goldman extra money for holiday training sessions. One day Solly tells Peekay that a young black bantamweight, Gideon Mandoma, who has recently turned professional has challenged him to a fight in Sophiatown, a nearby township. Morrie objects, on the grounds that Peekay is only fifteen years old, and an amateur. Solly, however, says that the black boxer is himself only sixteen years old. Morrie asks Solly his reasons for insisting on the fight, and Solly eventually admits that a man called Mr. Nguni has called for the fight. He is a promoter and basically runs boxing in the townships. Solly needs his support. Peekay asks whether the man is Zulu, since his nanny's name was Mandoma. Morrie wonders what Mr. Nguni's motives are, but Peekay has already worked it out-"the People" want the fight. Outside, in the parking lot, the boys come face to face with Mr. Nguni, whom Peekay recognizes as the black man who would lead the chanters at his boxing matches. He and Mr. Nguni converse in the Zulu manner. Peekay introduces Mr. Nguni to Morrie, but Mr. Nguni tells Peekay in Zulu that his friend does not show much courtesy. Mr. Nguni explains to the boys that a woman has thrown bones which have forecast that the Onoshobishobi Ingelosi is a chief of the People. Peekay must fight against Gideon Mandoma, the great-great-grandson of Cetshwayo, to see whether he is the true Onoshobishobi Ingelosi. Morrie does not think Peekay should agree to the fight, but Peekay explains to Morrie that the Tadpole Angel is a symbol of hope. Peekay tells Mr. Nguni that he accepts the challenge, as a sign of his honoring his commitment to the People. Peekay's main, private concern about the fight is that he does not have any records on Mandoma.
Peekay and Morrie arrive in Sophiatown that Saturday. There are ten thousand spectators at the school grounds where the fight is being held. Peekay walks over to introduce himself to Gideon Mandoma, and asks Gideon whether he knows his nanny, Mary Mandoma. Gideon looks shocked-he says that she is his mother. Peekay, too, is shocked as he realizes that he is about to fight against his nanny's son, the son whom she could not look after because she was raising Peekay. For the first time in his life, Peekay feels afraid of the boxing match. Gideon has a better reason to want to win than he does. It is also the first six-round match he has ever played.
Before the match, the crowd sings the African national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' i Afrika, and the People roar for both Gideon and Peekay. Peekay says that as the people chant Onoshobishobi Ingelosi, it is the most amazing moment of his life. The fight, he says, is not a test between white and black, but of the African spirit itself. The fight begins and Peekay is ahead on points by the end of the second round. Gideon knocks Peekay down in the third and fourth rounds. During the fifth round, Peekay has the opportunity for a knockout, but does not take it. Morrie and Solly are angry with him, but Peekay is following a Geel Piet plan-dancing on his feet. Peekay wins the fight, however, with the Solly Goldman thirteen-punch combination. Mandoma congratulates Peekay, holds up his hand, and says that they are brothers. As Peekay leaves the rink, black people touch him as though he is "a talisman." In the showers, however, Peekay spontaneously bursts into tears-he can see the horrific future of South Africa. He also sees Doc walking into the crystal cave of Africa; he knows that Doc has died. That night Mrs. Boxall phones Peekay to tell him that Doc has disappeared.
Peekay's description of the year 1948 is ironic, declaring it to be a "great" year for South Africa. Before addressing the birth of apartheid he ironically discusses the irrelevant events of Princess Elizabeth's visit to South Africa, and white bread. His criticism of D.F. Malan's institution of apartheid remains perspicacious rather than forthright. Indeed, writing The Power of One in 1989, during the complicated dismantling of apartheid, Bryce Courtenay had to be careful of the manner in which he voiced his judgment. His quiet introduction of the concept also seems to reflect how disturbingly easy it was for such a system to inveigle its way into being: so difficult to remove, but so easy to begin. The apartheid era lasted for fifty years, from 1948 until 1989. It was initiated when D.F. Malan and his Nationalist Party won the elections, ousting Prime Minister Jan Smuts and his United Party, in power during World War II. D.F. Malan himself invented the term "apartheid" (meaning "apartness" in Afrikaans), in it bringing together his personal scientific and religious beliefs. The explanation of apartheid given to the world was that it was a system whereby each race could develop independently, but in reality it was a system which simply allowed for white supremacy and racism.
Although the climax of Chapter Twenty-One is the fight between Peekay and Gideon Mandoma, Nanny's son, Peekay himself says that this is not a struggle between black and white, but rather a probing of the African spirit. By winning the fight, Peekay assumes the magical mantle of the Onoshobishobi Ingelosi-it is of no concern anymore whether or not Peekay was the Tadpole Angel, he now is the Tadpole Angel. Peekay, always a self- conscious narrator, analyzes the myth of the Tadpole Angel for Morrie. He explains it as a "symbol of hope." The chapter's beginning, representing Peekay's greatest moment of his life, is juxtaposed with the chapter's ending, where Peekay breaks down as he gains foresight of the atrocities to come. Towards the end of the chapter even the grammatical structure of the sentences begins to unravel as Peekay becomes consumed by his emotions. It is ironic that earlier in the chapter Peekay speaks proudly of his theory of "winning" and of how accustomed he has grown to winning-by the end of the novel, after the greatest boxing victory of his life thus far, individual victory means nothing. Yet there is a certain security the reader feels in knowing that Peekay survives-since Peekay is narrating from some point in the future, the reader knows that he ultimately emerges from all of his adventures unscathed.
Chapter Twenty-One also works to dispel the myth that there was no contact between whites and blacks during apartheid. Even though black people were confined to rough, cordoned-off areas called "townships" (such as Sophiatown), some mixing of races did occur. There were no laws under apartheid that banned blacks and whites from competing together on sports teams, although this was greatly discouraged by the Nationalist government. Because of their dominance over the country's resources, however, it became very difficult to black people to have access to adequate training equipment and facilities. Solly Goldman's mixed race gymnasium, therefore, is a rarity but not an impossibility. Such details are a sign of the book's authenticity, and of its educational worth.
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