Photo unlocks little-known story

David Macgregor

AN ANCIENT photograph of long-dead relatives who fled Europe for South Africa in the 1850s, has inspired a Rhodes University language professor to write about life in the Eastern Cape and other parts of the country over the past 150 years.

A fascinating mix of fact and fiction, which Xhosa expert Professor Russell Kaschula calls faction, the 12 short stories in his acclaimed Displaced provide a glimpse into his own gypsy roots and the deep Xhosa spiritual connection he developed growing up in the ’60s and ’70s on isolated farms in Stutterheim and Transkei.

Although physically white, Kaschula is an African who considers his own ancestors to include both his European family and the Xhosa family he has known ever since childhood.

And, just like his great, great, great grandparents Matheus and Anna Kaschula – who fought for the English in the Crimean war and were later displaced to the British Cape colony to farm in a buffer zone with the amaXhosa – Kaschula and his parents Bob and Rita were themselves displaced from their farm near Engcobo when the Transkei bantustan was formed in 1976.

“It is this fruit-salad of continual human displacement that the book tries to unravel and explore,” Kaschula said.

During his research into his own Wendisch-German roots, Kaschula came across a haunting black and white photo of his aged ancestors that inspired him to dig deeper into his past.

Kaschula says the Wendisch- Germans little-known interaction with the amaXhosa is what drove the book.

“It is about finding commonality between two cultures which did not trust the English at that time, remembering that the Germans and Wends were placed next to the amaXhosa to act as a buffer zone between the English and the amaXhosa.”

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