Mafeking Road and Other Stories
“Mafeking Road” is the title story in Herman Bosman’s collection Mafeking Road and Other Stories (Archipelago Books, 2008). Bosman (1905-1951) was born and raised in the Western Cape region of South Africa. His stories capture the spirit of the white settler communities and are often infused with elements of race. These slyly simple stories of the unforgiving South African Transvaal reveal a little-described (and rarely romanticized) world of Afrikaner life in the late 19th century. Like Mark Twain, Bosman wields a laughing intolerance of foolishness and prejudice and a dazzling use of wit and clear-sighted judgment.
“Mafeking Road” is set in the Groot Marico district of the Northern Cape Province, an arid region that now shares a border with Botswana. The stories depict the Afrikaaner settler community, with their lives rich in superstition, longing, violence, and love. The land is populated by leopards and bluegum trees. The women wear bonnets and the farmers would rather drink peach brandy than tend to their cattle.
Bosman worked as a school teacher in the Groot Marico district of his stories. He then served prison time for shooting his step-brother during a heated argument and traveled the world before settling in Johannesburg.
“Mafeking Road” begins: “For it is not the story that counts. What matters is the way you tell it. The important thing is to know just at what moment you must knock out your pipe on your veldskoen, and at what stage of the story you must start talking about the School Committee at Drogevlei. Another necessary thing is to know what part of the story to leave out… And you can never learn these things.”
This opening passage is at once a challenge to aspiring storytellers and a charming exposition of the author’s craft, and goes on to the illuminate a story teller’s story about how to tell a convincing story.