In writing Ways of Dying Zakes Mda used a variety of writing techniques, to the point of making this novel challenging to read. However, it equally then reflects the challenging reality of life during "the transition" that South Africa undertook between the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the first democratic elections of 1994.
Magical realism features in Ways of Dying and is used to show how marginalized people make sense of their lives - their existence - in the endless struggle for a political ideal which they do not understand even though they are swept up in striving for it.
The novel opens with the funeral of a boy who died at the hands of his own people. Violence has become an accepted part of life for so many people but it is unthinkable, unimaginable that he was not ".. killed by the enemy . . . those we are fighting against. This our little brother was killed by those who are fighting to free us!" This reality is unconscionable for people from all walks of life. The futility reaches ALL people. There is no racial divide, no excuse of "war," no element of revenge, just WHY?
The magical realism in this novel does not overwhelm the reader as the reader becomes transformed into this pseudo-world, this contradiction where the reality is too harsh to contemplate but where it is acceptable to allow tradition and mythical elements to to co-exist within reality. There is no need to explain a fifteen month pregnancy or a modern day immaculate conception. The existence of these "facts" does not create any conflict in a world where so many realities themselves make no sense anyway.
In an environment where, in the past, reality relied heavily on story-telling (and who hasn't stretched their stories of where the scar came from or how Grandpa got his medal?), reality is far-more broadly understood and history becomes more personal and perhaps more acceptable but at the same time no less painful or debilitating.