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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 621

‘‘Africans’’ is a story told in recollection. It begins with a lengthy description of the Zulu people, who are the preferred servants of the narrator’s mother. The Zulu society is built on loyalty, and the narrator gives several examples from their warrior history to demonstrate this fact. Now, however, following the occupation of South Africa by whites, many Zulus are servants. The narrator says that the Zulu she and her sister preferred was named John Mazaboko. Although John cares for both the narrator and her sister, Mkatie, he has a special relationship with the latter and saved her life on one occasion. He also serves as a teacher and guide to both girls, and they seek him out for advice. Like other male Zulus, John is not above performing any task. After the death of the narrator’s father, her mother closes down most of the house and fires all of the servants except John.

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The narrator and Mkatie go to a boarding school, and they only see John on holidays. While at school, they are kept busy playing sports, but they are not encouraged to be independent. The narrator remembers back to Mkatie’s engagement. John asks questions about her fiancé, and Mkatie says he is an Afrikaner—a white South African who is a descendant of the Boer people. The Boers were farmers of European (mainly Dutch) descent, who were part of the colonization of South Africa by the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century. The Boers developed their own language, Afrikaans, which survived the loss of their independence to the British in the early twentieth century. Mkatie is sure that her mother will not approve of her fiancé, which implies that the narrator and her family are British; there was a long-standing tension between the Afrikaners and the British. Mkatie also notes that an ex-girlfriend of her fiancé is against the match, although the woman does not say why.

At her wedding, Mkatie lets her sister know that John will be moving in with Mkatie and her husband in the main house, while their mother will be staying in the cottage. When the narrator next visits her sister, Mkatie tells her that she caught her husband in a homosexual act. While the narrator thinks that Mkatie should have exposed him, Mkatie says that she could not because it would have ruined his career as a doctor. The narrator says that Mkatie’s husband is also a pedophile. Her husband makes their son exercise and scrub his skin to improve his looks. Mkatie’s husband also makes advances toward their son’s friends. Mkatie wants a divorce but is afraid to go to a lawyer because her husband stalks her everywhere.

Many years later, the narrator visits again and notes that her sister is not doing well. Mkatie says that she cannot eat because her husband has started to get violent with her. After this visit, Mkatie takes a vacation in Rome and Instanbul, where she has an affair with a Turk. The Turkish man sends a love letter to Mkatie, which is intercepted by her husband. He is so distraught that he tries to kill himself by cutting his wrists, but Mkatie gets him in the clinic in time to save him. After he recuperates, Mkatie’s husband starts to beat the children viciously, especially his son. He tries to beat Mkatie, too, but she is strong when she is angry. The narrator remembers that, during one of these fights, her sister was winning. However, Mkatie’s husband calls for help from John, and, after a moment’s hesitation, John obeys, betraying his friendship with Mkatie by holding her down while her husband beats her.

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