(Short Stories for Students)

Sheila Kohler’s ‘‘Africans’’ was first published in Story magazine in 1998. It received greater exposure when it was published the following year in Kohler’s collection of interlinked stories One Girl: A Novel in Stories. The book is divided into four sections, each one representing a life stage. ‘‘Africans’’ is included in the largest of the four sections, ‘‘Courtship and Marriage.’’ The story, like many of Kohler’s works, is set in South Africa, where she grew up. The main theme concerns the betrayal of a woman by her abusive husband, and her ultimate betrayal by her loyal African servant. However, the story, which takes place in the mid-to late-twentieth century, also contains references to apartheid, the legalized racial segregation that took place in South Africa during this time. Apartheid denied blacks many rights, including the right to vote. Kohler published her story four years after Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in the country’s first free election. One Girl: A Novel in Stories was received well by the critics and inspired Cracks: A Novel (1999), which was based on one of the other stories in the collection. ‘‘Africans’’ can be found in The Best American Short Stories 1999, which was published by the Houghton Mifflin Company in 1999.


(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘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.

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...

(The entire section is 621 words.)