The Ultimate Safari

by Nadine Gordimer

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‘‘The Ultimate Safari’’ opens with the narrator’s cryptic and mysterious statement that tersely sets the tone of the story: ‘‘That night our mother went to the shop and she didn’t come back. Ever.’’ The narrator of the story, a young black Mozambican girl, never finds out what happened to her mother, or to her father, who had also left one day never to return. The presumption, however, is that both her parents are dead by the time her story unfolds; her people are at war, and her village has been beset by ‘‘bandits’’ that have left the villagers destitute and frightened, and all evidence points to those socalled ‘‘bandits’’ as the cause of her parents’ disappearance.

The story that the girl relates is a deceptively simple one: After losing everything at the hands of the bandits who have repeatedly raided their village, and in fear of their lives, the girl’s family—her grandmother, grandfather, and older and younger brothers—set out on a long and arduous trek through Kruger Park, the popular national reserve in northeast South Africa that borders Mozambique and has for years been a tourist destination for rich foreigners wanting the experience of the ultimate African safari.

Along the way, the grandfather, who has been reduced to doing little more than making ‘‘little noises’’ while rocking ‘‘from side to side,’’ wanders off and is lost in some high grasses and must be left behind. The young girl recounts how little her family had to eat in the park, despite the aromas of campfire grills from the park’s tourists. Even the buzzards, she notices, have more to eat than the refugees. Eventually, the remaining family members, all of whom remain nameless throughout the story, are led by the grandmother to a refugee camp where they are given space in a tent in which to live. There the grandmother eventually ekes out a living carrying bricks while the girl attends school. At the story’s conclusion, we learn for the first time some of the basic facts about the girl and her family when ‘‘some white people’’ come to the camp to film the camp and a reporter interviews the grandmother. For instance, we learn definitively that the girl and her family are black, that they are originally from Mozambique, and that the story has taken place over the course of nearly three years.

‘‘The Ultimate Safari’’ is set along the Mozambique–South African border sometime during the 1980s, at a time when Mozambique was ruled by a black Marxist government and South Africa was the lone remaining African country still being run by its minority white population. The ‘‘bandits’’ alluded to by the narrator are members of Renamo, the rebel group supported by the white South African government whose goal it was to destabilize Mozambique by pillaging rural villages and causing civil unrest. One of the consequences of these incursions, or ‘‘raids’’ as the narrator calls them, was a large-scale exodus by poor villagers from Mozambique into refugee camps that lined the border between the two countries. Many of these refugees languished for years in the camp while South Africa continued its military and economic domination of the region. Some estimates suggest that the civil war that was fueled by Renamo was responsible for a million deaths in Mozambique alone. In 1992, when apartheid was officially abolished and blacks began to exert control over the South African political structure, the destabilizing efforts were halted, though the region continues to suffer the consequences of the years of instability.

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