Journey to Jo'burg by Beverley Naidoo

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Naidoo, Beverley.  Illustrations by Eric Velasquez.  1986.  JOURNEY TO JO'BURG.  New York:  HarperTrophy.  ISBN: 0-673-80143-8.

Beverley Naidoo's Journey to Jo'burg is the story of thirteen-year-old Naledi and her nine-year-old brother, Tiro, who live with their grandmother, Nono, their aunt, Mmangware, and their little sister, Dineo, in a village in South Africa.  Their father, a miner, died of the "coughing sickness" and their mother works as a housekeeper in Johannesburg to support the family and send the children to school.  Naledi and Tiro become concerned when Dineo becomes ill and nothing their grandmother or aunt do seems to make her better.  Their grandmother does not want to worry Mma (their mother) and refuses to send a telegram to let her know how sick Dineo is, so the children decide they will walk to Jo'burg, 300 km (approximately 185 miles) away and tell their mother.  Thanks to a kindly truck driver, the children do not have to walk the entire way to Jo'burg.  In the city, the children see the life their mother leads working for a rich white family and they see first hand the Apartheid that White South Africans used to keep Blacks in their place.  They stay in Soweto with a young woman named Grace Mbatha, who tells them about the student march that occurred in 1976 to protest the poor education Black children were receiving and of children being shot and killed by the police.  Grace's own older brother, Dumi, was imprisoned after the march, but has since escaped and fled the country.  When Naledi and Tiro's mother returns to the village with them, she takes Dineo to the hospital and the little girl gets well.

Naidoo uses a number of details to make the reader understand what dally life is like for a Black child in 1980's South Africa.  Naledi and Tiro's family is so poor that they do not have running water and because the local river has dried up, the family is forced to buy water daily and haul it home.  When he visits his mother, Tiro is amazed by the electric lamp in her room because their home does not have electricity.  When the children start their walk to Jo'burg, they burn their bare feet on the hot tar road.  There are orange groves near their village, yet oranges are a treat that the children seldom get.  Nutrition is so poor in their area that children are dying from it and the lack of milk, fruit, and vegetables in her diet is a cause of Dineo's illness.  The book contains many words from the Afrikaans and Tswana languages and includes a glossary in the back.

Journey to Jo'burg paints a picture of a land divided on the basis of color.  In South Africa, police are to be feared.  As in the American South during the time of slavery, Blacks over the age of 16 must carry a pass that shows where they live and where they are permitted to go.  Failure to have the pass or to be in a location that the pass allowed him/her to go could lead to a beating and prison for a Black person.  In Johannesburg, Blacks work as servants and call their employers "Madam" and "Master" and Black servants take care of White children instead of their own.  There are bus stops and buses for Blacks and they are not allowed on buses or at bus stops designated for Whites.  Blacks in Johannesburg live in Soweto, a housing project, which is poorer and considered more dangerous than the rest of the city.

Beverley Naidoo was born in South Africa and, as a White child, was raised under the apartheid system.  

My upbringing led me to believe that white people were superior and it was natural for them to have the best of everything. But when I realised how false this was, I became very angry at all the injustice around me - and how I was part of it. I had been brought up with blinkers. Later, when I began to write, I wanted to write stories that would challenge narrow ways of seeing.

Journey to Jo'burg was banned by the South African government until 1991.

Works cited:

Beverley Naidoo Website. .  Accessed May 2, 2006.

"History of South Africa in the Apartheid Era."  Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.  Accessed May 2, 2006.

by Monica Wood