This splendid novel by Zulu novelist and teacher Sibusiso Nyembezi, first published in South Africa in 1961, is a spare, simply told morality tale of great subtlety and power. Set in Nyanyadu in the rural hinterland of KwaZulu Natal, the story concerns the arrival in this farming community of Mr CC Ndebenkulu, Esq, an ‘important person’ from Pietermaritzburg who claims that he has come to lift them out of poverty. His haughty manner and constant complaints at first alienate the people and they suspect both his credentials and his motives. However, a local notable, Zeph Mkhwanazi, in awe of Ndebenkulu’s suave urban manner and greedy for the riches he promises, persuades the farmers to listen to his schemes.
It is equally apparent to the women, children and readers that Ndebenkulu is a charlatan and a con artist and his proposal for a joint venture to sell the region’s cattle in the city is a scam. There is great satisfaction, therefore, when his deceitful scheme unravels as a result of simple human virtue, diligently applied.
The Rich Man of Pietermaritzburg is a funny and heartwarming novel which, without being preachy, speaks volumes about the urban/rural divide and the abiding values that knot communities together. It is to Aflame Books’ credit that they have made this modern classic available once more in a superb new translation by Sandile Ngidi.
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