Black everyday life and the burden of death in Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying

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Zakes Mda’s novel, Ways of Dying, centers on physical violence and death in black communities during the transition from apartheid to democracy. Rather than look toward a post-apartheid future that is anticipated by so many, Mda depicts the reality of death as the product of the volatile politics of late apartheid, demonstrating through the lives of his characters the ways in which systemic violence persists. Set in the early 1990s, the pervasive experience of death and inescapable poverty is relentlessly depicted, unmasking any illusion of positive transformation. The novel debunks the widely celebrated idea or impression of the country’s transition as remarkable or peaceful; its focus on the tens of thousands killed at the tail-end of apartheid refuses this untruth. Mda invites a critical understanding of black literal death, its horror in the questions about mourning raised, and the structural conditions that confine black lives even as a grand narrative is being told outside this novel’s pages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)190-205
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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