The Madonna of Excelsior Background

The Madonna of Excelsior Background

The Madonna of Excelsior is a novel by South African writer Zakes Mda that was published in 2005. Although a work of fiction, the book deepens the reader's understanding of the complex political situation under the shadow of apartheid and also the difficulties awaiting both whites and blacks as the regime came to an end but long-held tensions and prejudices did not.

The novel centers around the Immorality Act of 1927, which prohibited sex between whites and blacks. The Act was amended in 1950 to prohibit sex between whites and all non-whites. Mda uses the 1971 case of the town of Excelsior where nineteen people were charged under the Immorality Act. One of these people is his main character, Niki, and her children, Viliki and Popi, and the effects that these illegal and illicit activities have upon their lives, and the lives of those around them.

Niki is the eponymous Madonna of Excelsior. She lives in Mahlaswetsa, the black township of Excelsior, where she and several other women become involved with white men from the town. The "black township" is the segregated offshoot of the main town that is inhabited by whites. The women give birth to white babies. They are arrested and put on trial but nothing comes of it and the Minister of Justice decides to wipe the event out of the history books and pretend that it never happened. The sweeping under the carpet is successful everywhere in the country except for Excelsior where the white children and colored children are a constant reminder of the i acknowledged, and the children grow up despising themselves and attempting to deny their heritage.

The novel is narrated by a collection of different characters from Mahlaswetsa who each have their own observations and comments and this adds to the overall picture of discord and dissent. The novel takes us through the 'Seventies, through the fight to end apartheid and into the new South Africa, but this doesn't bring the freedom and riches that everyone was expecting. Each chapter also brings another perspective, that of Father Claerhout who paints portraits of the "black madonnas" of the township. A different painting begins each chapter and adds another layer to the observations of the lives and struggles of the people and their situations. At the start of the novel we imagine that the new South Africa is possible because South Africa has become less racist but at the end of the novel it seems that the opposite is true. The vibrant and colorful portraits are replaced by black or white drawings, indications that racism has grown even stronger.

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