Books by Margaret McCord

Released: March 14, 1997

A moving, beautifully told account of an ordinary, yet extraordinary, life in South Africa. With a few notable exceptions, most South African memoirs of the 19th and early 20th centuries record the life and doings only of whites. This is why McCord's oral history of the life of Katie Makanya is so welcome and valuable. Winner of the Johannesburg Sunday Times/Alan Paton Prize for Non-Fiction, it is a sensitive and penetrating portrait of a culture, a time, and a place rarely seen from the inside. Makanya was well into her 80s when she insisted that McCord—the daughter of physician James McCord, for whom Makanya worked for 35 years as an interpreter and assistant in the province of Natal—tape and write up her recollections. Makanya was born in the early 1870s in the Cape Province. She did well in school and could speak any number of languages, but her real gift was her voice. When the choir she sang in won a local competition, a promoter sent the group on a tour of England. They traveled around the country to great acclaim, singing even to Queen Victoria. Makanya stood out clearly from the rest, and the prospect of a celebrated career in Europe was dangled before her. But after more than two years abroad, she wanted to return to her own people and find a husband and have children. And so she hid away the jewels she'd been given, concealed her education, put on the humble clothes and attitude that whites would expect of her, and became a servant. Eventually she met a Zulu man, Ndeya, and, overcoming parental resistance (her mother's people, the Fingoes, had been chased off their land by the Zulus), married him. The Boer War was brewing, so the newlyweds retreated to Ndeya's home in Natal, where Makanya was hired by the new doctor from America, Jack McCord, as his assistant. With few interruptions, they would work together until they both retired. Makanya's story is emotionally compelling, resonantly detailed, and of extraordinary cultural significance. (11 pages b&w photos) Read full book review >