On the fringes of a civil war arise a kaleidoscope of stories of abuse, power, betrayal, sex, love, and absolution, all united by the failings of a dying government. Set in the backdrop during the last years of South Africa’s apartheid, How the Water Falls is a psychological thriller that unfolds the truth and deception of the system’s victims, perpetrators, and unlikely heroes. Many characters play the roles of spies, freedom fighters, lovers, adversaries, and supporters.
This novel is as complex as apartheid was itself, unlacing fabrics of each character’s life to merge into a catalyst downfall. The question of who will survive this downfall will suffice in the courts of truth and reconciliation and whether love is strong enough to preserve peace.
Targeted Age Group:: 18 plus
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Initially it began from watching a movie revolving around a real-life friendship between Steve Biko and Donald Woods, ‘Cry Freedom.’ I was horrified by the brutality and inhumanity, wondering how human beings could treat each other so violently. Years later, I then came across a documentary about a white South African couple who came from entirely different backgrounds and yet, despite their political histories, fell in love and married. The man struggled with coming to terms with his violent past while the woman, a reporter, struggled with how someone who wasn’t a psychopath could torture other people. The third influence came from a book, ‘A Human Being Died That Night,’ which dealt with forgiving a notorious killer on South Africa’s death squad as a means to heal personally as well as for the nation. All these histories and emotional complexities only inspired me explore these themes in fiction form.
Who are your favorite authors?
John Steinbeck, Amy Tan, Mark Twain, Sara Gruen, Charles Dickens, Alice Walker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jeffrey Eugenides. I love how each author is so beautifully honest about the human condition while telling very dramatic stories.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted each character to represent an archetype in South African history. The two main characters, one white, Joanne– a reporter, the other black, Lena– a banned activist, have their lives continuously overlap through the people they know during a thirteen-year period and eventually become friends as a result of their interviews together.
Joanne personifies the need to question and investigate apartheid’s corruption from a white person’s perspective. Although her intentions begin with idealism, no matter how naïve, as the years pass while the system is failing, she crosses the threshold of what it means to be caught up inside the belly of the beast, especially after crossing paths with the Borghost brothers.
Lena, who is inspired by her predecessors, such as Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela, is among the minority of black women to peacefully battle for equality, even if her struggle is indicative of sacrificing her health and safety.
Hans Borghost is Johannesburg’s commissioner of police who, like all those before, had a military background before pursuing a law enforcement career. Violent, manipulative, and controlling, he incarnates the image of South Africa’s perpetrators.
Jared Borghost is the younger brother of Hans and, like his brother, has a military background, but unlike Hans, he internally combats between his sense of duty and morality. His inconsistency indicates a conscience that leaves one to ponder whether Jared is either a perpetrator, victim, or both. As his surname suggests, Bor-GHOST represents the “ghosts” that haunt the family’s past.
“WATER IS LIFE,” Joanne remembered her parents’ gardener explaining. “Without de flow of water, dere can only be death.”
The auditorium stopped flowing. People clogged it like a beaver’s dam, making it difficult to breathe little alone move about. Only the side aisles remained open. Journalists from all over the world had integrated into the flooded seats and lines against the walls. No photos were allowed, however. The arrangement of things delivered informality. No inquisitive lawyers or opinionated judges. All informal but with considerable purpose. Joanne understood the significance. After nearly fifty years of apartheid, perpetrators and surviving victims were not only allowed to meet, but also to liberate their silence. Including Joanne’s.
The commissioners had already positioned themselves behind a long table that stood on the stage, so that the audience could see them. The members signified a fusion of political and religious leaders, including Archbishop Tutu, all of whom were selected by the first black president, Nelson Mandela. They were white and black and biracial, each representing a fresh faith: this arbitrary faith that would hopefully reconcile a damaged country. The modernized South African flag, with its six merging colors, hung behind them. Headphones were wrapped around their ears as interpreters translated Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Venda, Tsonga, Swati, Ndebele, Tswana, or Afrikaans languages. People in the audience also had the opportunity to wear headphones if needed.
Everyone continued to listen to another confession. A wife. A mother. Her shaky voice reached out to all four corners of the room as she stood in the witness box on the left side. She tried to articulate her experiences. About her husband. About her son. About the police force that exploded into her home and dragged out her husband out like a satchel, kicking him, whacking him with batons and sjambok whips. When she clung to him, crying and pleading, they struck her head. She passed out. Time had paralyzed her. She couldn’t remember when the sun touched her windows. Or when her nine-year-old son disappeared. But she remembered the white faces. And the cologne they wore; mixed with their wild sweat. Stinging. Like hospital alcohol. Unaware of her bleeding head, she stumbled outside to search for her family. Neighbors told her they saw her son chasing the police car. With her husband inside. She tried to follow the tire tracks, but her dizziness made it difficult. It wasn’t until the next day her uncle found her son bleeding at the roadside. He had a bullet hole in his neck. He died on the way to the hospital, a five hour walk. They couldn’t take the bus because he was bleeding all over his own shirt. Two days after her husband’s arrest and before her son’s funeral, the police came by. They told her that her husband had hung himself with his own pants, and if she knew what was good for her, she wouldn’t pursue the incident. When she went to the morgue to identify her husband, she didn’t recognize him because his eyes and nose were greatly swollen. The rest of his body was covered by so many bruises; he was as spotted as a cheetah.
The woman began crying, entombing her face in her hands. It seemed that no one in the auditorium breathed. Before she had spoken, they heard another mother reliving her pain when she found her son in the back of a police vehicle with his stomach gutted like a fish, his intestines sprawled out. And before her they heard from a sister who relived her horror, describing how she searched for her brother after the ′76 massacre, and almost didn’t find him in the large pile of other dead bodies at the morgue. These women’s accounts only deepened the mortification. If only the rest of the world had cared. Had truthfully cared enough, then perhaps things would had been different today.
The woman needed to be escorted off the stand when she started wailing, her body left limp and broken. Two people returned her to the crowded seats, their crinkled faces unmistakably afflicted by her pain. Her wailing, like so many others, had continuously sliced open the crowd’s remorse that echoed beyond the media’s microphones. Slowly, tediously, her cries began to drown from her exhaustion until the creaking of wooden benches and coughing replaced her existence.
Joanne attempted to rub tears off her pale cheeks. Although she may have been raised in a comfortable, suburban lifestyle, she knew exactly how these women felt: to have witnessed violence and to have loved ones brutally eliminated from their lives. She wasn’t certain how much longer she could take listening to these experiences, believing at any moment she would have a nervous breakdown. Her aunt Wanda sat at her side, and tried to comfort her by squeezing and stroking her hand. Wanda was the only family member who drove down from Johannesburg to East London for support. On Joanne’s other side sat her friend, who was also present to confront her assailant.
“Is Colonel Hans Borghost here today?” Archbishop Tutu asked.
His soft, youthful-like voice gave the wrong impression about the aging man behind his stoutly exterior. He spoke cautiously, precisely and pronounced his “esses” in a sharp manner. But even as he spoke, his true compassionate nature was easily sensed by everyone. Wearing his purple robe and cap, the archbishop sat behind a microphone with his hands calmly folded together. His short graying hair contracted with his dark complexion. His eyes, however, complemented his angular nose, giving a sense of distinguished wisdom. Joanne marveled at how he could remain so calm and in control of his emotions, yet, she imagined he felt equally ragged.
A middle-aged man, who was forced into early retirement, was chaperoned by two guards as he shuffled from the first row toward the center of the room. Handcuffs hinged at his wrists and shackles at his ankles. He had been allowed to wear a suit instead of his orange prison uniform to appear less beastly, less like a criminal. Not being able to sleep for the last few days, he’d allowed a prickly beard to grow over his once clean-cut face. His friends and family were not present, refusing to acknowledge his betrayal. Since the Borghost name had transcended dominance for generations, from grandfather to father to son, to stand guilty in front of the entire world, let alone the nation, shouldered a burden so dishonorable it would have been better if he had never existed.
“Colonel Borghost,” the archbishop proceeded, “do you know why you are here today?”
“Yah,” he nodded.
“And do you understand the conditions of amnesty?”
“Unconditionally,” he nodded again.
“Are you ready to confrront your past?”
He stiffened his mouth and inhaled, glancing at Joanne and then her friend, a scarred Bantu meid, named Lena Skosana Mkize. Lena was the first to come out and put him in prison. But it didn’t matter who started what anymore. Only how each could end it.
“Yes, I’m rready,” he began. “I’m rready for everryone. . . Fatha.”
I am fortunate to have been trained by one the top ten writing teachers in the US, the late Leonard Bishop, and author of Dare to be a Great Writer. I owe my love of writing to him. How The Water Falls is my second novel. Although I’ve been writing since my childhood, I have a BA in history. I love studying history as much as wanting to evoke stories. I like to believe that after decades worth of introspection we have learned more wisely than something that happened yesterday, because what happened yesterday affects how we live today. Although I’ve been writing since my childhood, I have a BA in history. I love studying history as much as wanting to evoke stories. I like to believe that after decades worth of introspection we have learned more wisely than something that happened yesterday, because what happened yesterday affects how we live today. That’s why I love history: To learn. To question. To redeem our humanity. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future. In addition to writing, I draw, paint, create graphic design, and am an amateur photographer.
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