Paris, 1958. A skirmish in a world-famous restaurant leaves two men dead and the restaurant staff baffled. Why did the head waiter, a man who’s been living in France for many years, lunge at his patrons with a knife? As the man awaits trial, a journalist hounds his long-time friend, hoping to expose the true story behind this unprecedented act of violence. Gradually, the extraordinary story of Pitso Motaung, a young South African who volunteered to serve with the Allies in the First World War, emerges. Through a tragic twist of fate, Pitso found himself on board the ss Mendi, a ship that sank off the Isle of Wight in February 1917. More than six hundred of his countrymen, mostly black soldiers, lost their lives in a catastrophe that official history largely forgot. One particularly cruel moment from that day will remain etched in Pitso’s mind, resurfacing decades later to devastating effect. Dancing the Death Drill recounts the life of Pitso Motaung. It is a personal and political tale that spans continents and generations, moving from the battlefields of the Boer War to the front lines in France and beyond. With a captivating blend of pathos and humour, Fred Khumalo brings to life a historical event, honouring both those who perished in the disaster and those who survived.

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Critic Reviews (4)

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Critical Consensus: Generally favorable.

Books Live

13 Apr 2017
In a Paris restaurant in 1958, an about-to-retire waiter, polite and unobtrusive and apparently from Algeria, serves a meal to a pair of irritating customers. Then, one speaks to the other in Afrikaans, the waiter looks at him properly for the first ...

Writer's Write

06 Apr 2017
The story of the sinking of the SS Mendi off the Isle of Wight in 1917 is not well known. Also obscure is who was on board – mainly black soldiers, who having just fought the horrific Boer War in SA, were unfathomably drawn in to soldier with the A ...

The Gremlin

20 Mar 2017
The SS Mendi which sank off the Isle of Wight 100 years ago in February 1917 is finally getting the attention it deserves. But not enough. More than 600 black South African soldiers from the Native Labour Contingent as they were called, died, when it ...

Business Day

20 Feb 2017
A century ago this week 618 black South African troops drowned off the coast of England in one of the worst maritime disasters in UK waters during the 20th century. More than 800 men were on the SS Mendi, which broke up on February 21 1917 and sank. ...

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February 1, 2017


Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd, Umuzi





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