Chameleon (Afrika To Aotearoa)

Historical Fiction


Chameleon (Afrika to Aotearoa) is the tale of Rorke Wilde, who grows up in Africa and Rorke’s need to mimic his pet chameleon, if he is to survive the racial violence in a country divided by apartheid during the 1970s.

Rorke’s father works in the Police while his mother is a clerk in the tax office. His best friend and father figure is the family’s domestic worker, Themba Dube, an AmaNdebele of Zulu descent who guides Rorke through the turmoil of racial hatred. Rorke spends all of his spare time revelling in the African bush with his companion Bow, the colour-changing chameleon.

When Rorke’s parents send him to an exclusive boarding school to prepare him for a life of elitism and oppression, Rorke is dismayed at being parted from Themba and Bow. He is also afraid of the bullies he knows he will encounter. He contemplates running away from the school and his country, until he bonds with his peers Alan, Jannie, and Vinny. Rorke is lucky, and it is his friend Vinny who is bullied by Minaar, a malicious prefect. As the war intensifies the boys find themselves contained behind security fences while the senior ones are given arms.

Rorke gets a taste of warfare when he sneaks to an army camp with his friend Alan, and they are incarcerated there for the day and indoctrinated by a sergeant who believes they will fight for their country in the civil war. But Rorke is appalled by the war and the exclusion and lack of unity.

When school and the war end Rorke escapes military service. His hope that his country will become more peaceful in 1980s is dashed when racial unrest escalates and he is unjustly accused of stealing wages. After the trial he leaves for the United Kingdom to join distant relatives where he lives a safe but dull life.

Twenty years later, Rorke and Themba reunite in South Africa, seduced by the optimism of Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation, after fleeing the brutal dictatorship in Rhodesia which has changed its name to Zimbabwe. In Germiston, in a shelter for displaced women and children, Themba and Rorke share their dreams of an Afrika that might have been. Themba introduces Rorke to his nephew Lucky Ndlovu, who lost his parents in the AIDS pandemic and who lives with his grandmother in a squatter camp in Johannesburg.

The old man and boy share their experiences of a life of poverty post-independence where Rorke learns about the real Africa that he once saw through Panglossian glasses. Rorke is humbled by Lucky’s outlook and zest for life.

By 2010, with the increase in crime and political unrest, the lifelong buddies decide to leave South Africa. Unable to say goodbye, Themba leaves Rorke a soapstone carving of a chameleon, the name he has bestowed upon Rorke, and a farewell note, before he steals away in the middle of the night and takes Lucky home across the Limpopo river.

Rorke is heartbroken. Knowing they will never see each other again, he accepts a job in New Zealand where he and his family begin a new happy life, safe in the bosom of the people of Aotearoa.

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