“There are many ways of dying”

Ways of dying

In the beginning of the book, the reader is introduced to the Nurse shouting, “There are many ways of dying,..” (Mda, 1995: 1) An indication on how people do not only die physically but emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The Nurse addresses the young boy that has passed on, and emphasis on how young people are killed by their own people.

Zakes Mda shares the idea that there are many ways of dying through the transition phase of South Africa.  Some were alive but were not living and others had to live through brutal and harsh conditions while most innocent adults and children lost their lives. (Enotes editors, 2013).

In this story, some families or communities were exposed to the result of death from violence. Death had become a norm and commoner in the community while life goes on for the rest of them. The main character in the book, Toloki, speaks about how people live while dying and others live with death, he has a brief experience of this from his father Jwara- “…our ways of dying are our ways of living; or should I say our ways of living are our ways of dying?” (Mda, 1995: 98).

There are some that live to praise others and an example of this character is Jwara, of how he lived a life of praising Noria and could not live without her songs. He had depended on Noria to sing in order for him to carry on with his everyday routine. Jwara could not live a normal life without Noria, he had a way of not living but dying instead. Each day after Noria was no longer present he died slowly from the inside, and chose to distance himself from everyone and reality. When Noria had stopped singing for him, it was the beginning of Jwara’s dying journey. Jwara was not living and had died long before he had died physically. It seems as Jwara had died emotionally and spiritually though his death still remains unknown- “We do not know how Jwara died.” (Mda, 1995: 110-111).

Before the new South Africa had come to take place, there had been a number of unfair means of humanity, anger, bitter memories and blame towards one another. The deaths of youngsters and innocent people were unforgettable which made it difficult for South African citizens to adjust to changes and live within a democratic and peaceful country.

Zakes Mda tells a short background on Ways of Dying:


Magical Realism occurs when the character’s circumstances are completely different from what the character’s thoughts or story is. In other words, a way of imaginations that mixes reality with fantasy. (Hill.2013).

The literal theory is expressed in the struggles of the new South Africa, which is the “transition” phase. Zakes Mda shows magical realism through how people make sense of their own lives. A reader is introduced into the world of a Professional Mourner, and the everyday norms of violence in the country (Enotes Editors.2013).

Mda highlights the following concept saying “Then on two walls, he plasters pictures of ideal houses and gardens and swimming pools, all from the Home and garden magazines. By the time he has finished, every inch of the walls is covered with bright pictures a wallpaper of sheer luxury” (Mda, 2005:11). From this it highlights his views to reflect on the basis of how Noria and Toloki take a walk in the garden and admire all their luxuries, but all this is not true, that is where magical realism comes in. They fantasise the pictures on the walls and make it seem real as their own. Their events of magical realism seem to be unrealistic and impossible to believe but it relates to them and others that have experienced these similar situations.

The harsh reality that these characters experience seem to be unbearable, but Noria and Toloki chose to leave the past behind and escape reality into living together as homeboys and homegirls. Noria was highly praised by everyone and considered to be a goddess. Toloki was seen as an ugly boy, and this reflected on how he had an ugly past just as how South Africa had a brutal past (apartheid). (:127).

The pregnancy of Vutha the Second is also another example of magical realism. Vutha’s existence has a mystery of how he was formed; Mda shows a similar known story of Mary and the birth of Jesus. Noria was not touched by a man, yet she fell pregnant with Vutha which in reality is quite impossible as well as the pregnancy of 15 months. While some believe in miracles and others don’t.


Enotes editors. (2013). Hamlet: Discuss the role of magical realism in the novel Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda. Available: http://www.enotes.com/homework-help/discuss.role-magical.realism -novel-ways-dying-by-432971 [Accessed: 28 April 2014, Time: 9:45].

Hill, L. (2013). Ways of dying, by Zakes Mda. Available: http://anzlitlovers.com/2013/08/04/ways -of-dying-by-zakes-mda/ [Accessed: 07 May 2014, Time: 12:09].

Mda, Z. (1995). Ways of Dying. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.


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