Title: Journey to Jo’burg
Author: Beverley Naidoo
Major Themes: 1980s, South Africa, Historical Fiction, South African History, Apartheid
Synopsis: When their baby sister is very sick, two children walk and hitch rides to Johannesburg, in South Africa, to get their mother, who works as a maid for a white family.
Journey to Jo’burg is a powerful picture of prejudice between groups of people. Colored people were not only mistreated and discriminated against in the southern USA—it also happened in South Africa. I was struck, as I read this book to my boys, just how much the native, colored people were kept subservient and poor in South Africa. Even the children’s school assignments were designed to teach them “their place”—they would practice writing letters, for example, that told how they were very good workers, good at cleaning and cooking.
The plot of this story begins with two children worrying about their baby sister, who is very sick. Their granny and aunt, who care for the children, do not want to worry the children’s mother, who makes the living for the family by working as a maid in a rich house in the city of Johannesburg, 300 kilometers away. The children decide they must go and tell their mother, so they ask a neighbor to let their granny know and take off walking. After getting help from various strangers, they finally find their mother, who gets permission from her white mistress to go home for a few days, and the next morning they go back. Mma and her daughter take the baby to the hospital—but without good food, will she recover?
Journey to Jo’burg is not a pleasant book to read, as it discusses man’s inhumanity to man and shows the suffering of people who are kept in poverty. However, it is valuable as a picture of real life in another part of the world. It is a good supplement to a study of Africa.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15