In his novel The Madonna of Excelsior, based on an event that occurred in Excelsior in South Africa in 1971, Zakes Mda begins in the middle of the plot, then returns to the past to explain how the significant event occurred, and then charts the results of that event. He devotes his first short chapter to a meeting between Niki, with her blue-eyed child, Popi, and Father Frans Claerhout, a priest who paints native women amid the South African landscape. Mda often begins chapters with descriptions of the paintings of Claerhout, a kind of Flemish expressionist whom Mda had actually met. The chapter ends with Popi thinking of Claerhout's canvases and the comparison of his work to “God's own canvas.”
In the following chapter Mda presents Niki and Popi at a garden party that includes the “very cream of Excelsior society,” especially, and ironically, the men who were accused of having had sexual relations with the black women of the town. At the party, Popi and Niki see Tjaart Cronje, who is Popi's half brother. By the end of the novel Popi and Tjaart, who are separated by race and economic status, are somewhat reconciled, just as the children of the black Madonnas painted by Claerhout will represent the new South Africa.
Following this prelude, in which readers learn of the Immorality Act prohibiting sexual relations between the races, Mda returns his readers to Niki's past. By beginning that past when Niki is a teenager capable of sexual relations, Mda implies that Niki's life begins when she is treated as sexual property by the Afrikaner men. Her first sexual experience occurs when Johannes Smit, known to Niki's friends as “Hairy Buttocks” and “Limp Stick,” finally succeeds in raping her. Smit will continue to lust after Niki.
Niki marries Pule, who works in the distant South African coal mines, and has his son, Viliki. Pule sends her money, but his prolonged absences leave her alone and vulnerable. She feels that she is being raped by the eyes of the Afrikaners and...