The Border Jumper

(1 customer review)

The Border Jumper’ is an account of a young man who leaves his beloved City of Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) in search of economic opportunity and gets entangled in the criminal underbelly of Jozi (Johannesburg).

Also Available At: CNA, Bargain Books, Take-a-lot, Exclusive Books
SKU: 9780620833363 Categories: , Product ID: 2164


The Border Jumper is a chilling account of a young man’s ordeal when he leaves his native Zimbabwe for South Africa. Qinisela, who hails from Bulawayo escapes a low-paid factory job and a biting economic crisis. Like other like-minded, he has his sights on Jozi, the City of Gold, as Johannesburg is famed.


He survives a treacherous journey across the border but once in Johannesburg, he finds himself sucked into its underworld with no easy way out. the story is a brutally frank journey into the world of border jumping, a journey that remains engraved in the mid long after the last page has been turned.

Weight 175 g

Christopher Mlalazi


Xarra Books



eBook ISBN


Book Type

e-Book, Paperback



1 review for The Border Jumper

  1. Sarah Mokwebo

    “…you give my space a code name
    So none other than citizen can claim
    And you tell them to apply
    For their share in their lord’s world”
    – “Borders” – Blk Sonshine

    Wole Soyinka, the revolutionary Nobel Prize winning West African playwright, poet and essayist, is quoted in the 2007 memoir “You must set forth at dawn” as advocating for the stealing back of the Benin ivory mask of the Queen of Idia from the British Museum in London. Allegedly, on being requested to return the iconic sculpture for the FESTAC festival – a one month long international festival held in 1977 showcasing African music, art, literature, drama, dance and fine art – the British Museum offered to loan back to the West African country the goods they had stolen, at a nominal rental fee of two million pounds. A perverted form of debt prescription by the British. But nothing novel from the colonial thieves. Hence the suggestion by Soyinka for retribution. Steal it back is the call.

    We might not necessarily steal our artifacts back from the criminals that have plagued us since the 17th century Berlin Conference; that gathering of Europeans that surgically dissected the African continent into borders and severed several umbilical cords in the process. We do however need to claim back what’s ours from the world. If for anything, so that we, as Africans (and Black Africans to be specific) know our worth. And know from where we derive that value. It is sad, as an example, that at my ripe age my first encounter with the award-winning playwright, poet and novelist Christopher Mlalazi is in 2019. This is a man who won the Best First Book prize in the National Arts Merit Awards in Zimbabwe in 2011 and the 2008 Oxfam/Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Award for the co-authored play “The crocodile of Zambezi”. A man who’s written four works of fiction (one of which translated to Italian and German). A man from nearby Zimbabwe, a country fictitiously foreign to South Africa. It is with the help of African publishers Xarra Books, who have reissued Mlalazi’s 2009 UK published novel “Many Rivers” in a 2019 re-incarnation called “The Border Jumper”, that I have come to know of this talented individual. Xarra, making it its mission to repatriate our art from the world and promote it here at home, has acquired the rights to the book from the first publishers Lion Press Limited and will be relaunching it in Southern Africa soon. This is the kind of “stealing back” (in the vein of Soyinka) we need.

    The evident frustrations of Soyinka’s suggestions in 1977 is what gives energy to the story of Qinisela Dube, the protagonist in Mlalazi’s “The Border Jumper”. Frustrated with being in stasis, Qinisela embarks on a journey to Johannesburg South Africa from the home country Zimbabwe at a time when it is reeling from “…fuel and food shortages…political bickering [and] the aftermath of…chaotic landgrab[s]”. On the other side of the crocodile infested Limpopo River that nine border jumpers trudge through, there is not a yellow brick road. Only brown grass. The lustre of the Egoli of their ambitions is tarnished by the welcoming Qinisela gets – a beating from street vagrants; disdain from unhelpful locals; disregard from fellow countrymen in the new city; constant and insistent fear of the gun wielding Joburg night crawlers. A resolute and strong conscious to not resort to a life of crime is worn thin by a grumbling stomach and collapses into the robbing of an old lady’s riches outside a grocery store. “Was this what he had been also reduced to? A vagrant? Lord have mercy on me. This is not what I came to this city for. At home I was a near vagrant and please not here too. This is Egoli; the city of Gold, where people realise their dreams and go back home to Zimbabwe stinking rich and their skins looking soft from good living and saying “mara”” reflects a beaten Qinisela in one of many crises of conscious throughout the book. From here on life descends into a wild west type of existence of gunslinging, sex workers, hordes of cash and cowboy hats. By the end of the book, the body count is at sixteen dead – two drownings; two falls out of high-rise buildings; twelve dead from riddling bullets. It’s a mess. It’s also a brilliant story.

    The drive of the story is movement. Nothing ever stands still. Characters are always moving, mostly in fancy cars with peculiar colours – a purple Porsche; an emerald green E-type Jaguar; a yellow BMW. Narratives flow into each other. Characters pass each other unknowingly only to be introduced in tense circumstances later. Mlalazi explores the relations and connections between peoples of a region through the technique of intersecting the story lines of the characters. Mbedzi, the old man who guides the border jumpers into South Africa right at the beginning of the story, is father to Hlongwane, a random old man who shows a smidgen of kindness to a destitute Qinisela at a Johannesburg park. Disaster, the man who drives the white van that transports Qinisela and crew from the border, is killed towards the end of the book by the gangsters Gasa and Kurt in a botched house robbery in Yeoville. The interconnections between the different peoples of the melting pot that is Jozi are a comment on the ineffectiveness of country borders in truly separating us. The differences are imagined, characteristic of the random work of Bismark and his boys back in 1884 in Berlin. Hlongwane’s interactions with a friend at the park as they watch Qinisela make his way to a public toilet reflect the corruption inherent in giving geographic spaces random nationalistic code names; “’Kwerekwere’ he said, nodding his head at Qinisela’s departing back, a look of open contempt on his face. ‘Mmh mmh. Ndebele that one’ [Hlongwane] replied shaking his head negatively. ‘He is from Zimbawe. Amakwerekwere are from Malawi and Zambia’”.

    The corrupting effect of lives lived on the borders of society is a main theme of the book. Each character seems to have been sucked into a life of alternative living as a result of unavoidable systems of domination. The police are portrayed as vehicles for abuse, as Qinisela’s friend Vuza and cronies Gasa and Kurt impersonate police officers to terrorise and fleece poor people for both money and amusement. This says nothing of the actual bribe taking and sex worker exploiting police officers in the story. Greedy rich white men get caught up in treacherous scandals that are of marginal economic benefit but fuel the ego and power. Qinisela himself lands inadvertently on a tidy sum of three million rand at the end of the book, of which one million rand is used to try and buy back a lost conscious. Whether this works and where Qinisela lands up after is left to the reader’s imagination in a dramatic and suspensive ending by Mlalazi.

    There is also an ongoing comment on gender-based violence in the book. Mlalazi explores both the exploitation and abuse of female figures in the “pimps-and-hoes” arrangements of Johannesburg sex work, together with the agency of womxn over their own bodies in the survival tactics necessary for life on the fringes. In a scene where Qinisela tries to ingratiate with a sex worker at a club in order to get a place to sleep for the night, he creates the persona of a reggae singer in town with a Jamaican band. Sauntering in a faux carribean accent to try and cheat a young womxn of due payment in the transaction comes to naught as the initially coy and seemingly self-conscious lady rebukes: “’Money or no fucking, Kissy Johnson,’ she cut him up. ‘You think I’m a child?[…]You think I eat [your music festival] in the morning after you fuck me tired and hungry? You think I wash my cunt with reggae show after you make dirty with Rasta sperm? You think bass guitar heal nasty dreadlocked disease you give me?[…]what you take me for?’”. Madame Valerie, the owner of an upmarket massage parlour is the only survivor in the quick-draw shootout of a scene that disproves the old adage of honour among thieves. “In one smooth movement, Gasa whirled his gun hand to his right, Madame Valerie his next target. But she already had a small toy like gun aimed at his head. The little gun cracked sharply, the bullet taking Gasa on the nose. His gun fired at the ceiling as Madame Valerie shot him again…He crashed on the table…Madame Valerie…slipped her gun back into her hand bag”. These are some hardcore womxn. But Mlalazi doesn’t shy away from exposing the offensive and humiliating and inhumane violence inflicted by men on femxle bodies and psyches.

    “The mask was stolen property, and the aggrieved had a right to reclaim their property by any means. What I proposed instead was that a task force of specialists in such matters, including foreign mercenaries if necessary, be set up to bring back the treasure—and as many others as possible—in one swift, once-for-all-time, coordinated operation[…]Spiriting away the Benin mask[…]I was quite ready to be part of the team”. That’s Wole Soyinka from his memoir. There’s something surprising and exciting about hearing a sophisticated, eloquent and smooth African intellectual getting gritty like that. “The Border Jumper” could’ve been a banal “Jim comes to Joburg” story of hopes and dreams in the big city. But it’s not. It’s a gritty, high-speed chase, shoot-‘em-up, Wild Wild West, Mafia movie written in the intricacy and cinematography of an experienced and talented author. Mlalazi’s book is surprising and badass.

    Ref. links

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *