The ultimate safari

Image: Lin Barrie


Considerations about Nadine Gordimer's short story


The ultimate safari is a short story written by South African Nadine Gordimer. After a visit to a refugee camp in Mozambique, she felt inspired to create this narrative. First published in the British literary magazine Granta in 1989, the short story was later included in Gordimer's collection of short stories entitled Jump and other stories, released in 1991.

The narrative unfolds through a narrator, an unnamed black Mozambican girl, who recounts her family's journey as they left the village they lived in and headed to a refugee camp on the other side of the border, crossing Kruger Park, in South Africa. The story is set in the context of the Cold War in Mozambique, a period characterized by political instability and territorial conflicts.

The flow of immigrants from Mozambique to South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s was accelerated by the civil war between the Frelimo government and Renamo forces, supported by apartheid. In the story, members of the rebel group Renamo, referred to by the main character as “bandits”, attempt, with support from South Africa, to clandestinely overthrow the Marxist government of Mozambique. The story's background includes liberation movements in several African countries, as well as the white power structure supported by the Mozambican government and the impact of the system. apartheid of South Africa over its people and neighboring nations.

The journey of this family, which escapes the dangers of the Cold War in Mozambique in Nadine Gordimer's story, is marked by two important female characters. The first, the young girl mentioned above, who narrates the events of the migration from the innocent perspective of a child, who waits for the end of the war and longs to be able to live in her old village again. The second character is the grandmother, responsible for keeping the family safe during the move to the refugee camp, carrying a realistic view of the effects of war and showing the grief and sense of not belonging experienced by refugee families.

Discussion and analysis

The Ultimate Safari begins with a striking description that defines and opens many elements for discussion, especially regarding the types of devastation caused by the war: “The people my father was fighting – the bandits, as the government called them – were running everywhere and we he fled from them like chickens chased by dogs” (GORDIMER, 1991, p. 280). Nadine Gordimer begins the opening paragraphs by presenting the escalation of the Mozambican Civil War, the euphoria and despair of families suffering from the invasion of their homes. With the children's mother missing and the lack of food in the region, the main character's grandparents decide to leave the village and cross Kruger Park in search of support in South Africa.

The narrator demonstrates that she understands the need to leave everything behind due to the urgent demands of access to food and water. “We children were happy. We wanted to get away from there where our mother wasn’t there and where we were hungry” (GORDIMER, 1991, p. 282).

The author incorporates and simulates the despair of children in this scenario in a raw and sentimental way. At the same time, the little girl, although she does not fully understand the complexity of the war, feels its injustices and has hope for a reality that will never come again: that of returning to the village where she was born.

The character's innocent perspective is permeated by feelings of attachment to what was lost: her family and her village. The girl, in a way, awaits her mother's return and the resumption of the habits that existed before. In the excerpt, “I said, Gogo, how are you going to church now without even your shoes, but she said the road was long and it was too much to carry” (GORDIMER, 1991, p. 283), we can observe that the What remained for the little Mozambican girl's family was just a way of survival and an attempt to rediscover themselves elsewhere.

In the book Culture and imperialism, Edward Said (1994) reflects on the unexpected loss of one's place of origin: “Exile is affirmed based on the existence of the homeland, the love for it and a real connection with it; The universal truth of exile is not that one has lost that home or that love, but that inherent in each person is an unexpected and unwanted loss. Thus, we must view experiences as if they were about to disappear” (p. 469).

Edward Said refers to the experience of people displaced from their homes for political reasons and how exile is an experience of trauma. Nadine Gordimer brings to the story an interesting point of view that questions the absurdity of war through the eyes of a child, an innocent vision that competes with the grandmother's notions about the situation.

While the narrator clings to a fantasy and the hope of a possible return to her village in the future, the grandmother adopts a more rigid stance regarding the family's forced migration. For her, the family's future lies in the best chance of survival in South Africa through work and money, firmly convinced that she will never have a home to return to.

Upon arrival at the refugee camp, the grandmother is interviewed by a white woman who questions her about a possible return to Mozambique. The granddaughter, upon listening to her grandmother's response, confronts a reality she had never faced before and disagrees with her grandmother's stance. : “Our grandmother looked to the side and said: There is nothing. My house doesn't exist. Why does our grandmother say this? Why? I will come back. I'm going back through Kruger Park. After the war, if there are no more bandits, our mother could be waiting for us” (GORDIMER, 1991, p. 293).

The grandmother's despair and coldness in the narrative are not only related to the character's mature perspective, an adult's point of view on the difficulties of war, but also to the role that the grandmother had to play during the journey in Kruger Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa.

Still in the first pages of the story, the narrator describes the grandmother as the physically strongest in the family, stating: “Our grandmother is big and strong, not yet old, and our grandfather is small” (GORDIMER, 1991, p. 282). Furthermore, she takes the leadership role in deciding that the family would seek support in South Africa: “So they decided – our grandmother decided” (GORDIMER, 1991, p. 282).

The grandmother had to adopt a strict stance and make difficult decisions to ensure the family's safety. After losing her old life in the village, she faced the journey with two children and a newborn, as well as her grandfather, who disappeared due to health problems and difficulty following the journey through the jungle. Furthermore, the grandmother dealt with the frustration of not having food to offer her grandchildren and the need to enter one of the largest hunting reserves, where a variety of wild animals lived. The character went through the painful experience of forced physical displacement without a support network.

Upon arriving at the refugee camp, the traumas faced during migration come to light, and new problems arise. Upon arriving in South Africa, the first consequence of the war is witnessed more vividly, as the narrator's younger brother has health problems due to the days he spent without access to quality food. “His sister says there's something wrong with his head, she thinks it's because we didn't have enough food at home. And then, because he was hungry in Kruger Park” (GORDIMER, 1991, p. 286).

The second consequence involves the clash between two cultures, because although the inhabitants of the refugee camp speak the same language as the family, there is a hierarchical system that transmits a false sense of hospitality between the Mozambicans and the inhabitants of the region. The existence of a reception for refugee families does not imply an emotional welcome aimed at offering welcome and dealing with the trauma left by the war.

Instead, it fosters a sense of debt in refugees and turns these new citizens into cheap labor. There is no room for physical and mental recovery, as soon as the grandmother arrives in the village, appearing to be healthy, she is automatically put to work. “Our grandmother, because she is still strong, finds work where people are building houses” (GORDIMER, 1991, p. 287). Displacing the sense of place, the female characters' story is about subjugation and resistance.

Despite providing services and earning money to support her family, the grandmother has no rights, and the idea of ​​forming a connection with this new home remains distant. To guarantee the basic needs for grandchildren, physical effort and hours of work are required. “Our grandmother hasn’t been able to buy herself a pair of church shoes yet, but she bought my brother and me black school shoes.” (GORDIMER, 1991, p. 292).

This passage also opens a discussion about the invisibility of women's needs in contexts of war and immigration, considering that the grandmother does not have effective support and assistance in raising her grandchildren as refugees.

The invisibility of the grandmother's needs persists throughout the entire narrative, from beginning to end: from the moment the war forces them to leave Mozambique, the grandmother assumes responsibility for the family's survival, “Our grandmother took us – I , the baby, my first brother, our grandfather – to her house and everyone was scared.” (GORDIMER, 1991, p.282). Until the moment they find refuge in South Africa, the grandmother ensures the well-being of the children at all costs. Despite the circumstances, the women in the narrative are responsible for minimizing the impact of the children's traumatic context, providing a feeling as close as possible to their places of origin.

Another example of female protagonism in history occurs in Mozambique, when the grandmother seeks comfort and professes her religion alongside another woman. “Grandma cried with other women and I sang hymns with them. They brought us some food, but after two days there was nothing new.” (GORDIMER, 1991, p.282). In another excerpt, a woman provides breast milk for the newborn: “A woman who had milk on her breast gave some to my little brother” (GORDIMER, 1991, p.282).

When the grandmother and grandchildren enter Kruger Park, the narrator makes the following observation: “There were women and other children like me who had to carry the little ones on their backs when the women got tired” (GORDIMER, 1991, p.282). Not only did the responsibility of protecting and keeping children alive during the journey fall to the women, but when the mothers or caregivers became tired, the responsibility passed to the girls who were old enough to help. While men, in times of war, are generally called upon to defend the country, women are responsible for maintaining the survival of their children and relatives who may face physical and health obstacles.

Nadine Gordimer in The ultimate safari skillfully weaves a narrative that goes beyond the immediate impacts of war, exploring the intricate layers of trauma, resilience, and the role of women in the face of these adversities.

The postcolonial symbolism embedded in the story reflects not only the specific historical context of Mozambique, but also the universal struggles of individuals and communities affected by forced migration conflicts. Through the voices of its female characters, the narrative invites readers to contemplate the complexities of survival, identity, and the enduring human spirit.

*Bruna Sternadt is a Literature student at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).


Nadine Gordimer. The ultimate safari (The ultimate safari). In: Jump and other stories. London, Picador Books, 256 pages. []


BONNICI, Thomas. The Contemporary Post-Colonial Novel in English. Acta Scientarium. Human and Social Sciences. Maringá, vol. 26, no. 1, p. 1-22, 2004. Available at:

JOHNSON, David. Literatures of nation and migration: Charles Mungoshi, Nadine Gordimer, and the post-colonial, 2001.

MOZAMBICAN Civil War. Available at:

SAID, Edward W. Culture and imperialism. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

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