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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

‘He murdered all his brain cells with the papsak’ – Read a story from Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips

‘He murdered all his brain cells with the papsak’ – Read a story from Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips


Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other storiesThis Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Jolyn Phillips’s new collection of short stories Tjieng Tjang Tjerries.

Phillips hails from Blompark, Gansbaai on the Western Cape coast, and is currently working on a PhD in Language Education at the University of the Western Cape. She was a 2014 Mandela Rhodes Scholar and completed a Masters in Creative Writing at UWC in 2013. Tjieng Tjang Tjerries is her first book.

Modjaji Books founder and publisher Colleen Higgs says of the book: “As you will see by the things that the writers who have read and love her work have said, I’m not the only one who feels thrilled by the voice of this young woman.”

And Higgs is right. Tjieng Tjang Tjerries has collected high praise from literary luminaries such as Antjie Krog, Meg Vandermerwe and Shaun Johnson.

The book is being launched next week Tuesday, 19 April, at The Book Lounge in Cape Town – an event not to be missed!

Meanwhile, read a story from the collection to whet your appetite:

* * * * *

The dog just came here one day. No one knew where he came from and I don’t think anyone was looking for him. The dog looked brandsiek like a pavement special, a mix between a poodle and a husky. Shame, the poor thing was ugly and that was the end of it. I felt so sorry for him, so I let him sleep in my yard. I gave bones and leftovers for the dog to eat, but he stayed thin. Later on, we got used to each other. He never listened to my commands, but he would walk all the way to the stop sign at the end of our street and wait there for me until I returned from the Andries Café in Skool Street. One day I thought, Ag, give the poor thing a name. I started calling him Snuffles then Fluffy, then Ore, but he never responded when I called him those names. Until old Hennie came over one day, for coffee and a few ginger cookies. He actually lived here, in my house, but sometimes he forgot. He didn’t remember who he was or where he came from – it’s the wine that made him like that, so I treated him like he was a long-lost cousin, or someone visiting from a faraway country. Hennie liked that. He changed his role every day.

That day the dog comes up to Hennie and starts sniffing his ankles. Hennie says, ‘Shu, but that is a bloody ugly dog!’

Suddenly the dog sits up, waving his tail excitedly.

‘That’s it!’ I cried, ‘The blerrie dog’s name is Lelik! You know, Hennie, I have been looking for a name for the thing for quite some time now. I think he likes the name Lelik.’

But enough about the dog. Let me tell you more about Old Hennie. He is maar a strange oomie, a wanderer. He has nine fingers and he has an Afrikaans accent that sounds like the skop, skiet and donner American movies we watch every Friday on Etv. Heaven knows where he got it, and I never cared to ask, now that I think about it. Years ago Hennie worked in a butchery, next to Susan’s in town. One evening he had to close the shop and he wanted to steal some meat before he went home, but he was too drunk and ended up cutting off his index finger, shame. I am not even his child, but I look after him because he murdered all his brain cells with the papsak. It was very bad. One evening he came home, I was hanging over the gate watching him come down the road, just like an ouroeke. He stood there with a businessman smile and asked me very politely, ‘Do you know where Josephine Fielies lives?’

I burst out laughing. You see, of course, I am Josephine Fielies and he didn’t even remember it, so soft has his brain got from all the drinking. I laughed until it felt like my stomach muscles were pulling apart. Until I found myself crying. I couldn’t believe that Hennie had just asked me where I, Josephine Fielies, lived. I took him by the arm and invited him in for a cup of coffee, still hot. He drank it like it was cool drink, in one go. It’s as if his body forgot to react to the pain. He had forgotten how to be human. That is what I told myself. Afterwards, he went into the bedroom to rest after his third cup of ‘boeretroos’, as he calls it when he is the rich boer from Baardskeerdersbos. He seemed a bit weak. I knew that soon it would be my responsibility to change his nappies also. His body was getting weaker by the day. That is what I told myself. Sometimes he just sat there like he was dead, his entire body unable to move. He mumbled nonsense things like, ‘Spider webs, spider webs, spider webs’ and went back to looking like a statue.

Once, it was a Monday morning and I was busy making cabbage stew, I didn’t hear him come to the kitchen and he screamed, ‘Spinnerakke!’ The Lord must forgive me for my French, maar ek het my binne in my moer geskrik. All you saw was a wooden spoon and cabbage flying in the air. ‘Hygend! The focking jong.’

Old Hennie and Lelik became best friends. Wherever Hennie was, so was Lelik. Old Hennie couldn’t walk so fast anymore, that is why Lelik walked behind him, and if you dared to touch Hennie, Lelik would vreet your ankles. It was like the dog was protecting the old man. So at least I didn’t worry too much, Lelik was there to look after Hennie if he got himself into any trouble. So it was strange when one day Lelik came home by himself without Hennie. But I just thought to myself, maybe it is because old Hennie is walking slower, or visiting a neighbour. After a few hours and still no Hennie, I went to check whether Hennie was sitting at the edge of the street sign, the one made from concrete. It was his usual spot to smoke his pipe. But Hennie was nowhere to be seen. I became worried when the street lights began to lighten up the street. Darkness was coming and still no Hennie. I then walked over to his son’s house, and we drove to the police because that son of Hennie’s has a car now. That house used to be Hennie’s. But the son had made it his and didn’t worry about his father who was too sick to know home from the street. The police officer stood behind the counter and told us to come back in 72 hours, only then can they declare him as missing. I swear it was the longest 72 hours of my life. After 72 hours we went back. Still no Hennie. The policeman made us fill in a form. He asked if we had any photos. I only had one, of when we were younger, before Hennie’s brain went deurmekaar. When he still worked at the factory. It doesn’t look much like him now, but I still gave it to the policeman.

People started looking, the dogs and the inspectors were looking, and the local newspaper asked the community to be on the lookout. Months later his face was even on the TV. Everyone searched, except for Lelik.

Meanwhile, Hennie’s eldest son took over the house and shamelessly put his two brothers out. Maybe it served them right for not taking care of their father properly. The eldest couldn’t wait to turn the house into a hotel, for him and his family. Ticket, his younger brother, lives with me in the old caravan in the back yard. Skerul, the second eldest, sleeps with his meide; he has one in almost every part of Gansbaai. How the eldest got the house is a mystery. When I asked the brothers how they got put out, they just say, ‘We don’t want to talk about it now.’ I didn’t ask further because I take pride in keeping my nose out of other people’s business. To think the eldest brother didn’t give me a blue cent, not a blooming tiekie for looking after his father. But the Lord will provide, it is no use complaining, He will provide. And Lelik, he is still living here with me, barely leaving the yard.

I cannot believe it has been eight years since Hennie went missing. I for one still believe to this day that Hennie is alive. One of these good days he will return from his long trip and visit. I wonder what he will be this time. Probably a Frenchman or an Ingels Jintelmin. I will invite him in for coffee like before and we will eat lamingtons and oliebolle – those are his favourite. At the moment, Lelik is my only hope. I know Lelik knows where his friend is. The only problem is I talk and Lelik barks.

* * * * *

Book details

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Fans and friends raise R1.1-million for Binyavanga Wainaina’s medical treatment

Binyavanga Wainaina
One Day I Will Write About This PlaceKwani?How to Write About Africa

Kwani Trust has thanked all those who contributed to the fund set up for Binyavanga Wainaina’s medical treatment last year.

The beloved Kenyan author suffered a stroke at the end of October, and needed to travel to India for treatment.

Through the fundraising drive, $73,346 (about R1,1-million) was raised via direct contributions, online and mobile donations.

Wainaina’s rehabilitation is going well, and the underlying circumstances that led to his stroke are being monitored and treated.

The Kwani Trust board of Trustees, Binyavanga Wainaina and the larger Kwani Trust family offer their “utmost gratitude” to those who contributed to the fund: “Individuals, organisations and other associations from the writing and other communities banded together to make his access to medical care possible at a very difficult time.”

Read more from Kwani:

Press release:

In late November 2015, Medical fund accounts were established by Kwani Trust’s board of trustees for donations towards Binyavanga Wainaina’s medical care following a stroke in October 2015. The generous donations made by over 700 of you enabled Binyavanga’s medical transfer to the BGS Hospital in Bangalore, India, on 28th November 2015. We thank you once again for the assistance and the immediate response to our appeal on his behalf.

At BGS Global Hospital, Binyavanga underwent the necessary medical tests and procedures including physical and speech therapy until late January 2016. He returned to Nairobi on 26th January and in early March, was admitted to Aga Khan Hospital for 5 days. While he no longer needs round-the-clock medical supervision, he is currently on routine consultation with doctors as part of the recommendations from his doctors in India. This is to treat the underlying circumstances that led to his stroke.

His rehabilitation is ongoing with physical and speech therapy as part of the course in months to come and in general, he is responding well to this. He will be travelling to Germany shortly, where he plans to spend a year in Berlin at a writing residency secured before his stroke. While in Berlin, he will continue with treatment (including surgery), and further therapy.

We thank your overwhelmingly kind response to our appeal for his medical fund. In total, KES 7,334,600 / $73,346 was raised via direct contributions, online and mobile donations. To date, medical expenses and related costs (including air travel and local insurance) have totaled KES 4,977,300 / $49,773 and the medical fund now has a balance of KES 2,357,300 / $23,573. This amount is still administered by Kwani Trust and is solely for any related further medical costs. Should you have any questions related to the finances of the medical fund, kindly do not hesitate to get in touch with the contacts listed below.

On behalf of the board of Trustees, Binyavanga Wainaina and the larger Kwani Trust family, please accept our utmost gratitude for your support over the last few months. Individuals, organisations and other associations from the writing and other communities banded together to make his access to medical care possible at a very difficult time. Many thanks to Nairobi’s The Nest who raised funds with a special event on their premises, Phoebe Boswell for coordinating London efforts, Lola Shoneyin and friends in Lagos who oversaw fundraising in Nigeria with #Naija4Binyavanga, Accra’s Fokn Bois for their #Love4Binya concert in Nairobi, the community of friends who formed core support groups, and so many others for your financial and other support.

Many thanks to Achal Prabhala who so selflessly stepped in to oversee all Bangalore matters, and to Isaac Otidi Amuke who travelled to India to assist Binyavanga during his recuperation. Dr Sonigra and Dr Oluoch Olunya – please accept our gratitude for all your assistance.

With many thanks, to so many of you, for your kind donations.

Special thanks to the following individuals for your fundraising and other core support:

Binyavanga Wainaina Medical Fund Committee
Isaac Otidi Amuke
Sheba Hirst
Billy Kahora
Parselelo Kantai
June Arunga Kimani
Dr. Martin Kimani
Angela Wachuka
James Wainaina
June Wainaina
Melissa Wainaina

Friends of Binyavanga
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ike Anya
Phoebe Boswell
Jim Chuchu
George Gachara
Judy Kibinge
Wanja Maguongo
Juliet Mehretu
Wangechi Mutu
Aslak Myhre
Neo Musangi
Dr Njoki Ngumi
Dr Oluoch Olunya
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Achal Prabhala
Lola Shoneyin

For further Information/queries, please contact:

Angela Wachuka
Executive Director

Billy Kahora
Managing Editor | +254 711 467 072


* * * * *

Related stories:

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Image courtesy Bokförlaget Tranans pressrum on Flickr

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The 2016 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize longlist

Published in the Sunday Times

The 2016 Sunday Times Literary Awards longlists

Alert! The longlist for the 2016 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize has been announced.

This is the 16th edition of the Sunday Times Fiction Prize, but the second year to bear the name of Barry Ronge, the newspaper’s long-time arts commentator who was one of the founders of the literary awards.

The prize criteria stipulate that the winner should be “a novel of rare imagination and style, evocative, textured and a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark of contemporary fiction”.

This year’s Barry Ronge Fiction Prize judging panel is Rustum Kozain (chair), Angela Makholwa-Moabelo and Stephen Johnson.

Chairperson Rustum Kozain’s remarks on the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize longlist:

It is not without some trepidation that I look at the longlist for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize this year. The selection appears as challenging as last year.

There are books by old hands and first books, and a varied range in terms of themes and stylistic approaches. Some are set in the past, while some engage with the past through characters’ memories. Memory, it seems, remains a popular substrate on which to build fictions – or it may be that the mechanics of biography and autobiography fuels much fictionalisation. But there are also books set in a more contemporary space and others in an apocalyptic future. Some engage with contemporary political issues, from internet-enabled stalking to stories of and from underrepresented rural perspectives. There are stories set in South Africa and set elsewhere, as well as jet-setting stories. There are generally realist stories and there are science fiction or speculative fiction stories. Tender, lyrical narratives wistful and romantic, and narratives that come at you with the full blast of the digital-information age. There is seriousness and humour, light humour and black humour.

South African writers are writing. It is a daunting field – the process is going to be intense.

Last year’s Alan Paton Award winner was Jacob Dlamini for his book Askari: A Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle (Jacana Media). Damon Galgut was awarded the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize for his novel, Arctic Summer (Umuzi).

The shortlists will be announced on Saturday, May 14 at the Franschhoek Literary Festival. The winners of the 2016 Alan Paton Award and Barry Ronge Fiction Prize will each receive R100 000.


The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize longlist

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria MysteryRecipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew
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The Shouting in the DarkThe Shouting in the Dark by Elleke Boehmer
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Boy on the WireBoy on the Wire by Alastair Bruce
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Sweet MedicineSweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi
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What About MeeraWhat About Meera by ZP Dala
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The FetchThe Fetch by Finuala Dowling
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Glowfly DanceGlowfly Dance by Jade Gibson
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The Dream HouseThe Dream House by Craig Higginson
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The Space Between the Space BetweenThe Space Between the Space Between by John Hunt
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The Seed ThiefThe Seed Thief by Jacqui L’Ange
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Day FourDay Four by Sarah Lotz
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Chasing The Tails of My Father’s CattleChasing The Tails of My Father’s Cattle by Sindiwe Magona
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Dub StepsDub Steps by Andrew Miller
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Notes From the Lost Property DepartmentNotes From the Lost Property Department by Bridget Pitt
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The Magistrate of GowerThe Magistrate of Gower by Claire Robertson
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Green LionGreen Lion by Henrietta Rose-Innes
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What Will People SayWhat Will People Say by Rehana Rossouw
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Hour of DarknessHour of Darkness by Michéle Rowe
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A Slim, Green SilenceA Slim, Green Silence by Beverly Rycroft
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Hunger Eats a ManHunger Eats a Man by Nkosinathi Sithole
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Now Following YouNow Following You by Fiona Snyckers
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The RaftThe Raft by Fred Strydom
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Piggy Boy's BluesPiggy Boy’s Blues by Nakhane Toure
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WastedWasted by Mark Winkler
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It Might Get LoudIt Might Get Loud by Ingrid Winterbach, edited by Michiel Heyns
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36 musicians and artists collaborate on an Ingrid Jonker tribute album – join the crowdfunding campaign



36 artists have contributed to an album of music celebrating legendary poet Ingrid Jonker.

The compilation Die Kind is Nog Jonger (The Child Is Still Younger) is scheduled for release in early May, spearheaded by Jonker’s daughter Simone and her husband Ernesto Garcia Marques as part of the 50-year commemoration of the poet’s death in 1965, when she committing suicide by drowning.

The selected musicians hail from all over the world, including South Africa, the UK, USA and Germany, and cover a range of genres, from rock, pop, acoustic and metal, to folk, electronic and spoken word.

Flame in the SnowVlam in die sneeu

You can become a part of the project via its IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign, and earn perks such as:

  • instant downloads
  • pre-releases and double disc CDs
  • personalised postcards from Ingrid Jonker’s daughter Simone
  • personalised thank you listing in the CD sleeve and online
  • limited edition T-shirts
  • Copies of Flame in the Snow/Vlam in die Sneeu (new Umuzi publication of love letters between Ingrid Jonker and fellow acclaimed writer André Brink – pictured above)
  • executive producer credit
  • limited edition vinyl LP version (featuring a dozen selected tracks)
  • original artwork from acclaimed artist Vernon Swart (whose ocean scene is used as the album cover)


Hear samples of all 3-dozen amazing tracks:

YouTube Preview Image

Die Kind Is Nog Jonger will be released by Sound Action and Flamedrop Productions.

The artists include: Anton Goosen, Jennifer Ferguson, Kalahari Surfers, Falling Mirror, Inge Beckmann, Terminatryx, Ingrid Jonger and Tim Parr, Ernestine Deane, Stefan Strydom & Gert Vlok Nel, Abraham van GeenBybel, Rambling Bones, Andrew Kay, Zaria, mike dickman, Tonia Möller, Wilde Junge (Wild Youth), André Van Rensburg, The SlashDogs, The Sighs of Monsters, Die Naaimasjiene, Tribe After Tribe’s Robbie Rob, Jim Neversink, Beeskraal Revival, Daniel Eeuwrick, Somerfaan, Anne Van Schothorst, Ivan Kadey, Radio Rats, Die Kruis, Eckard Potgieter, Victor S Wolf, Juliana Venter, Dirk Ace, The CapTn (featuring Julie Hartley), Mavis Vermaak, The McClones.

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New books by 2 South African authors published by Ankara Press, the feminist romance imprint of Cassava Republic Press

New books by 2 South African authors published by Ankara Press, the feminist romance imprint of Cassava Republic Press


The latest releases from Ankara Press – the feminist African romance imprint of Cassava Republic Press – are novels by South African authors Aziza Eden Walker and Amina Thula.

The new books are Walker’s The Seeing Place, the story of an up-and-coming actor who falls for his casting director, and Love Next Door, the second novel by Thula, whose first book, Elevator Kiss, was an extremely popular release for Ankara.

“It’s exciting to be part of a new era in romance literature,” Thula says in an interview with Juwairiyya Asmal-Lee of Cassava. “It also feels empowering that now, we Africans are dictating the way the world should see us.

“I feel Africa is finally part of the global sphere and not some external third world continent.”

Walker says she is “honoured and delighted” to join the imprint: “As a South African woman with a local voice, stepping onto a broader platform, this means a lot to me.”

About Ankara Press

Ankara Press is a new imprint bringing African romance fiction into the bedrooms, offices and hearts of women the world over. Our mission is to publish a new kind of romance, in which the thrill of fantasy is alive but realised in a healthier and more grounded way. Our stories feature young, self-assured and independent women who work, play and, of course, fall madly in love in vibrant African cities from Lagos to Cape Town.

Ankara men are confident, emotionally expressive and not afraid of independent and sexually assertive women. Our sensuous books will challenge romance stereotypes and empower women to love themselves in their search for love, romance and wholesome sex.

We want our books to reflect the realities of African women’s lives in ways that challenge boundaries and go beyond conventional expectations.


The Seeing Place by Aziza Eden Walker

About The Seeing Place

Hot-shot producer Thuli Poni is holding auditions for her latest play in Cape Town. Andile Sebe is an up-and-coming star, just waiting for his big break. Thuli casts Andile and challenges him to link his painful past with the role he is portraying, leading him to open up to her. The two fall for each other and a passionate romance ensues.

But when auditions open for Sins of the Fathers, the most-watched TV show in South Africa, Thuli turns cold. Will she play a part in Andile’s rise to fame, or will she hinder it?

This is a story about how love can triumph against the odds if we stay humble, take risks and are willing to learn. The Seeing Place offers a very different kind of romance – between a powerful woman and a man who wants something only she can offer.

About the author

Aziza Eden Walker is a former actress and psychologist who now writes full-time. She began writing love stories on a little blackboard as a teen, the advantage being that she could rub the risqué bits out before anyone saw them! She has published short stories and poetry. The Seeing Place is her first novel with Ankara Press.

Love Next Door by Amina Thula

About Love Next Door

When business analyst Abby finally moves into a place of her own, she is delighted to discover that her new apartment block is also home to a hunk-next-door. Kopano – teacher, swim coach, artist and all-round nice guy – seems too good to be true. Until Abby discovers evidence of a mystery girlfriend.

As neighbours Abby and Kopano spend more and more time together as “just good friends”, the attraction deepens and their close connection develops into something more intense.

But just as her love life finally seems on track, a fabulous career opportunity opens up for Abby in New York – and she is torn between making her career aspirations come true and leaving behind the man of her dreams …

About the author

When Amina Thula was six years old her older brother bought her a comic book, a simple gift that would be the start to a lifelong love of books and reading. Her introduction to romance was the love triangle between comic book characters Archie Andrews, Betty and Veronica, before she graduated to the Sweet Valley and Sweet Dreams series in her teens – the start of her love affair with tall, brooding, hot, dark, handsome strangers. Love Next Door is her second novel with Ankara Press; her first, The Elevator Kiss, was published in 2014.

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An emotional rollercoaster: Olivier Moreillon reviews Affluenza by Niq Mhlongo

Niq Mhlongo
Dog Eat DogAfter TearsWay Back Home


His finger-on-the-pulse reports of post-apartheid South Africa’s social complexities and challenges have rightly established Niq Mhlongo as part of a younger generation of black South African writers. Mhlongo’s first two novels, Dog Eat Dog (2004) and After Tears (2007) which focus on student life and its precarious financial predicaments, have not lost their relevance in view of the 2015 student protests that swept across the campuses of South Africa’s leading universities. His third novel, Way Back Home, deals with the lesser-known history of the ANC’s detention camps in Angola and corruption among the leading officers of its armed struggle with the latter finding its continuation in the highest echelons of post-apartheid politics. Kimathi, the novel’s protagonist, and his obsession with expensive whiskeys, imported cigars, and fancy cars can be considered a harbinger of Mhlongo’s latest offering, his short story collection Affluenza.

Many of the protagonists in Affluenza share Kimathi’s excessive consumption of goods. In “Betrayal in the Wilderness”, for example, there are the posh tourists who, in pursuit of capturing the Big Five on their high-tech cameras at Kruger National Park, are sipping champagne under the scorching sun. In the title story, “Affluenza”, there is the businessman, Fanna, who flashes about his credit cards in order to impress a group of elegantly dressed young women despite being in arrears with the instalments for his expensive car.

The collection consists of 11 short stories some of which have previously been published internationally, to critical acclaim. They are, however, mostly unknown among the South African reading public. Affluenza adds to the eclectic list of relevant sociopolitical issues tackled in Mhlongo’s oeuvre. Some of the topics covered in the collection are land restitution, xenophobia, stereotypes against Africans, corruption, HIV/Aids, homophobia, betrayal, and dysfunctional relationships, to name but the most prominent. The collection thereby deftly combines Mhlongo’s witty and satirical tone of Dog Eat Dog and After Tears with the more earnest and sombre style of Way Back Home.

Readers are indeed up for an emotional rollercoaster in Affluenza. The pathological need and desire for a more affluent life, as the title suggests, is a recurrent theme in all the stories, which make you laugh, cry, and livid all within the space of two book covers. The alternation of more serious stories with lighter ones, however, gives the readers the necessary space to digest the heavier topics the author dishes up.

Here are my personal favourites:

The collection’s opening story, “The Warning Sign”, hurtles headlong into one of the most contested issues of apartheid’s legacy, namely the question of land restitution. The story, which is set in Limpopo Province, follows the white farm owner Mr Adams who decides to “defend his property” by all available means when notified to vacate his farm by the local Land Redistribution Committee. Mr Adams’s blatant racism towards the protesting committee members and his exploitative stance towards the black farm workers make you shiver in horror: “Kaffirs! What do these monkeys think they would be without us white people!”

In an uncanny way, Mr Adams’s outburst is reminiscent, or rather anticipatory, of Penny Sparrow’s infamous comparison of black beachgoers to “littering monkeys” in January this year and the race debate that it (re-)kindled. Mhlongo cleverly reflects this racial clash between black and white in the story’s alternating night/day pattern. The farm workers and their story leave the readers with further food for thought. There is Knowledge, “Mr Adams’s trusted farm manager”, and three female farm workers: Memory, Patience and Grace. With Knowledge’s sudden disappearance and Memory’s abduction by the protestors only Patience and Grace are left at the end of the story. In view of South Africa’s festering racial tensions, particularly since the advent of the #RhodesMustFall Movement, this can be seen as an underlying criticism on Mhlongo’s part. Patience and Grace (at the expense of knowledge and memory), such as were promoted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its guiding principle of ubuntu, are not enough to overcome the deeply entrenched sociohistorical racial clashes that are the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

While “Four Blocks Away” may be on the lighter side, it is no less sociopolitically relevant. The absurdity of the situation the protagonist finds himself in leaves one helpless with laughter. And yet, there is stale aftertaste to it. The story is reminiscent of police violence against black people in the United States as well as the undue use of police power in post-apartheid South Africa. This is a topic that crops up time and again in Mhlongo’s oeuvre. Readers of his previous works will recognise the parallels to Dingz’s altercation with the police and his subsequent arrest for public drinking in Dog Eat Dog or Kimathi’s detention for publically soliciting a prostitute in Way Back Home.

In “Four Blocks Away”, the gumboot dancer Qhawe Mcwabe is in the US on a cultural exchange programme together with two other representatives from Zimbabwe and Mali. As part of the programme they visit Washington DC, where they are to give a talk at Howard University. After a boozy evening, Qhawe and Siri, an acquaintance or flame of his he has run into at the university, end up in his hotel room. About to have sex, Qhawe realises that he does not have any condoms. Besotted and dressed in his hotel gown, Qhawe makes his way to the next pharmacy, repeating the receptionist’s directions and Siri’s condition like a mantra in his head: “Four blocks! No glove, no love! Four blocks! No glove, no love!” In front of the pharmacy, however, the police stop Qhawe and deny him access to the pharmacy due to his “unbefitting attire”. The ensuing debate between Qhawe and the police quickly draws the attention of passers-by. With their help, Qhawe is eventually allowed to enter the pharmacy in order to purchase the hoped-for condoms. In high spirits, he returns to his hotel room, only to find Siri “lying across the bed, snoring”.

“My Name is Peaches” sees Peaches, whose nickname stems from Nina Simone’s famous song “Four Women”, give tribute to her late boyfriend Tshif. The second-person narrative, which is reminiscent of Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2000), traces their seemingly loving relationship. As the story progresses, however, it becomes increasingly clear that things were more illusion than reality, just like the whisky they are drinking at Tshif’s place one night: “My friends and I were very impressed by your collection […] What we didn’t know then was that you had simply filled the expensive bottles with cheap stuff. As you told me several years later, what we had thought was Hennessy, Johnnie Walker Blue and Chivas was actually concoctions of Klipdrift, Firstwatch and Bell’s that you had simply poured into the empty bottles. Silly man!” Similar to the women in Nina Simone’s song, Peaches eventually finds out that Tshif has repeatedly betrayed her. At the end of the story, she stands at Tshif’s grave with a bottle of Hennessy to say her goodbyes. After pouring half of the bottle on Tshif’s grave in “his honour”, Peaches leaves for his After Tears with Matome where they will enjoy the rest of the expensive whisky.

The irony here is a double one: not only has the scene to be seen as an act of revenge on the part of Peaches. It is also a humorous self-reference by Mhlongo to his second novel, After Tears, where uncle Nyawana’s drinking buddies similarly stand over his grave saying their goodbyes, pouring “a little of [their cheap] J&B” on the grave. One of the friends’ comments: “Wherever you are, drink a bit of this to give you courage, nkalakatha. I’m not being stingy, but I won’t give you much because we are running low on supplies, my bra”. In view of this intertextual self-reference, Peaches’s action gains in bittersweet irony. Her pouring half of the expensive bottle of Hennessy, which stands in stark contrast to the scene in After Tears and the sense of brotherhood it expresses, bespeaks her “affluenza” as an act of personal satisfaction to avenge her late boyfriend’s betrayal.

Such and similar sentiments run through the remainder of the collection like a golden thread. In “Affluenza” the readers are told about the city of Johannesburg, the setting of most of the collection’s stories: “This is Johussleburg and everyone here is suffering from affluenza. Almost every black person pretends to be rich while staying in a rented room.” The “gravy train” of hoped-for opportunities for the majority of black people in post-apartheid South Africa “has passed”. What people are left with is a cruel game of pretence where the needed-for opportunities are grasped as they come along or are (self-)created if necessary.

Once more, Mhlongo succeeds in capturing post-apartheid South Africa’s zeitgeist. The topics and issues he raises in his latest offering may not necessarily make the short story collection a comfortable read, but certainly an indispensible one.

Join the author at one of the upcoming launches of Affluenza in Soweto, Cape Town or Vanderbijlpark. Click here for details.

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A grand vision still in its infancy: SA writers embark on a new chapter at Time of the Writer



A recent literary festival aimed to decolonise books, writes Niren Tolsi for The Times

In the spirit of the moment – of #FeesMustFall and the urgent need to find new narratives in the post-apartheid age – the 19th edition of the Time of the Writer Festival, held in Durban last week, laid itself open – and vulnerable – with its intention to “Decolonise the Book”.

nullThe student protests, with the accompanying scholarship that’s feeding off post-colonial theorists like Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral, are attempting to render speakable that which has been silenced by post-apartheid South Africa’s reconciliation project; the black experience of (post)-apartheid South Africa.

The festival has drawn the political inspiration to re-imagine itself from these “Fallists”, said festival co-curator Thando Mgqolozana in his opening night keynote address.

The student movement is saying that “[a]ll the things we have tried are not concerned with undoing colonisation and, if they are not, then they are merely tools with which colonisation is maintained in our times. It took us long enough but we have finally come to the logical conclusion: decolonisation”.

“Decolonisation,” he noted, “is an act of self-love” for people whose very worth has been denigrated during apartheid and into a racist present and it’s “an act of healing – otherwise we remain wounded”.

“Decolonisation is an absolute necessity … we will have to teach ourselves new ways of being that are not framed by notions of coloniality.”

Mgqolozana, the author of A Man Who Is Not a Man (2009), Hear Me Alone (2011) and Unimportance (2014), had been invited to co-curate this edition of the festival by fellow curator Tiny Mungwe of the Centre for Creative Arts. The centre, which is attached to the University of KwaZulu-Natal, also organises the Poetry Africa Festival, the Contemporary Dance Festival and the Durban International Film Festival.

A Man Who is Not a ManHear Me AloneUnimportance

The invitation had been extended after Mgqolozana’s criticism regarding the “whiteness” of South African literary festivals was first voiced at last year’s Time of the Writer. Later that year, Mgqolozana extrapolated that initial provocation at the Franschhoek Literary Festival by stating that he would never attend another literary festival in South Africa, unless it was a black one.

In the act of decolonisation, the festival was decentralised, taken out of the university and into Durban’s surrounding townships. To libraries in KwaMashu, Inanda and Umlazi, among others, where daytime sessions – attended by matric schoolchildren, unemployed youth and aspirant writers – were held.

nullActs of inclusion led to impassioned debates about the sense of exclusion from the country’s intellectual conversation. The exclusion is felt because indigenous languages are low down the language hierarchy; books by local and African writers are difficult to access in public libraries that do not stock them; and the ability to read for pleasure is affected by socioeconomic factors. At around midday during weekdays, almost all these libraries – with their internet access and resource books – are used by schoolchildren, job-seekers and people with agency and hope for their futures.

The festival sought to explore writing to this moment: An intention to challenge colonialism in a manner that Edward Said, writing in Orientalism, noted was essential if writers were to counter a project that sought to “divide, deploy, schematise, tabulate, index, and record everything in sight (and out of sight), to make out of every discernible detail a generalisation and out of every generalisation, an immutable law about the Oriental nature, temperament, mentality, custom, or type; and above all, to transmute living reality into the stuff of texts”.

It is a grand vision still in its infancy – but that has made promising steps. At the very least it has also allowed for a level of chaos and contradiction to challenge the idea of a literary festival and notions of the book itself, in an age of multiple digital platforms.

This was apparent from performance artist Tracey Rose’s challenging, but rewarding, conversation with Mishka Hoosen, author of Call it a Difficult Night, that questioned the boundaries of human solidarity contrasted with individual narcissism in the political moment.

Call it a Difficult NightRun Racist RunSweet Medicine


Eusebius McKaiser (Run Racist Run) and Panashe Chigumadzi (Sweet Medicine) made the conscious decision to not discuss their panel topic: “Why Must a Black Writer Write About Blackness?” as this was too “reductive” to them as writers. Instead, they chatted about form, style and getting personal in their work.

Riffing off the call by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o to decolonise the mind, the Time of the Writer is at a delicately poised and dangerous moment in its lifetime, which engenders a delicious expectation of its 20th edition.



•Niren Tolsi is the author of an upcoming book on Marikana. He appeared at the Time of the Writer Festival. Follow him on Twitter @NirenTolsi

Images courtesy of Time of the Writer on Facebook

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New Ngugi wa Thiong’o story translated into over 30 African languages in record-breaking issue of Jalada Africa

Ngugi wa Thiong'o
In the House of the InterpreterA Grain of WheatThe River BetweenWeep Not, ChildPetals of BloodDreams in a Time of WarWizard of the Crow

The latest edition of Jalada Africa contains a new short story by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o translated into over 30 African languages, making it the “single most translated short story in the history of African writing”.

The short story was originally written in Kikuyu as “Ituĩka Rĩa Mũrũngarũ: Kana Kĩrĩa Gĩtũmaga Andũ Mathiĩ Marũngiĩ”, and was translated by Ngũgĩ himself into English as “The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright”.

This is an impressive first foray into translation for Jalada Africa, a Pan-African writers’ collective based in Nairobi, Kenya. Translation Issue: Volume 1 is the culmination of a four-month project, and features collaborative work by professional and amateur translators as well as language enthusiasts from 14 African countries.

In his introduction to the issue, Jalada Africa managing editor Moses Kilolo says: “Professor Wa Thiong’o is uniquely placed to be the first distinguished author and intellectual featured in our periodical translations issue. He has, for many years, been the most vocal proponent in publishing in African languages.”

nullThe story is available in Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiZulu and Xitsonga, as well as the original Kikuyu, Ahmharic, Dholuo, Kikamba, Lwisukha-Lwidakho, Ikinyarwada, Arabic, Luganda, Kiswahili, Hausa, Meru, Lingala, Igbo, Ibibio, Somali, Nandi, Rukiga, Bamanankan, Lugbarati, Shona, Lubukusu, Kimaragoli, Giriama, Sheng, Ewe, Naija Languej, Marakwet and French.

Audio recordings of the story are also available in Kikuyu, English and Sheng. The anthology will soon be available in PDF and ebook formats.

  • Jalada Africa encourages writers and translators who do not find their African languages featured in this issue and who would like to volunteer to contribute a translation of this story and to future Translation Issues to get in touch with at


The aim of the project was to renew interest in publishing in local languages and increase access to such stories.

Ngũgĩ says: “The cruel genius of colonialism was to turn normality into abnormality and then make the colonised accept the abnormality as the real norm … mother tongue first; then add to it, as necessary, that’s the way of progress and empowerment.

“So [Jalada's] actions will empower Africa by making Africans own their resources from languages – making dreams with our languages – to other natural resources – making things with them, consuming some, exchanging some.

“The moment we lost our languages was also the moment we lost our bodies, our gold, diamonds, copper, coffee, tea. The moment we accepted (or being made to accept) that we could not do things with our languages was the moment we accepted that we could not make things with our vast resources.”

Read a short excerpt from the English version:

A long time ago humans used to walk on legs and arms, just like all the other four limbed creatures. Humans were faster than hare, leopard or rhino. Legs and arms were closer than any other organs: they had similar corresponding joints: shoulders and hips; elbows and knees; ankles and wrists; feet and hands, each ending with five toes and fingers, with nails on each toe and finger. Hands and feet had similar arrangements of their five toes and finger from the big toe and thumb to the smallest toes and pinkies. In those days the thumb was close to the other fingers, the same as the big toe. Legs and arms called each other first cousins.

Jalada Africa is planning more editions of translation, featuring a previously unpublished story of no more than 3,000 words. Writers and translators across the continent will be invited to submit and edit translations in their African language of knowledge and/or study. The ultimate goal is to have each story translated into 2,000 African languages.

Jalada’s September 2015 anthology, The Language Issue, also celebrates Africa’s diversity in language, with fiction, poetry, spoken word, visual art and essays in 23 African languages as well as English, French, Polish and Mandarin.

“Despite long-running conversations on the need for publishing in indigenous languages on the African continent over the past five decades, writing and translations remain minimal and the little that exists continues to rapidly decline,” the publication says. “Since our Languages Issue, we’ve deliberated on the best ways of making writing in our languages a continuous activity.

“We were convinced the previous anthology did not capture all the facets of languages we were interested in. There are millions of speakers in African languages and not many writers in African languages. Why? Can this be changed?”

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‘I’m not philosophical, I’m just a writer’ – Niq Mhlongo tells it like it is at Time of the Writer

niq mhlongo
AffluenzaDog Eat DogAfter TearsWay Back Home

Niq Mhlongo chatted to Danyela Demir at the Time of the Writer Festival at the Umkhumbane Hall in Cato Manor on Thursday, on the topic “They Write What They Like”.

In the Q&A session, Books LIVE’s Jennifer Malec asked Mhlongo whether he thought he wrote what he liked.

“I think I do,” Mhlongo said. “People may not like it, but I do because it reflects what is going on in South Africa.

“I have freedom when I write. I write what I like in the sense that, I play god quite a lot. I normally kill my characters whenever I like. I have my own communities, my own republic, and nobody can mess with me. So I can make somebody unemployed and kill them later – it’s up to me.”

The theme of the Time of the Writer Festival this year is “Decolonising the Book”. Mhlongo added that the influential people around him growing up, including Black Consciousness and Pan Africanist Congress leaders who lived in the same street as his family, gave him a decolonised perspective without him realising it.

“I grew up reading only the African Writers Series,” he said. “But I also read Richard Wright, he was my favourite. I read everything of his, because I was influenced by my brothers. I also read Robert Sobukwe’s speeches – I’m talking about the early 80s – and Long Walk to Freedom, before it was “discovered”. And I remember the only book I ever stole from the library – Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, although my brother forced me to return it.

“So when people talk about Charles Dickens, I’ve never even read him. It didn’t interest me at all. I grew up reading African writers. I read everything that was African.”

An audience member then put it to Mhlongo that he hadn’t done justice to the question, and asked him whether he thought he depicted his characters as making positive moves towards economic emancipation.

“I’m just a writer. I think you are expecting me to be philosophical, and I’m not philosophical. I’m just a writer, and I write about whatever I experience. I write about gossip, I write about hearsay, I write about my view of the world. I’m sure you want me to come with big political terms, but I’m not like that, I’m not that kind of a writer. I just write a story. Whether there’s politics in it, that’s what critics are for. So they’ll criticise it and put it into a category.

“I know you want me to say I’m a Black Consiousness person. I might be. But I’m a writer. Just a writer.”

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Once upon a time on the Cape Flats – the story of Zephany Nurse


Zephany Nurse’s fate, to be stolen at birth, is a real-life version of an archetypal myth, writes Sue de Groot for the Sunday Times

“Your story is a fairytale,” Judge John Hlophe said on Thursday to the woman found guilty of kidnapping, fraud and contravening the Children’s Act.

Hlophe meant this contemptuously, but in many ways the story of Zephany Nurse, abducted at birth from Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town in 1997 and restored to her biological family 18 years later, does resemble a fairytale.

Fairytales are full of stolen children. In 1889, Irish poet William Butler Yeats published “The Stolen Child”, which has this chilling chorus:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Yeats’s poem was based on Celtic legends about fairies that stole human babies and left their own infants – changelings – in the cradle. So powerful a hold did these fictions exert that hideous punishments were visited on people accused of being changelings because they became ill or acted strangely.

The Celts were not the only ones who told such stories. Japanese and Persian folk tales are similarly populated by baby-stealing fairies. In India, tigers were said to swap human babies for tiger cubs. In Scandinavian mythology, infants had to be guarded from lonely trolls on the prowl for children to take home to their caves.

In southern African folklore there is the story of a moonchild born to the previously barren second wife of chieftain Bulane. His jealous head wife tried to cast the child out and kill it, but it was rescued by a mouse and eventually restored to its rightful place in the family.

Persistent themes in myth and legend have their basis in humankind’s deepest fears and most wishful dreams. The fascination with stolen children, lost children, orphans, foundlings and changelings is rooted in our collective imagination.

The thought of someone stealing her baby is of paralysing terror to a mother. At the same time, the child in us is strangely drawn to the idea of a parallel life, of who we might have been had we been someone else, someone more interesting.

The intense public interest in the Zephany Nurse case is bound up in both these impulses.

The archetype of the orphan or foundling that discovers its noble heritage is a dominant theme in literature. Twelfth-century poet Robert de Boron told the tale of young Arthur, who grew up neglected and taunted for being illegitimate, but when he pulled the sword Excalibur from the stone in which it was lodged, he revealed his birthright – to be the true king of England.

In many myths, lost or stolen babies are rescued from death and nurtured by kindly beings. A huntsman is ordered to kill Snow White who instead leaves her in the forest, where she is cared for by dwarfs before discovering she is a princess.

In Roman mythology, the twins Romulus and Remus are abandoned by the man tasked with their murder. They are found and suckled by a she-wolf and as adults they establish the city of Rome.

The Hebrews had Moses, who before he became their leader was set afloat in a basket because it was safer for him to be raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter than by his own family.

Charles Dickens’s 19th-century novels are full of orphans – Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Pip from Great Expectations – who suffer great hardship but are, for the most part, rewarded with love and happiness.

Oliver TwistDavid CopperfieldGreat Expectations

In Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale, the child Perdita is adopted and raised by a shepherd and through a series of coincidences discovers that her biological parents are royalty.

The Gap of TimeAs part of a series of “retellings” commissioned by The Hogarth Press, novelist Jeanette Winterson has just published a modernised version of The Winter’s Tale. In Winterson’s tale, The Gap in Time, Perdita is raised by a working-class family in the US and finds out at the age of 18 that her birth parents are wealthy Europeans.

Winterson delves into Perdita’s emotional state in a way Shakespeare did not. The girl questions the concept of “real” family, saying: “Is a parent the person who provides you with the raw materials of life or the person who raises you?”

The parents of Zephany Nurse, Celeste (middle) and Morne (right) Nurse, outside the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court) Image: Esa Alexander)

This is the question Zephany Nurse is now asking. Her story is no fairytale. Zephany – raised under another name which has not been disclosed to protect her – was not rescued from a murderous stepmother. She was not stolen from kings or raised by wolves. Nor was she an abused Dickensian orphan.

Zephany lived an ordinary life in the same community of Lavender Hill, just a few blocks from where she would have lived that other life, the one she will now never live. She has been fed, clothed and educated. She has, as far as we know, been loved and protected.

She had no idea she was adopted, or stolen, until her biological sister, attending the same school, so closely resembled her that their father started investigating. This culminated in Zephany being told in February last year she could no longer see the woman she thought was her mother for 18 years, and that she is now the child of strangers who share her DNA.

There can be no exoneration and little mercy for the woman who steals a three-day-old baby from its mother, but there is more than one theft in this story. The life she would have lived, the identity she would have had, were stolen from Zephany. And now, the life she has lived, the reality that has shaped her through her formative years, have also been stolen. Even her name has been lost. She cannot cut off the love she feels for the only mother she has known, but knowing that she was stolen from her birth parents will be a lengthy truth to process.

“It takes so little time to change a lifetime and it takes a lifetime to understand the change,” writes Winterson in The Gap in Time.

In a statement last week by her lawyer, Ann Skelton, Zephany asked for privacy, saying: “How would your daughter or son feel when their skin feels ripped off their face?”

There is a story in the first book of Kings in the Old Testament in which two women ask King Solomon to solve a dispute. One of their babies has died and one is alive. Both claim the living child is theirs. Solomon’s solution is to cut the baby in half and share it between the two. One woman does not flinch. The other is horrified. She says she would rather give up her child than have it suffer harm. Solomon performs no DNA test; he gives the baby to the woman who would not see it harmed.

For Zephany, it is too late for the wisdom of Solomon.

She has already been torn in two.

Follow Sue de Groot on Twitter @deGrootS1

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