Mh­longo treats us to a new book

CityPress - - News - SIL­VER SIBIYA sil­ver.sibiya@city­press.co.za

Although this week was dom­i­nated by events ded­i­cated to late strug­gle icon Winnie Madik­izela-Man­dela, The Mar­ket theatre in New­town hosted the launch of nov­el­ist Niq Mh­longo’s new book: Soweto, Un­der the Apri­cot Tree.

An im­pres­sive num­ber of his friends, as­so­ci­ates, col­leagues and celebri­ties, such as rap­per and poet Maya Wegerif, known by her stage name Sho Mad­jozi, at­tended the event.

The au­di­ence showed great in­ter­est in the con­ver­sa­tions Mh­longo took part in dur­ing the pro­gramme, which was em­ceed by award-win­ning film maker Vin­cent Moloi on Tues­day.

Moloi kept the au­di­ence in good spir­its as he teased Mh­longo and posed thought-pro­vok­ing ques­tions.

In his book, a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, Mh­longo pokes fun at the un­in­tended con­se­quences of apartheid spa­tial plan­ning that sep­a­rated blacks ac­cord­ing to their tribal back­grounds and lan­guages. These dif­fer­ences were of­ten used to per­pet­u­ate stereo­types about peo­ple and some­times de­ter­mined one’s abil­ity to sur­vive in the town­ship.

For ex­am­ple, those in Naledi, Soweto, spoke Se­sotho and would seek to make them­selves feel bet­ter than those from other parts of the town­ship, such as Chi­awelo. The lat­ter spoke Venda and Tsonga and were called “am­ab­hari” – mean­ing not streetwise or savvy enough to sur­vive in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment.

Mh­longo said the ti­tle of his book came from the fact that, in his neigh­bour­hood, there were fruit trees in ev­ery yard.

“I think there is a tree be­hind ev­ery house in Soweto, un­less they’ve cut it down,” he said.

“The apartheid gov­ern­ment planted fruit trees in ev­ery house. In front of ev­ery house there is al­ways a grape, at the back is al­ways a peach, apri­cot or a plum tree.

“At home, we got an apri­cot tree. You will find strangers buy­ing beer and com­ing to sit un­der our tree.

“When you ar­rive, they would be telling sto­ries and you would just join them.”

He said this in­spired him to write the sto­ries. In one, he re­mem­bers the day one of his rel­a­tives for­got to lock the doors be­fore leav­ing. When they re­turned, they found peo­ple un­der the tree as usual and things in the house were un­touched and safe.

“I thought, let me write the book about this. I am hon­our­ing the tree, my­self and Soweto.”

As Mh­longo was sign­ing au­to­graphs, peo­ple shared their ex­pe­ri­ences about grow­ing up in the town­ship.

Then it was time for self­ies, with fans keen to post their mo­ments with him on so­cial me­dia.

The voices af­ter the for­mal dis­cus­sions grew louder, thanks to the free wine, and this re­porter did not go home un­til the al­co­hol had stopped flow­ing.

IN TOUCH Mh­longo and one of his fans

PHO­TOS: SIL­VER SIBIYA

BOOK LAUNCH Niq Mh­longo signs his book at The Mar­ket theatre

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