Mhlongo treats us to a new book
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
BOOK LAUNCH Niq Mhlongo signs his book at The Market theatre