Buhle Mthethwa: the 10-year-old self-pub­lished au­thor

At just 10 years old Buhle Mthethwa is al­ready a pub­lished au­thor – and she’s on a mis­sion to get kids read­ing


THE con­fi­dent young lady who strides into our of­fices is ev­ery bit as pol­ished and pro­fes­sional as any other au­thor we’ve met.

But there’s one ma­jor dif­fer­ence: shortly af­ter ar­riv­ing Buhle Mthethwa laments that her mom hadn’t told her she was bring­ing her to an in­ter­view straight af­ter school. If she’d known she would’ve made a plan to change out of her school uni­form.

Buhle is just 10 years old and she’s the lat­est sen­sa­tion to hit the Mzansi lit­er­ary world. Her new book, The Big Fat Naughty Cat, has earned this tal­ented au­thor the right to join the ex­clu­sive ranks of au­thors who have been pub­lished in child­hood.

Her writ­ing ca­reer took seed when she was in Grade 1, she says. She was just learn­ing to read and loved the writ­ten word so much she soon mas­tered the art – so much so she was soon help­ing her class­mates to read.

“Af­ter school I would help my friends who couldn’t read and write prop­erly,” she re­calls. “I would show them how to pro­nounce words and that’s where my pas­sion for books started.”

Buhle, who’s now in Grade 5, loved read­ing so much she started go­ing to the li­brary of­ten, de­vour­ing the ma­te­rial she found on the shelves.

The li­brary at her school, Mooi­fontein Pri­mary in Jo­han­nes­burg, be­came like a sec­ond home to her and in 2016, when she was eight years old, she started writ­ing The Big Fat Naughty Cat.

She was in­spired by other chil­dren’s books as well as her favourite TV shows, she tells us.

“Ha v e you watched My Lit­tle Pony?” she asks. When we ad­mit we haven’t, she tells us the an­i­mated se­ries , about the ad­ven­tures of a uni­corn cal l ed Twil ight Sparkle and her friends in Ponyville, “ac­tu­ally has a lot of lessons”.

“When you watch TV [peo­ple] think you’re just laz­ing around but you ac­tu­ally find lots of in­for­ma­tion there. I watched Na­tional Ge­o­graphic so I could get in­for­ma­tion about an­i­mals and I also googled for more info.” Buhle’s book tells the story of a girl named Lira who finds a hun­gry cat on the street and takes it home to look af­ter it but the cat gets up to all sorts of mis­chief in the house. Writ­ing the book took her about three months and the process wasn’t that hard, she says. “The big­gest strug­gle was get­ting my mommy to pub­lish it.”

BUHLE hand­wrote The Big Fat Naughty Cat on an exam pad and il­lus­trated it her­self. When it was fin­ished, she proudly showed her mom, Nthabiseng (51), and asked her to pub­lish it. “I couldn’t take her se­ri­ously,” Nthabiseng ad­mits. “I just said, ‘No, why do you want to pub­lish? No, don’t come and speak big English here!’” But like any good au­thor, Buhle per- sisted and she even­tu­ally wore her mom down. “She said to me, ‘Mommy, I need this to be pub­lished once I’m 10’.”

Nthabiseng, who is the deputy di­rec­tor of In­vest South Africa at the de­part­ment of trade and in­dus­try, started look­ing at the process of self-pub­lish­ing, an op­tion which doesn’t come cheap. Af­ter ap­proach­ing sev­eral self-pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies, she took out a loan and forked out around R33 000 to get her daugh­ter’s book pub­lished.

A to­tal of 500 copies were printed in De­cem­ber 2017. Those copies of the book were sold to friends and fam­ily for R180 a copy, but Nthabiseng felt the book was too ex­pen­sive for kids from poor com­mu­ni­ties, who they want to en­cour­age to read.

So she con­tacted Cell C to spon­sor copies of The Big Fat Naughty Cat and the mo­bile net­work agreed to do­nate 1 000 copies of Buhle’s book to Tha­ba­neng Lower Pri­mary School in Soweto, the school Nthabiseng had at­tended when she was lit­tle.

The han­dover took place on 30 Jan­uary, with Buhle and Miss South Africa Adè van Heer­den on hand to meet the school’s learn­ers.

“I was so ex­cited,” Buhle says. “Miss South Africa told me she was very proud of me.”

Buhle signed copies of the books and gave a speech to the learn­ers.

“Stu­dents, friends, I am giv­ing you this book to help you kick­start your in­ter­est in read­ing,” she told them.

“Re­mem­ber, ev­ery­thing starts with read­ing.”

She then quoted Mar­garet Fuller, an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist and women’s rights ad­vo­cate who lived in the 19th cen­tury. “A reader to­day, a leader to­mor­row.”

BUHLE’S dad, Sibu­siso (56), a busi­ness­man and spir­i­tual healer, couldn’t be prouder of Buhle, as are her brothers, Si­bon­iso (25) and Sandile (19).

But it’s Nthabiseng who takes most of the credit for her clever daugh­ter.

“I in­tro­duced her to books be­fore Grade 1,” she says. “It’s very im­por­tant to make sure you read to your chil­dren and don’t put that re­spon­si­bil­ity on the teach­ers.

“As par­ents we have a ten­dency of push­ing the kids to school and not know­ing what’s hap­pen­ing, help­ing only here and there with home­work.

“It’s im­por­tant to walk with your chil­dren in the jour­ney of school – it’s a mat­ter of en­cour­ag­ing them.”

Buhle’s par­ents also signed her up for li­brary cards from the Birch­leigh North Li­brary near their home in Kemp­ton Park to en­cour­age her love of books.

“You must not try to push your in­ter­ests on to your kids,” Nthabiseng ad­vises. “You must watch and see what they like. I try to sup­port them in ev­ery­thing they do.”

Since her book came out, Buhle has be­come some­thing of a lo­cal celeb, hav­ing been fea­tured on sev­eral ra­dio sta­tions and named as one of South Africa’s top 100 heroes by The Star news­pa­per.

“I was ner­vous the first time I was on ra­dio,” Buhle ad­mits, but adds in­ter­views have been a breeze since then. Her school­friends are over the moon about her book. “They were sur­prised to see it in print and were like, ‘Buhle we’re so proud of you!’” she says.

Her big dream in life though isn’t only to be an au­thor but “to be­come a doc­tor and write more books”.

And how many more will that be? “As many as I can man­age,” she says.

Buhle is cur­rently read­ing The Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid se­ries and wants to start a book club where kids can swap and talk about books.

“We’ve col­lected books from friends and neigh­bours,” Nthabiseng says. “She wants to have two group meet­ings, twice a month, for four- to 12-year-olds.

“They’ll do it on Satur­days and she said me and her daddy have to buy the snacks.”

“Read­ing means a lot to me,” Buhle says. “I’m al­ways read­ing. It helps me learn and the most im­por­tant thing I can ask for is an ed­u­ca­tion.”

Wise words in­deed.

‘Read­ing helps me learn and the most im­por­tant thing I can ask for is an ed­u­ca­tion’

Buhle Mthethwa with her par­ents – mom Nthabiseng, who was in­stru­men­tal in help­ing her self-pub­lish her book, and dad Sibu­siso.

Miss South Africa, Adè van Heer­den, joined Buhle at her old school, Tha­ba­neng Lower Pri­mary in Soweto, to hand out more than 1 000 copies of her book, The Big Naughty Cat, to learn­ers.

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