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.