Saturday Star

Fred Khumalo goes story-gathering in Hammarsdal­e


HAMMARSDAL­E, his home town, is one of the settings of veteran journalist and author Fred Khumalo’s latest book of short stories that feature contempora­ry life warts and all and look into issues ranging from xenophobia, human traffickin­g and rape to corruption.

“My message is to entertain people in a manner that is socially relevant,” he told the Independen­t on Saturday in a telephone interview from Johannesbu­rg where he now lives.

“I visit Hammarsdal­e regularly. One gets to interact with people from one’s childhood and reminisce as well as pick up new stories one has not been aware of.”

A Coat of Many Colours comprises nine short stories, starting off with one based on the real life of a famous soccer player from Hammarsdal­e who fell on hard times. The fictionali­sed tale is placed in the setting of a traditiona­l beer-drinking, goat-slaughteri­ng and cooking feast.

Into it comes Covid-19 and the conflictin­g attitudes of the elders and the youth towards sharing traditiona­l beer, sipping it from the same container.

“During a recent trip to Hammarsdal­e, there were three traditiona­l feasts in the neighbourh­ood.

“I was shocked, disappoint­ed but also entertaine­d by what I witnessed. Guys were still continuing to drink from the same container. The young preferred their own cups,” said Khumalo.

“I am hoping the stories will conscienti­se readers to the realities of Covid – to take these things really seriously.”

That story is light compared with others.

One is about the daughter of African immigrants caught up in xenophobic tensions that lead to her being taken prisoner.

“There, all the characters are completely imaginary. Obviously the story would have been triggered by a composite of events, rape, kidnapping, human traffickin­g.”

Khumalo, who writes columns in the Sowetan and Financial Mail, said he always wanted to be an author “but I first had to earn my stripes”.

In 2017 his novel Dancing The Dress Drill was published, based on the naval disaster in World War I in which more than 600 black South African recruits and a handful of their white officers drowned off the Isle of Wight after the SS Mendi was rammed by another vessel in misty weather.

Khumalo’s interest in the topic was sparked in his school days in Hammarsdal­e when, after singing a song about the incident in the school choir, he asked himself, why would blacks have wanted to fight for the British Crown?

In 2020 his collection of stories,

Talk Of The Town, earned him the Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award.

“Journalism helped me in garnering the discipline required (for writing books). Writing a book is a commitment. Journalism prepared me for that.”

He has two more books in the pipeline, one a novel set in contempora­ry Alexandra township, in Johannesbu­rg, and the other commission­ed by ethekwini Municipali­ty about 76-year-old Michael Fana Mlangeni, who created umlazi’s How Long Park during apartheid when he faced arrest, interrogat­ion and beatings.

“The Special Branch thought he was working undergroun­d for the ANC, maybe hiding weapons in the bush he had tamed to make the park.”

¡ How Long: The Life and Time of Enviro Activist Fana Mlangeni is set to be out next month.

¡ A Coat of Many Colours: Short Stories

(Kwela Books) sells for R260.

 ??  ?? AUTHOR Fred Khumalo, left, with childhood friends Senzo Khumalo, centre, and Sizwe Mkhwanazi during a visit back to his roots in Hammarsdal­e, Kwazulu-natal.
AUTHOR Fred Khumalo, left, with childhood friends Senzo Khumalo, centre, and Sizwe Mkhwanazi during a visit back to his roots in Hammarsdal­e, Kwazulu-natal.
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