archive - issue 14

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  • /

    By Ruth Barker
    On the QWERTY layout of my computer keyboard, the symbol / appears beside the questioning symbol ?. They are represented together on the same key, and
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  • Apartment / Containers

    By Vincent Bezuidenhout
    These diptychs are the start of a series of images I have been working on regarding the visual landscape we choose to surround ourselves
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  • I returned home after my first year in college to discover my younger sister had turned gorgeous. This was a disappointment, but not an
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  • Butterfly

    By Adriana de Barros
    The pupa, a silk wrap of emotionsIsolated, within breathing, wanting to bethe intense pronoun of selfIt is silly to be one's own pronounShe giggles
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  • Collage

    By Claudio Parentela
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  • Drag and Snap

    By Leigh-Anne Niehaus
    This series is inspired by the childhood game of "snapdragon", which allows for simplistic and delightful decision-making through random selections of colour and number.
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  • Evidence of Life

    By Tamlyn Martin
    Below is an extract from a series of 11 poems created in parallel with visual artworks. 5. Memories laced with visceral realityFlooding herThe gentle
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  • Forward! Slash!

    By Travis Lyle
    You think you're a forward-thinking kinda person, do you? Lemme be the one to break it to you, sunshine – you're as lame as the
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  • Human/Nature

    By Lydia Anne McCarthy
    This series explores moments between nature and human beings that are at once idealistic and unsettling. Each picture is an independent narrative, but placed
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  • Immigrants

    By Stanley Onjezani Kenani
    you want to livenothing leaveto liveyou swimor like fresh sardinesyou are packedin boatsyou leaveto live.  you leavegold in the belly of Africaoil in
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  • In Between

    By Tania van Schalkwyk
    Raised in an Arabian land of heat, fire and temper,sometimes the calm of England clamps downlike damp in a bathroom with no windowand a
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  • Letter to the Editor

    By Elan Gamaker
    Dear Sir/Madam I should like strenuously to object to the subject matter ("/") of your current issue. It must first be mentioned, however, that it
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  • Or: a line drawing

    By Gabeba Baderoon
    Pencil and nothing. Her face turned almost entirely away. Forehead, cheekbone,jaw,the bun low in her neck,shoulderand down,the long linejust enoughthen left alone.
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  • p u n c t u a t i o n

    By Ula Einstein
    Einstein works with a diverse range of media, including drawings and installation with fire, thread, and blades. The series of drawings and installations with
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    By Sean Hampton-Cole
    Keys. John speaking. 'Lo?Good morning. May I speak to Bob Mitchell please?Bob in Bonds?I'm not really sure. I'm trying to...You want extension 125. This
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  • Pretty Babies

    By Peregrine Honig
    With the premise that "/ " presents what is IN and what is OUT, the "Pretty Babies" series explores the fashion industry's well-published and syndicated DOs
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  • River Bank

    By Mario Sughi
    The symbol / is intended initially as a symbol of division. A real or unreal line divides the girl from the water, the girl from
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  • Scissor

    By Charlotte Gait
    There was a time when you and I were connected by iron, acid, vitamin and blood. Where every mouthful I took was with the
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  • Seasaw

    By Sol Kjøk
    Here, the motif is conceived of as a seesaw (the typo in the title is intended, as this drawing is part of a series
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  • Series Seven Up

    By Noel Fignier
    Text by João Branco Kyron, HipnóticaThe collision is imminent and in the fraction of time left, the eyes shut and the vision is superbly
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  • A battle over samoosas between the snobbish Cinderella and a homeless electrician is mediated by Cinderella's boyfriend JJ. The samoosa battle is conflated with
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  • Wayne Porter, freelance journalist, donned his anthropologist's birthday suit and hit the bowling alley. Bar the bowlers hat tipped gently off centre, the man
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  • The Incised Wound

    By Joanne Hichens
    "Please, for me, Dave," I placed my hand on his, and really, no begging, just asked him nicely, "Lay off the booze tonight." Whether
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  • He had been driving for hours through that unstable, somnambulist night when he fell asleep at the wheel. He awoke with a start and
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  • The space between.

    By Mehita Iqani
    It's a handy little line, the one that we use to make our options known. Either/Or. Paper and ink or binary code? Its clichéd,
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  • Un Hombre Fuerte

    By Tamo Vonarim Written these words are, at times of a subconscious flow – whether they are mine, I don't know. All I know is that I
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  • Unbroken Awareness

    My life is now a floating shellI am a vessel on that river.The storm, the ship, the sea,Whose shores we lost in crossing.  I
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  • Untitled

    By Wilhelm Saayman
    This series of images, made using pen and ink, photographs and Photoshop, explore alternate/dream realities.
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  • Untitled

    By Aryan Kaganof
    /At R550 rand I thought I'd rather die/ My mother: can I trust this woman?/ I thought the Romans were coming, dinkum/ …and always
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Tuesday, 01 October 2013 14:23

Way Back Home by Niq Mhlongo


Niq Mhlongo is making waves. Way Back Home, his third novel in not even a decade, is out. His local publisher Kwela has reissued Mhlongo's two previous novels, Dog Eat Dog (2004) and After Tears (2007). To most South African authors a second imprint in itself would be a great achievement. But Mhlongo's work is being translated and published overseas, which is a rarity for local writers of his generation (one can count the others on the fingers of one hand). Hailed as one of the front-runners of the "kwaito generation" (a label he himself expresses doubts about, although he sees its marketing value), Mhlongo is a popular guest at literary festival worldwide, and no wonder: his gutsy outspokenness and mischievous attitude not only impress, but also inspire.

Is the hype around his books justified? Critics say yes. Vibrant, street-wise, witty, hilarious, must-read, high-spirited – are all terms that reverberate through the reviews. Thousands of books sold reaffirm the author's popularity. Personally, I had some reservations about Dog Eat Dog, occasionally cringing during dialogues about HIV/AIDS and women, yet I understood that it wasn't Mhlongo speaking, but his characters, reflecting some common views, no matter how misguided. It was undoubtedly a feisty debut, and despite the rough spots, the novel captured something vital about the New South Africa. The talent was unmistakably there, and the book intriguing enough to let me look forward to the follow-up.

After Tears did not disappoint. Whereas Dog Eat Dog focused on the student life of a bunch of friends at Wits around the time of the first democratic elections, After Tears followed Bafana, its main character, through the shock of post-graduation life, which he attempts to tackle with a fake law degree and booze, ending up – predictably maybe – nowhere.

In his latest novel, Way Back Home, Mhlongo's characters are all grown-up but none the wiser. On the surface, Kimathi Tito seems to have it all: glowing political credentials, power, money, and a villa in the right part of town. And yet, his life begins to unravel. His wife divorces him, his bid for a tender goes awry, his comrades and the police are on his case, and on top of it all, he begins to see ghosts. Corrupt to the core, Kimathi tries to save his skin any way he can, but there are some things that cannot be undone or forgotten, and not all dreams and visions are what they seem.

Mhlongo has a penchant for creating characters that are highly unlikable. Kimathi might be the most despicable of them all. It is no small feat to tell the story of a character readers will hate and yet to sustain the narrative tension to keep them interested. And that is because Mhlongo is not afraid to speak truth to power. Strikingly, he chose a quote from Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks for one of the epigraphs of Way Back Home: "Why write this book? No one has asked me for it, especially those to whom it is directed. Well, well, I reply quite calmly that there are too many idiots in this world. And having said it, I have the burden of proving it..."

Mhlongo does as well. He is fearless in confronting the worst present-day society has on offer, and because it comes from the pen of a thoughtful young black man (he is turning only 40 this year), his message is even more powerful. His novels depict a world not many readers, whether here in South Africa or abroad, have had access to before. There are no sugar-coated endings, no easy solutions, for Mhlongo. In Way Back Home, he gives us a world of bling (the list of brand names in this novel is endless), power-abuse, violence, chauvinism and cronyism. It is a dangerous world, rooted deeply in an even more dangerous past that refuses simply to go away. And it seems that what Mhlongo is telling us is that we need to confront that past again, not in the ways we have been doing in the last decades of our flawed transition, but in a more holistic, accepting way that combines the best of all our problem-solving tools, whether indigenous or Western, modern or traditional, black or white.

Way Back Home shows that there is enough time to come clean about the past, to heal and forgive, but that window of opportunity is not going to stay open forever. The "way back home" of the title can still be travelled. South Africa as a country, and individually, many of her people cannot afford to miss it. And readers should not miss this daring and insightful novel.

Way Back Home
by Niq Mhlongo
Cape Town: Kwela, 2013

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Karina Magdalena Szczurek

Karina is a writer and literary critic based in Cape Town.