Niq Mhlongo

Rewriting Jozi

16th May 2010, 2 p.m.
reading and discussion

Niq Mhlongo is one of the most successful South African writers of the last years and depicts in his novels the changes and transformations of the society and the urban landscapes of South Africa, namely of Soweto and Johannesburg. In his reading he will introduce his city in his writing and will afterwards talk with us about social transitions, changing landscapes and how literature might reflect them and how fiction might work with local and historical preconditions.

Murhandziwa Nicholas Mhlongo was born in Midway-Chiawelo Soweto, South Africa on the 10th of June 1973. He is the eighth born in a family of ten children. In the belief that he would be spared the violence that characterized most Soweto schools at the time, his parents sent him to Limpopo province (former Northern Province) for his education, and he did both his primary and secondary schooling there. In his matriculation year in 1990, the schools were disrupted, coinciding with the release of former president Nelson Mandela from jail in February of that year. As a consequence of the widespread turmoil at schools in this period, he failed to graduate from high school and had to repeat the grade, which he did successfully in 1991.

Mhlongo faced the typical challenges and difficulties of a unemployed post-school youth in Soweto, but managed to find employment as a part-time as dispatch agent for a company called Republic Umbrella in Johannesburg. In 1994 he enrolled for a BA degree (Bachelor of Arts) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), majoring in African Literature and Political Studies. He completed his degree in 1996 and enrolled for a Law degree (LLB) at the same University in 1997. In 1998 he enrolled at the University of Cape Town, where he continued with his law degree until 2000, when he dropped out of the law school at third year level to write his first novel titled Dog Eat Dog. The novel is an evocative account based on his experience as a young South African of the post-apartheid generation.

He considers his role as a young South African writer to ‘reflect on the changes, whether good or bad, that are taking place around me today. The end of apartheid and our ten years of democracy have posed new challenges, and given us the opportunity as new generation of writers to explore new things. Our contributions to literature today should be to write about issues that are directly facing the youth. We have the responsibility to explore topics such as, HIV/AIDS virus, unemployment, poverty, xenophobia, homosexuality, etc. These are the present issues that most South Africans will identify with, and our writings can help strengthen our democracy and to build a better future.