Catching the sun: ulibambe lingashoni

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Whether he’s writing about traditional wedding arrangements of bapedi ba Limpopo, curses brought upon by abaphatsi, a man’s quest to find condoms floor blocks away from his hotel in Washington DC. or ignorant and relentless homophobes, Niq Mhlongo’s collection of short stories in “Affluenza” is a body of work that takes you through an emotional roller coaster and leaves you with more questions than answers. 

When I describe the book to my friends, I tell them Niq’s style of writing feels like I’m having a conversation with a beloved uncle whose storytelling abilities are unparalleled . I appreciate the familiarity of his subject matter and how he is able to bring the character and the places (primarily in South Africa) to life. “Catching the sun” and “betrayal in the wilderness” were by far my favourite in the book. 

Catching the sun: 

Most black kids raised in South Africa will immediately identify with the phrase “ulibambe lingashoni” - a Zulu warning loosely translated as “do not let the sun go down” or as per title of the story “catch the sun”. In this context it speaks of the curse laid by one grieving family following the death of their beloved daughter. 

Catching the sun tells the story of the Maja family whose eldest daughter Mpho dies in a tragic car accident in the Eastern Cape province. Mpho’s death reveals a lot of the secrets in her life. The fact that she had given birth to a young girl; Botho and was planning to get married to Meli Mondi without the blessing or knowledge of her family. As far as the Maja family is concerned Mpho is still alive at the University of Johannesburg, where she was sent to study Commerce. This complicates matters as the Maja family refuse to acknowledge the death of their daughter and bury her until the Mondi’s have performed their rightful duty of asking for Mpho’s hand in marriage and paying for damages for Botho, Mpho’s daughter born out of wedlock . Events which unfold after the family is notified of Mpho’s death are downright baffling if not creepy. The Mondi family is cursed with deaths and accidents until they are forced to go back to Phalaborwa in an attempt to right their wrongs with the Maja family. 

Niq tells stories of the realities of life in South Africa from very diverse voices. The truthful manner in which he tackles the question of stolen land in his story “the warning sign”, the story of relationship and lies, questioned paternity, local cultural artists commissioned abroad, suicide by a university student and the life of opulence in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg and much more. There’s definitely more than enough in the book to get a sense of the “state of the nation”.