A Canonical Township Tale


By Katlego Mereko

Mbe Mbhele is a Law graduate from Wits University, an all-around artist and author of an anthology of short stories branded Crazy Father and Other Very Short Lies. 

The latter was published in 2016 amid great interest in the heat of countrywide #MustFall remonstrations, and, outside the subject of this review Ekasi, Orange Farm Ext 7, includes other such gems as Taxi Write, She Smiles and Fools & Better Fools to mention three. 

From a philosophical point of view, the anthology, wittingly or unwittingly, gives an exposition of the basic underpinnings upon which #MustFall movements articulated their position. It demands that the reader imagine - nay, grapple with - the existential conditions an insidiously racialized Post-94 South Africa maintains for the so-called previously disadvantaged.

 
 
Indeed, imagination, subterfuge or very short lies may be the wrong way to describe this collection. For if Lewis Nkosi is right that what we have frequently from South Africa is 

“the journalistic fact parading outrageously as imaginative literature.” 

That 

“we find here a type of fiction which exploits the readymade plots of racial violence, social apartheid, interracial love affairs which are doomed from the beginning.,”

then this is such literary work. 

Ekasi is a succinct yet incredibly detailed illustration of the violence of township life, and its opening line leaves the reader in no two minds about it. 

“Orange Farm extension 7, Gauteng is one of the many places which epitomize the inhuman conditions which black people of South Africa are subjected to.” 

It opens a setting not atypical of township life. Of a family cramped in a shack that makes the very act of living near impossible. As if in spite the myriad of malls being erected, the shack remains an undying symbol of the township. Those corrugated irons which betray its enclosures in the freezing cold of the winters or the searing heat at summer’s zenith represent the gross inhumanity to which Blacks are subjected. And it is hardly better when you exit the shack. Other township elements that are always lurking soon make their presence felt, inducing a feeling of walls closing in on you. Our American brothers and sisters were probably right to think that part of black people’s struggle is getting out of the ghetto. 

In the words of Sive Mqikela 

“Townships are nothing more than concentration camps which serve no other purpose but humiliate and expose how black people can survive in the most degrading conditions.” 

This short story is a confronting piece of work, one of those in the anthology surely responsible for inspiring Andile Mngxitama’s reflection on it as ‘not a book, but an assault on the senses.’ 

It is not difficult to imagine this and other such short stories occupying a space in academic institutions as part of literary set works in the future. It is evidently the work of a brilliant writer and artist. One who can greatly stretch the imagination while remaining firmly present.

-JP

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