Tag Archives: affluenza

Affluenza by Niq Mhlongo



The currency of these short stories is money and status as depicted by the fifty rand note that graces the cover; an inspired choice. Dip your toe into the psyche of South Africa today where the pull of glamour and glitz allure the characters into bad decisions. The settings range from urban to rural, covering themes such as land grabs, corruption of tradition and cheating men, all served with fat dollops of Niq Mhlongo’s characteristic wit and cynicism.

As with any short story collection, some stories are meatier than others. My usual frustration with this format is that when the story ends, I feel as if I am getting to know the characters and there is more to find out. The same is true of these 11 stories, some more than others. Two of the stories are a little weak but, of the other 9, it is difficult to pick a favourite.

The Warning Sign is a stark and violent stab at the ever pertinent land issue, in which an ex-Zimbabwean farmer spouts his racism and hatred to the land committee that threatens to grab his land. On a lighter note, Four Blocks Away is set in Washington DC where a gumboot dancer is on a cultural exchange; the woman he has been hoping to bed for months is in town but her rule of “no glove, no love”, sends him into the streets wearing nothing but his hospital gown and boxers, trying to get hold of condoms. The consequences are hilarious as he faces up to American police bigotry. Hilarious yet infuriating in its depiction of prejudice.

Another favourite of mine in this collection is Catching the Sun, where the Maja family who live in a village near Phalaborwa, receive unexpected visitors with unwelcome news from the Eastern Cape. They fling insults at their Xhosa visitors in very colourful language and make unreasonable demands. Superstition, cultural traditions and greed fuel their actions in this tragic tale.

My Name is Peaches, Affluenza and The Baby Shower respectively deal with how the superficiality of modern life and the shallow aspirations of many lead to heartbreak, death and destruction. These stories are laced with poignancy in their depiction of human weakness. The writer is never afraid to show his characters in the worst possible light nor does he sugarcoat their actions.

The different range of voices that Mhlongo represents through excellent dialogue makes every story unique; from the rural man who speaks in idiom to the high-flying couple who call each other ‘babe’. Every story touches in one way or another on serious issues of our times yet this is not experienced as dark and depressing. Look into the mirror of Affluenza, go globe-trotting with Niq Mhlongo and see for yourself.



Dog Eat Dog by Niq Mhlongo



Niq Mhlongo just published a collection of interlinked short stories, called Affluenza. Danyela Demir interviewed him at the recent Time of the Writer Festival and it intrigued me. His use of the word affluenza apparently appeared first in his debut novel, Dog Eat Dog, published in 2004 and set in 1994. I determined I must read this first. What a book! what a protagonist.

Dingz has finally made it to Wits after writing matric twice to achieve university entrance marks. His funding has been turned down and he is not taking it lying down. It is 1994 and the day of South Africa’s first democratic elections is around the corner. Dingz creates a commotion at the Financial Aid Office but he has performed some research so, despite trying to stonewall him, they are forced to attend to him. This episode plunges the reader into the mind of Dingz. He is aggressive and short-tempered but sharp too. He is frustrating because he does some very stupid things, like drinking in public and then having a run-in with the police. He lurches from one crisis to another and one party to another; a typical student thrust into a new world, rebellious, hating petty rules yet wanting to get ahead and get his degree.

Reflections on his father and the times during apartheid when his family’s home was regularly invaded by violent, brutal policemen intersperse the narrative. No matter how often I read of incidents such as these, they never fail to stab me in the heart. Dingz also encounters rich, white students for the first time and the contrast between the ease of life for them, where the injury to a dog receives more medical attention than any of his family or friends could dream of, is a bitter shock. These encounters are interesting because of the contrast between the way the black students talk about white people in their absence and the way they speak to white people in their presence is stark. I love the hard-hitting honesty.

Despite the seriousness of the topics, this novel is not a depressing tale of woe. It is written with humour and irony. It is vibrant, loud and colourful with smatterings of tsotsitaal (the vernacular spoken in Soweto where so many languages collide). The scene in the train to Orlando West where a preacher uses the opportunity to try and convert commuters is really funny. The writer has a wonderful knack of creating atmosphere through the use of dialogue and songs. Music accompanies everything, with lyrics included.

Even though it is now 12 years old, this novel is still highly relevant. If #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall came as a surprise, this novel will make you wonder why it took so long.