An iconoclast gets kitted out for new terrain

Intruders (2018) by Mohale Mashigo (Picador Africa)

In Intruders, a collection of short stories that follows author Mohale Mashigo’s bestselling novel The Yearning, she starts things off with an all-important preamble, titled Afrofuturism: Ayashis’ Amateki.

In it, she sets out her unease about the term Afrofuturism and its relevance (read: fit) in the African context, when it was coined for black people living in places where they are in the minority. She recognises the differences and uniqueness of each colonised society and how that uniqueness, specifically in the African-American sense, has produced a mode of expression now named Afrofuturism.

Asking us to don new shoes that fit us, she then sets out to show rather than tell what she means.The interesting thing is that the author’s note and the Ayashis’ Amateki give us all the tools we need to understand her intent and yet the writing remains free of predictability. It is almost as if Mohale is hyper aware of the fact that, having started us off with a polemic, to fall flat on the execution would be sacrilege.

She orders the 12 short stories into three subsections:The Good, The Bad and The Colourful. One story in particular, Untitled, is serialised in these three sections, carrying with it some of the main ideas running through the book. Neither “a fan of dystopia” nor “a believer in utopia”, Mashigo plays within and even blurs these boundaries.

What you find here is reality shocked out into the future, the present presented at oblique angles. If one were to search for some sort of a continuum from The Yearning to Intruders, one would find a more deliberate use of prose and form as a fundamental narrative tool.

Although The Yearning also bore these hallmarks, Mashigo deployed them in one single story as a way of depicting trauma and aspects of ubizo (calling). Here, there is an intensification of fiction’s speculative properties as a way of examining the plight of of our youth, with each short story calling for varying approaches.

“Isn’t all fiction speculative?” Mashigo said during an interview at a launch of her book.

I see what she means. But, in South Africa, and indeed in other post-colonial societies, we are often emerging from a phase in which “the journalistic fact parades outrageously as imaginative literature”, as Lewis Nkosi remarked in his 1967 essay, Fiction by Black South African Authors.

So what we read here is the author designing the shoes for her new terrain, and don’t call them “sneakers”. Often children and young adults emerge as protagonists, backed into a corner but hardly cowering. Women tip the scales on femicide. Urban myth collides with after futures. We slip in and out of synesthesia. 

A story I was particularly floored by was Ghost Strain N, in which Mashigo imagines the scourge of nyaope as a “zombie apocalypse”.

“You would think the nation would have sat up when young people lost the ability to stand up straight or speak. If nothing else, people who are harassed by life have a wry sense of humour because they would eventually call these young people Ghosts.”

In Untitled II, ideas about the next frontier are stretched out into space, and Mashigo seems to echo Malcolm X’s highly quotable line about racism being like a Cadillac, every year bringing out a new model.

Of course, I am hamming the line and perhaps overstating Mashigo’s intent. But, as one reads these stories, the political impetus beneath is hard to ignore. What is comforting to see is how Mashigo walks this fraught tightrope of literary convention and innovation without pretence and with faith in a language she is carving. The effort is raw and, at points, reading as if it is still under construction. But Intruders is exactly that, the effort of an author putting in work for her generation.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Medical aids blame external costs as fees increase beyond inflation

Medical aid is becoming more of a luxury for many South Africans, and it’s not about to get any better

No mercy for teachers who are found guilty of misconduct

New regulations give direction on what sanctions should be imposed on disgraceful teachers, including lifetime bans for serious offences

More top stories

Guilty: ANC orders Diko to step aside

The ANC’s disciplinary committee has recommended Khusela Diko stay away from any government position after it found her guilty of bringing the party into disrepute

Cape Town fire burns for a third day, authorities confirm...

Fresh firefighting teams are expected to take over from the crews that battled the blaze throughout Monday evening

North West premier refuses to resign as IPC looks for...

Sources say Job Mokgoro has refused to abide by an order to resign as premier, making it hard for the IPC to install a new person in the position

Nigeria’s Super Falcons: playing and begging

The Super Falcons are the undisputed queens of African football, winning 11 of the 13 women’s continental championships ever played. But they still have to beg the Nigerian federation for pay and respect

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…