Hammarsdale, his home town, is one of the settings of veteran journalist and author Fred Khumalo’s latest and book of short stories that feature contemporary life ‒ warts and all ‒ and look into issues ranging from xenophobia, human trafficking and rape to corruption.
“My message is to entertain people in a manner that is socially relevant,” he told the Independent on Saturday in a telephone interview from Johannesburg where he now lives.
“I visit Hammarsdale regularly. One gets to interact with people from one’s childhood and reminisce as well as pick up new stories one has not been aware of.”
A Coat of Many Colours comprises nine short stories, starting off with one based on the real life of a famous soccer player from Hammarsdale who fell on hard times. The fictionalised tale is placed in the setting of a traditional beer-drinking, goat-slaughtering and cooking feast.
Into it comes Covid-19 and the conflicting attitudes of the elders and the youth towards sharing traditional beer, sipping it from the same container.
“During a recent trip to Hammarsdale, there were three traditional feasts in the neighbourhood.
“I was shocked, disappointed but also entertained by what I witnessed. Guys were still continuing to drink from the same container. The young preferred their own cups,” said Khumalo.
“I am hoping the stories will conscientise readers to the realities of Covid to take these things really seriously.”
That story is light compared with others.
One is about the daughter of African immigrants caught up in xenophobic tensions that lead to her being taken prisoner.
“There, all the characters are completely imaginary. Obviously the story would have been triggered by a composite of events ‒ rape, kidnapping, human trafficking.’’
Khumalo, who writes columns in the Sowetan and Financial Mail, said he always wanted to be an author “but I first had to earn my stripes”.
In 2017 his novel Dancing The Dress Drill was published, based on the naval disaster in World War I in which more than 600 black South African recruits and a handful of their white officers drowned off the Isle of Wight after the SS Mendi was rammed by another vessel in misty weather.
Khumalo’s interest in the topic was sparked in his school days in Hammarsdale when, after singing a song about the incident in the school choir, he asked himself ‒ why would blacks have wanted to fight for the British Crown?
In 2020 his collection of stories, Talk Of The Town, earned him the Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award.
“Journalism helped me in garnering the discipline required (for writing books). Writing a book is a commitment. Journalism prepared me for that.”
He has two more books in the pipeline, one a novel set in contemporary Alexandra township, in Johannesburg, and the other commissioned by eThekwini Municipality about 76-year-old Michael Fana Mlangeni who created uMlazi’s How Long Park during apartheid when he faced arrest, interrogation and beatings.
“The Special Branch thought he was working underground for the ANC, maybe hiding weapons in the bush he had tamed to make the park.”
- How Long: The Life and Time of Enviro Activist Fana Mlangeni
- A Coat of Many Colours
The Independent on Saturday