Title:                    Intruders

Author:                Mohale Mashigo

Publisher:            Picador Africa

Local price:          R149 @ Takealot

Rating:                 5/5

Twitter:                @vuyomzini

Mohale Mashigo’s book Intruders is woke. Mashigo’s introductory essay to the book cautions against taking on Americanised emblems in trying to “fit in”. The essay is titled “Afrofuturism: Ayashis’ amateki” and speaks on how the passive parroting of a speculative fiction subgenre that originates elsewhere and doesn’t take into consideration right here (which is to say, doesn’t take into account the African continent despite Africa being right there in the name) is inappropriate. No diss. Just this: we have our own past on which to base speculations on an African future. That’s dope.

Intruders is a collection of short stories by the award-winning South African author. A second helping from her pen and pad. The first was a novel titled The Yearning that won the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize for South African Writing in English and was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award (among other short listings). So ol’ girl is accomplished. In Intruders she manages to get together a squad of outsiders and put them centre stage in a performance of poetic prose. She takes stories that are active and living in contemporary peri-urban (read: township) settings. These are re-imagined in futuristic permutations. For example, Vera, a charming femme fatale ghost from Soweto, features as the target of two lady monster killers named Busi and Bellinda in the story “BnB in Bloem”. Buffy’s got nothing on these two orphans who get recruited by adoptive parents into the subversive industry of battling the supernatural world. Unlike the real-life urban legend, this version of the Vera has a clear agenda; the revenge of women who have died at the hands of abusive men; a comment by Mohale on the gender violence we find our country steeped in at the moment. “…a Vera is a collection of energies emboldened by a particularly cruel death…death [particularly the death of women at the hands of men] had stopped being sad or shocking. The sadness, pain and fear of the women left behind in the violence calls on the dead women as protectors or avengers”.  

The story “Manoka” about a township mermaid charmed me the most. Not only because of the interesting story of a woman finding out at the most inopportune time (while about to have sex on the beach – no cocktail) that her lower bits morph into a mermaid’s tail, with the fatal love of a female praying mantis. And not only as a result of the drama of a knowing grandmother, an inherited genetic mutation and a little baby mermaid at sea. It’s mainly the stylistic techniques in the story that swept me away. Mohale uses a clever form of anadiplosis (google that one) to capture brilliantly the frantic time travel of fragmented thoughts that flow when some weird discovery is being uncovered. The mental hopscotch from “then” to “now” to “yesterday”; the crossing of timelines; the skips from one topic to another with only a thin thread tethering one thought to the next. Manoka’s first person narration puts the reader in the head of someone going through more than physical body changes. This clockwork also featured in The Yearning, with the main character Marubini taking us through the different phases of her life from adult advertising exec in Cape Town, to five-year-old Grandpa’s girl, to pre-94 South African tribal wars; all within one chapter at times. Mashigo does a good job of keeping the narrative moving from paragraph to paragraph, with stylistic beacons marking the time warps.

Reading both her collection of shorts and her previous novel, you get a sense that Mohale is intrigued by time, and the flow of energy from past to future through the present. A story like “The Parlemo” speaks on the wish we all have to re-remember the past in a way less hurtful to how it actually went down. The story is about a shop with two names “…on a corner now named for two activists…where two apartheid-era presidents used to meet…” and involves a refrigerator with powers of recollection revision. It’s an experimentation with the erasure of memories echoed in South Africa’s invocation of rainbows at the site of apartheid. It also reverberates from The Yearning’s commentary on how the past comes back no matter how much we try to forget.

Going through readers’ comments on Intruders, it seems there’s consensus that the “Untitled” series is the most memorable of the collection. People are often asking Mohale on Twitter when she’s going to convert the three stories into a novel. Untitled I, II and III explore a pre-, intra- and post- apocalyptic South Africa where “the sun had dimmed; quite suddenly the daylight turned from grey to the colour of the hour before children are called in because the streetlights are on. The sun was definitely still in the sky, but angry clouds that looked like a frustrated artist’s splashes of paint blocked it. People stood in the street…with curiosity, which grew into panic when it became apparent that the experts didn’t have answers”. Sacrifices are made by some (or maybe “made of some”), for others (or maybe “by others”), in order to save the human race from what looks and feels like impending doom. I think the appeal of the story for Mohale’s fans is the semblance of continuity and “more-ness”, in a collection of beautiful vignettes that leave you at the edge of a cliff.

Mohale Mashigo’s book “Intruders” is disruptive. Mashigo’s closing story to the book invokes the African emblems of ditshomo (folk stories) encouragingly showing that our own things fit us well. The short story is titled “Nthatisi” and tells the story of a girl descendent of Tselani from a well-known folk story about Tselani and the Giant. The short story theme originates elsewhere but takes into consideration a local and longstanding tradition of storytelling in African families. Set in the future (which is to say set in the generational progression of the original story), it appropriately encompasses the lesson from Mohale’s collection; we have our own past on which to base speculations on an African future. Too nice.


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