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Niq Mhlongo

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Missing own book launch

Missing the launch
Few weeks ago an Australian TV Channel 7 showed an animated video footage of Oscar Pristorius. He was running awkwardly without his prosthesis. This was an obvious re-enactment of what might have happened on the night he is accused of having murdered his girlfriend Reeva. That footage reminded of my book launch ten years ago in Cape Town. It was back in 2004, when I was still an intern journalist with Fair Lady Magazine. Ann Donald was our editor, and I was reporting to Troye Lund. The journalism course that I was attending was run by Alice Bell. We were only two Interns at Fair Lady, me and the lady from Zimbabwe. Fair Lady had given me a chance to stop selling duvets and comforters at Home Choice where I was a telemarketer.
Oscar’s footage reminds of the day of the launch of Dog Eat Dog, my first novel. It is no doubt the book that introduced me to the world as Niq Mhlongo. The event was scheduled to start at 60:30PM for 7PM at the National Library, along Queen Victoria Street. Andre Brink had agreed to introduce this new young writer who had come to the surface immediately after the unfortunate death of K. Sello Duiker and Phaswane Mpe. Coincidently Phaswane Mpe was my African Literature lecturer at Wits University.
I was honored that Andre Brink had agreed to do the introduction. Besides the fact that he looks like Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, I had read Andre Brink even before I dreamt of one day studying at the university. My brother had forced me to read Brink’s A Dry White Season in the late 1980’s because it was his favorite; and it had since become one of my favorite too.
The trick on the day of the launch was that Fair Lady Magazine had organized a lavish Golf Day at the Paarl Golf Course. The special guest was Natalie du Toit-The Champion. Natalie was the hottest property in 2004; far more than Oscar Pristorius. She had just won gold medals for swimming at the Commonwealth games, All Africa Games, Paralympics, and this was still new. Everyone around the world wanted to take a picture with her. I mean, she had just been voted among the top 100 South Africans by the SABC, which by then had some integrity. As an intern, an opportunity like that is something you don’t want to miss. I was hoping to be given an opportunity to write about Natalie, and I knew she would be on the cover of the magazine and the story would be mine. Imagine what such a byline would do to my budding career? Magazines such as True Love and Drum would be after me, I thought. Now you understand why I so badly wanted to the Golf event first, and my book launch-talk about the case of killing two birds with one stone. So, I sat down and weighed my options. If told Troye or Ann about my book launch, they might advice me to go to my book launch and not come to the Golf Course and meet Natalie. So, ruled telling them out. Anyway, the book launch started only at 6:30 PM. The golf event would be long finish by then, so I convinced myself.
So, by 7AM the Fair Lady team was at Paarl. The theme was about making it against all odds. This was inspired by that fact that in 2001, Natalie had a horrible motorbike accident which had led to the amputation of both her legs. Against all this, she went on to win those medal in the competitions I have mentioned above.
This brings me to the video footage of Oscar Pristorius that was on Australia’s Channel 7. During lunch at the golf club building, Natalie graphically narrated to us how the accident happened, and how she lost both her legs. At one point she even removed her prosthesis and showed us the stumps. It was one of the most scariest thing I’ve ever seen. I mean, Natalie is very tall with her prosthesis on. In fact, I had to look up when talking to her. But after she removed those, I had to look down to talk to her. It haunted me, and Natalie was just smiling. Those who have met her will agree with me that she is the most humble, honest, and open person. But I swore from that day that I will never buy or ride a motorbike in my life. It is a promise I’m still keeping today.
Back to my Dog Eat Dog launch- James Woodhouse started calling me at 5PM. Those days he was not a big shot publisher. He was still selling his labor at Kwela as a manuscript reader. He was fresh from Norfolk in the UK where he had just run away from a horrible weather in that country. He was still deciding whether to make our beautiful Mzansi his home or not. Annari Van der Merwe was my publisher then. However, James had played a big role in getting Dog Eat Dog published after it was rejected on few occasions at Kwela. So he had every right to panic since Kwela had also secured Andre Brink to grace my launch. I had to calm James’ nerves by telling him that I was on my way.
It was a lie, you see. The fact of the matter is that the golf event was still on, although about to finish. But I was already bored watching people hitting the small white ball and missing the hole. I didn’t have a choice. I needed that story, although Troye was writing it. She had offered me to also write it. She told that if she likes it, she would publish, or we could be core writers. Besides, there was nothing I could do. I had used Fair Lady transport to the venue. I had to wait until the event was officially finished as we only had one driver. So I waited.
We only left at about 6:20PM. The traffic was heavy along the way, and Paarl is about 60KM away from Cape Town. James kept calling, and offering to come pick me up wherever I was. I estimated to be at the venue around 7PM; another lie. When 7pm struck I was still negotiating the traffic along Bellville. My event had already started. Andre and James were doing it on my behalf. I finally arrived at the venue at about 8:30PM. The event was officially over. A number of people had already left the venue, but James, Annari, Andre Brink and few others were still there, enjoying on my behalf. I went to Andre to tell him I was Niq and apologize, and all he said was: ‘Are you sure, you’re Niq’. He said it joking of course. The wine was nearly finished, the food was almost gone. I managed to get some few glasses of red wine though and some samoosas. While eating those, James, Annari, and Andre Brink started telling me how my own book launch went.
That night before I slept, I remembered my mother’s most irritating pedestrian saying. When I was still in primary school I used to have a bad habit of coming late from school. The punishment was that my brother would have eaten my share of bread. My mother would then say: ‘You! One day you will be late for your own funeral’. Only on the day I missed my launch did this make more sense. That night in my sleep, I dreamt about Natalie du Toit’s prosthesis legs instead of my book launch.


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