Sindi, the Uber owner, me asks if it’s okay to switch on Ukhozi FM. Sure, I respond. I proceed to think about how this impulse to check beforehand, and the constant need to ask for permission, especially with ‘our’ things — black things, African things — is an Apartheid-ey, anti-black trauma response. It’s one of the many things I wish we could collectively shake off with immediate effect.
We await for the red colour to turn green; to give us permission to go ahead with our journey. The destination is the Book Circle Capital in Melville, where author Rofhiwa Maneta is launching his book A Man, A Fire, A Corpse published by Blackbird Books. Sindi agrees that the language used to talk about teenage pregnancy in South Africa should change; that it should be apparent that what is happening is rape on a wide scale; and that the perpetrators, usually men of a far superior age, are to blame. She thinks that poverty, too, plays a part, and adds that young girls are forced into uncomfortable setups with men because they need to support their families. I digress; we have much to deal with as black people.
Rofhiwa wears a fresh fade, while a set of spectacles frames his face and lends him a future-retro Steve Urkle-type kasi intellectual disposition — a post-pandemic Dynamite Diepkloof Dude, if you may. The white t-shirt he’s wearing — a Keith Haring, I’m told — leads my mind towards A Tribe Called Quest album covers, while the black don’t-touch-maqaqailana jeans place him somewhere between a skater, a punk rocker, and a pantsula. Everyone wants a piece of him, and he’s gracious with his time. His laughter reverberates throughout the open space at 27 Boxes, an indication that all is well.
Rofhiwa’s writerly journey has been one of a relentless pursuit of excellence, above all. The author, whose publishing journey started in earnest around 2017 with his first self-published collection, Metanoia, dropped gems during the near-two hour conversation and QnA session facilitated by another author, Sihle Mthembu (Born To Kwaito). What’s more, he didn’t seek permission to write about a subject dear to him. Here are some of the memorable things he said.
“The work [my father did], and the rank he ended up in, were disproportionate. He felt like he could’ve been a higher-ranking police official — if he were judged solely on the merits of the work he did. I think he could’ve been a brigadier, if it was an honest institution. But at some point I thought, okay, cool, if no one’s gonna write about my father , if no one’s gonna memorialise him, I’ll take up that duty. It could be possible like, in 2070, [with] books being what they are, someone might pick up a book in the library […] they might find out that at some point, there was someone called Captain Amos Maneta, and this is the human being he was: this is what he did, this is the kind of father he was, this was the type of human being he was, and I wanted to do some sort of justice to the work he did.”
“I was deliberately blurring the lines between being my dad’s biographer, and being his son. It was never gonna be an objective book; I’m writing about my father. I was really more interested in the sentiment, the emotion attached to it, the Psychology behind being a father and a police official. If there’s one I indulged more than the other, it was definitely sentiment.”
“Writing a book, sort of having to sustain people’s attention for 247 pages, that was very difficult. It’s something that I’ll never do again! And that’s also why the book is episodic — I’m used to writing articles. I’ve never had to write one piece of narrative. It’s the writerly thing to be like, oh no, I hate my writing. I’ll be quite honest, I read a part of the book and I couldn’t believe some of the sentences I wrote.”