Dear South Africa (A Tribute to Alf Kumalo)

On Sunday the 21st of October, I got the tragic news that iconic South African photographer, Alf Kumalo died of renal failure. It was traumatic to hear, but at 82, his had been a life well-lived…in spite of you, South Africa.
I met Alf Kumalo back in 2004 after I had just returned to South Africa. Unable to find a job in the field I had studied for despite numerous applications and what I thought was a pretty impressive portfolio (to be fair none of the newspapers I applied to ever got to see my portfolio because they never responded to any of my application letters), I had been volunteering at some community organisation. It was here that I met Alf through another late great, Aggrey Klaaste. Alf had his trademark Nikon

Alf Kumalo and I Photo Credit: Alvin Pang

around his neck (I cannot recall ever seeing him without it, not even at black-tie functions), and I half-joked that he should teach me photography. He informed me that in fact, he had a photography school in Diepkloof and I should come through the next day.
With my self-esteem on the lower end of the scale, I went to meet Alf Kumalo holding my portfolio. I was anxious to show that I was accomplished and was not just some loser child who was trying to find something to do with her time. When I arrived at the Museum, I left my portfolio at reception while I went into a class taught by Nick Makgamathe. When I got out of class after an hour of being told what a shuttle, lense etc was, I found Alf waiting for me with an Italian coordinator of some NGO that was funding the school and the museum. And thus the narrative went. Unable to find funding in South Africa for this wonderful and innovative project where post-matric students were being taught photography for free, it was an Italian organisation that realized Alf’s brilliance and funded his dream – at least for two years.
The coordinator had seen my portfolio, he asked me whether I would be interested in being employed by the museum doing some write-ups, archiving, and captioning some of the material in the museum. Finally a paying job? Are you kidding me? I said yes. I never did get to learn photography. Did not do much archiving either – the brilliant Jacqui Masiza then at Bailey’s and now at Apartheid Museum did some of that. But I got to learn Alf’s photographs. I captioned. I wrote the text for the website. In the gaping moments while we hoped for guests to visit the museum, I wrote the first draft of The Madams. I discussed literature via email with Lewis Nkosi. I gossiped about which photographer was caught under the bed of which leading politician with Doc Bikitsha. I also wrote numerous proposals.
The Italians were about to leave. Time was running out. We needed funding to keep the museum and school running. Nick, Ruth Motau, Jacqui – anyone and everyone who was working at the museum at that time was earning peanuts, but they believed in Alf’s dream. Here was Alf, fighting and knocking on the doors of all these cadres he had photographed. There he was going to meet the Minister or the DG of a Ministry which-shall-go-unnamed. Here he was being invited to the Foundation where the mining mogul who called him Bra Alf would be present. And there he was honoured with the Order of Ikhamanga Silver for his contribution to the arts and to history with all the big guns present. We took to keeping at least four printed proposals in Alf’s car on a daily basis. He would hand them out to all people of influence he met. Surely, just surely one of these people would start sharing Alf’s dream?
None of them did.
Or maybe they just did not care.
What would have been the return to them on teaching township children visual art anyway? And who goes to museums? It’s not as though we are tourists. We experienced ’76, we do not need to see the pictures.
At some point in time, I gave up on the dream. I left the museum. Alf, or Mr. K as I called him, did not. He used the funding that he received from a photograph he sold to Total to pay the skeletal staff left. He would use money that he received from exhibitions he did abroad to fund his dream. He never gave up on it. He always called me a pessimist, ‘Hhawu, you are too young to be such a cynic,’ he would say. Before telling me he was off to meet another bigwig and he was sure he could convince them to make this their social corporate responsibility gig.
Alf and I would remain friends even after I abandoned his dream and started chasing my own. In 2010, we collaborated on 8115: A Prisoner’s Home, a story on the Mandela home that is now a museum. IDC funded this project. In all the time that I knew Mr. K, IDC was one of the few organisations who put their money where their mouths were.
A few years ago, Lewis Nkosi died. Prior to his death, people were collecting funds because his medical bills had escalated. When he finally died, the Ministry which-shall-go-unnamed, were kind enough to help with the funeral. Jazz legend Zim Ngqawana died.  And we heard talk of some music scholarship in his name (it has not happened). Miriam, Brenda, Busi…you celebrated all of them after they died but cared little when they lived.
On Sunday, Alf Kumalo took his last breath. His dream was never realized while he was alive. Mr. K’s death with a dream unrealized should be yet another indictment on you, South Africa. He gave so much of himself and you gave nothing back. And many people who believe in South Africa realize too late that, alas, the love and belief is one-sided.
Today, I have some questions for you, My Fatherland.
Are you giving Dada Masilo and Greg Maqoma their just credits? Do you know the name of Neo Ntsoma or Paballo Thekiso while they are alive? How many international awards will Xoli Sithole receive before you can fund her internationally celebrated documentaries? Are Rian Malan or Napo Masheane coping? Will Shafinaaz Hassim and Kgebetli Moele matter only when they are dead?
And today too, I have a request, South Africa.
When I die, leave my loved ones to grieve in peace. Do not celebrate me, or hypocritically mourn me. If I were worth acknowledging, you would do so while I am alive. Because you and I know, South Africa, even criminals are spoken highly of when they die.
Against my better judgement South Africa, I love you. You,a country that cannot afford three million a year for a visual arts school to educate some of your poor but fails to blink while spending hundreds of million to build one man his own town. Right now though, regardless of my misplaced love, right here….all I would like to say to you is: FUCK YOU VERY MUCH. Alf Kumalo deserved better.


How to Write a Novel course

So I was bitching about some terrible short stories I read in the course of the making of Behind the Shadows in my last post,and what do you know? My fellow comrade in ink and author of Strange Nervous Laughter asks me whether she can guest post on my blog for her really cool and innovative program on How to Write a Novel. I do not know if it well help those other ‘writers’ but I certainly hope it can help those of you who have been told by someone other than your parents that you can write. So from Bridget McNulty, here is the guest post:

Writing a How To Write A Novel course

The funny thing about having written a novel (once, five years ago) is that everyone assumes you are now the expert on how to write a novel. Whereas, really, it could be as simple as having stumbled across a really good recipe for chocolate cake.

No, that’s not true at all. There is definitely a sense of knowing how to do something once you have done it once, the trouble is in finding a recipe that others will be able to follow. That was the challenge my brother Brendan and I were faced with when we decided to create Now Novel ( an online novel writing course that helps you start – and finish – your novel. What we noticed was that there were a lot of books and courses and essays and blog posts and forums about how to start a novel, but not so many about how to keep going. And really, isn’t that the hard part? Getting to the end?

First of all, though, we had to get to the beginning. I wasn’t an enormous amount of help at first, because my creative process involves sitting down and spewing the words onto the page, then trying to wrestle them into some kind of order afterwards. Let me tell you: this is not the most constructive or intelligent way to write a book, because the wrestling is often very difficult and carries on late into the night. My brother’s approach to life is to find a process that is guaranteed to work. As you can imagine, we had many fervent arguments about the creative spark and trying to create a formula for it… But in the end, he won me round. Mainly because the way we’ve structured the online novel writing process actually works.

Now Novel ( leads you through a series of questions in each section that result in something concrete that you can actually use: a central idea (that then gets tested), a theme statement, an idea of setting (with images to illustrate it), a sense of plot. And then each of those is delved into in more detail, aligned to one of the seven universal stories (yes, believe it or not, there are only seven) and chopped up into chunks of what needs to happen when. Instead of ending up with a steaming pile of words that need a lot of wrestling to turn into a novel, you end up with a solid first draft of a novel. It has structure and plot development, in-depth characters (with character studies for each) and a theme that really resonates with you. It’s a recipe that seems to be working for many of the Now Novel writers who’ve used it so far.

Of course, there’s also a lot of motivation involved. We’ve got a daily blog ( with inspiring blog posts about writers and writing, tips on how to stay motivated and fun facts about how poetry and film can feed into your writing – all those lovely things you want to read when you’re actually procrastinating but would like to pretend you’re working. We’ve got a creative writing forum ( where people can discuss any of their issues with (life and) their novels. We’ve got weekly emails with writing prompts and great quotes and some good old-fashioned guilt tripping to keep people writing, and a Facebook page ( with a lot of amusing images that only book geeky types will appreciate. And we’ve got the beginnings of a community: a community of people who want to get together to start – and finish – their novels.

Want to come over and say hi? I’d love to meet you. Check out and let me know what you think…

– Bridget McNulty

Behind the Shadows: Birth of an African-Asian Anthology

And so it was that after a call out in March and a deadline of August 1st, my co-editor Rohini Chowdhury and I, found ourselves reading through hundreds of manuscripts to select our favourites. As we read through we each had four categories: Yes; Maybe; No; and…Hell No.
In the Yes category were the stories that kept to the word length (3000-5000 words), kept to our theme for the anthology – Outcast, and were well-written. There were some obvious winners. The title story, Behind the Shadows by Tasneem Basha, had both Rohini and I calling each other crying then laughing on the phone. Jill Morsbach’s The Hunted showed a society grappling with newfound democracy. Granny’s Parasychological Services by Himanjali Sankar was another obvious choice because of its playful tone and yet the ability to stick to the brief. So too was Jackee Batanda’s Thing That Ate Your Brain.
Our Maybes consisted of stories that resonated somewhat but failed to meet the word count or needed some clarification on a point in the plot. This may be where we separated the good writers from writers who take their craft seriously. The writers who take their work seriously – some of them established, took a look at the suggestions and reworked what needed to be done and returned it on time. The good writers – many of them quite known in literary circles on both continents –did a ‘don’t- you- know- who- I- am? Google me,’ move -offended that we dared give feedback that was not a hundred percent in love with their work. From the experience, I learnt that Felix Cheong from Singapore is a great writer. And that what’s-her-name from Nigeria has an over inflated sense of self as a writer.
The Nos failed to adhere to both word count and plot. The Hell Nos not only had bad plot, failure to adhere to word count, but atrocious grammar. It was painful to read them and I am still looking at emails that Rohini and I sent each other.
To: Rohini Chowdhury
From: Zukiswa Wanner
Subject: ‘Story__________ from alleged writer________
Email Content: Errr Ms. Well-read co-editor, maybe you can help. What is the point of this story? Is there something in Indian mythology that my African brain cannot understand? I rate it a ‘oh hell hell no.’ I think I need a tea break to undo the sour taste in my mouth.
The amusing thing about the Nos and the Hells Nos is that there were some persistent people in this group. I remember Rohini and I in a back and forth with some writers who initially enquired why we did not select their stories. We explained AGAIN (we had already done so in the ‘we regret’ emails). And then they emailed back again suggesting that they edit the scripts, and getting progressively obnoxious with each email. It was like those rejected ‘singers’ one sees on the first day of rehearsals on Pop Idols. You know those ones who always say they have been studying music since three, are in the church choir or something and then when they starts singing it’s like a nail running along a chalkboard.
Interviewer: ‘So what happened in there, are you okay?’
‘Singer’(with false bravado): ‘Those judges don’t know what they are talking about. My mom says I am the best singer in my family. I am going to the studio on my own and sell more records than the stupid idol who wins. Watch me!’
After the feedbacks, we had a total of 30 stories. Some writers had published elsewhere so we had to remove them. Others fell through the cracks because they failed to submit their edits on time. The final work is these twenty one stories.
Behind the Shadows is available on Amazon at