Newsmaker: He never meant to become a Zulu girl

2013-05-05 14:00

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Mike Maphoto has become an overnight chick lit success

Mike Maphoto didn’t mean to become a Zulu girl. His blog, Diary of a Zulu Girl, started as a joke with friends over a game of soccer.

The blog’s story follows Thandeka, a Wits student from KwaZulu-Natal, who is making the transition “from mud huts and umqombothi straight to penthouses, expensive weaves and Moët”.

But, almost overnight, Maphoto has become a local celebrity. He has been approached for a book deal and MultiChoice has asked him to develop a new TV series.

His blog has been viewed more than 482 000 times since it started just two weeks ago.

Maphoto realises his writing is no longer a laughing matter.

He is in a position to influence his many followers, bringing a new voice to a generation flocking from small towns to Johannesburg.

“It’s scary. It’s really scary,” Maphoto says about the attention he’s been receiving.

“There’s all this pressure now, because, even when I write, I have to be careful. My punch line has to change now to be proper and positive, because I am responsible for how girls view themselves, for how they act at university and how they develop themselves. It’s kind of creepy.”

As he describes the partying, the drugs and the lurid activities Thandeka sees happening in the back seats of fancy cars, Maphoto is concerned his readers aren’t going home with the right message.

“The story isn’t about her scandals. It’s about what she is trying to perceive as independence as a young, black South African woman, but really she just goes the promiscuous route,” he says.

Maphoto is not necessarily the personality one would expect behind Diary of a Zulu Girl.

For one, he’s a guy from Polokwane who owns a trucking company.

He has a law degree from the University of Cape Town, is 30 years old and on the small side, with a stutter for which he apologises.

He loves Gossip Girl. Nate Archibald is “the most good-looking guy” he has ever seen in his entire life. But Maphoto isn’t gay or bisexual, even though his friends have questioned him because “in South Africa, men don’t write”.

He is the son of Umkhonto weSizwe general Ike Maphoto, and it is clear where he gets his firm attitudes on gender equality.

Just last week, he and his father were staying at the same Pretoria hotel as the Mamelodi Sundowns squad. They saw one of the players exit his room with five women on his arms.

“The girls were so young and my dad was angry. He yelled: ‘I am a supporter! I am a card-carrying member of this team, and you have five girls with you before your match tomorrow? What are you doing?’”

And just why has a Pedi speaker from Polokwane chosen to take on the personality of a Zulu girl?

“KwaZulu-Natal is very traditional, so the rules at home are very strict, which is why all the girls want to come to Joburg. It’s far, it’s fast, they can have fun and still be able to go home with no one finding out about their business,” says Maphoto.

Thandeka may be from a small town, but Maphoto insists the girl is not rural.

“People are getting it wrong. This happens with small-town girls, because they know enough to want more. And, if you notice, this girl is not dumb. Women are not dumb.”

The entire blog is written directly on Maphoto’s phone.

He types ideas as they come to him and he derives inspiration from years of giving advice on Facebook to his friends.

If a TV series is actually created, he wants a new face to play Thandeka, maybe young TV personality Nomuzi Mabena, because she “has the face”.

Some followers are angry now that Maphoto’s identity has been revealed and about the fact that he is a man telling a woman’s story. To Maphoto, this is ironic.

“Everyone is saying: ‘This is happening. This is real.’ Yet it’s controversial. These things happen, but nobody wants to say it in the open. So a guy telling a girl’s story is better than a girl telling no story,” he says.

Maphoto drops a hint that someone important in the story is going to die, and the police are “going to play a bigger role than you think”.

But our interview comes to an end because Maphoto has impatient fans waiting. And he must leave to finish chapter 48.

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