The Interview: Diary of a Zulu Girl’s Mike Maphoto

2013-11-25 08:00

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Mike Maphoto has been changing the game since April. Jeanette Chabalala catches up with him about his growing empire.

It all started out as a joke, but this year MikeMaphoto has moved from being a casual blogger to a published author, TV series creator and director.

The creative behind the popular Diary of a Zulu Girl blog has made giant leaps across the media with the blog morphing into a book and a TV drama.

For the past seven months, Maphoto has captivated and enthralled the nation with the antics of a rural Zulu girl who comes to the big bad city chasing her dreams in Diary of a Zulu Girl.

Written in an easy-flowing style – riddled with spelling and grammar errors, and the raw emotion you’d expect from a diary – Maphoto says he writes it on the spur of the moment and spares no time to edit.

The blog started out as a prank for his friend who read another blog called Chronicles of an Unemployed Side Niga.

The friend was convinced that he could recognise the characters in the blog in real life, so Maphoto composed his own to trick his friend and see if he could recognise his characters, which he did.

The thing was put on the internet and instantly became a hit.

Readers have not stopped lapping it up and keep begging for more of the sex, drugs, lies and betrayal that fuel the story lines.

“So much is happening in my life. I am on 33 million hits and it feels so good,” he beams.

It’s a typical tale of a Jim (or Jane) Comes To Joburg, which many of her readers identify with.

The dangers of mixing with the wrong crowd, putting your life at risk just to fit in – all of them have played the part before and therein lies the success of the blog.

Thandeka Mkhize, the protagonist who comes to study law at Wits University, quickly finds herself involved with several older Nigerian men introduced to her by a friend.

The men flash their money and cars as they introduce her to the fast life, buy her drinks, expensive gifts and clothes, and, most importantly, buy her loyalty.

Could it be that the 30-year-old from Polokwane has cracked the code for the age-old poser “what do women want?”

“I know more than gay people claim to know. It’s simple. Men use sex for power and women use it for love,” he says.

Maphoto, who is in fact a Pedi man, has been the subject of much speculation regarding his sexuality because of how close to the bone his writing is.

“A lot of people think I am gay. I’m not gay. I just understand women well enough,” he tells me as we settle for a chat at the Protea Hotel bar in Braamfontein.

The Maphoto empire has gained so much traction since April and offers continue to stream in. The blog has now been turned into a book, which will be released on December 15.

“What is fascinating is that parents contacted me and requested the blog to be turned into a book because they could not read it on their phones,” he says.

Maphoto then approached Penguin Books, but the results left him disappointed.

“I was offered R10 000 as a sign-up fee and R5?000 when the book came out. I saw that as an insult. It is not like I was giving them something that was unheard of. I was giving something that was in demand and with an audience already,” Maphoto says.

So he decided to go the self-publishing route.

Maphoto is also speaking to the department of education about turning the blog into a Grade 11 curriculum book.

“The blog is educational and social, and I thought it would be good because Grade 11 pupils do not have a life-orientation book.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the blog is also being turned into a TV drama after he declined an offer from the SABC.

“Initially, we spoke to the SABC and they wanted to commission my blog, but I did not want that because I was going to get a small percentage. My blog already has an audience, so I turned them down,” he boasts.

And now he has received R9?million in funding from an independent record company to immortalise his work in celluloid.

Auditions for the drama will be held in Durban and Joburg after the Grade 12 exams.

“I refuse to have any old actors. The South African film industry is not growing because we recycle the same people. We want to shoot three seasons at once,” says Maphoto.

Thandeka is as old as our democracy and in essence represents the new age or the born-frees.

Maphoto has been approached by a company called African Rhythm with the possibility of using his character as an ambassador in their “20 years of democracy” campaign.

Although he studied law at the University of Cape Town, Maphoto says he always knew that he was a good writer.

“I always knew that I can change lives with my writing, but South Africans don’t read. We need a generation that reads and is well informed, and my blog is making people read. At the end of each chapter, I engage with my readers, which is what most publications should be doing in order to get people talking,” he says.

“I am privileged. I did not do the blog to make money, but it just happens that I am getting paid good money for it.”

After the success of Diary of a Zulu Girl, Maphoto expanded his horizons.

In May, he started a second blog, Confessions of a Sugar Baby, which is based on the high school years of one of the original diary’s central characters.

Maphoto regards himself as a liberal and provocative. But I reckon he is a feminist in a cloak.

He has taken on male domination, and fights against the stereotyping and oppression of women.

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