Literary lawman

2007-12-04 00:00

Mandla Ndlovu will only reach his milestone 30th birthday in the new year, but more has happened to him than to many people twice his age.

One good thing is that his first novel, Amathonsi Abanzi (Fatal Consequences) recently won the Zulu category of the 2007 Maskew Miller Longman Awards for youth fiction, netting him R10 000. And now the national Department of Education is talking about setting the novel for Grade 11 next year.

It is an exciting time for the New Hanover policeman, but not his first taste of success as a writer. In 2002, his radio play, Wangihlinzela ezibini, won a competition run by Ikhwezi Community Radio and a year later the station commissioned a second play from him.

Earlier this year, another short radio drama was broadcast by Ukhozi FM and he has also had work published in a poetry anthology.

I ask Ndlovu to tell me something about Amathonsi Abanzi.

“It’s about a bribe,” he says. “There are too many graduates without jobs and people in government departments force female graduates to bribe them with sex to get offers of employment.”

Concerned, Ndlovu has created a heroine who is a young woman from the Kranskop area who is told there are job vacancies for people with her qualifications in Pietermaritzburg. So she goes to the city and meets the director of the department and he wants a sex bribe from her. As the title suggests, the story has an unhappy ending. But, says Ndlovu, the interest for young readers is in the familiar settings of rural and urban life — and in the reality it portrays.

The author himself is no stranger to tragedy. He was born in Pietermaritzburg, but his father died in the brutal Seven Days War in 1990, forcing his mother to run away with her three children to her parents in Dalton.

So Ndlovu, who started his school years there, learnt about rural life, something he could put to use in his novel. However, tensions and factionalism there meant another move, this time to his other grandparents in Estcourt where Ndlovu went to Mtshezi High School.

And that turned out to be a lucky break. It was his Zulu teacher at Mtshezi who spotted his talent, took an interest in his compositions and encouraged him to believe that one day he could be a writer.

“I was always reading novels, newspapers or listening to radio drama,” he says.

“A lot of children stop reading when they leave school, but I carried on.”

But while the idea of writing full time is attractive, it is a tough way to earn a living, and Ndlovu is the first born in his family, with his mother, brother and sister depending on him. So, with a European Union bursary, he went to the University of KwaZulu-Natal for a Legal Studies diploma.

This led to a return to Dalton, to head the Community Law and Rural Development Centre in Dalton from 2000 to 2006, a job he loved.

“We were providing advice to people who had never had access to any kind of legal assistance before. We advised on evictions, how to make claims to the Road Accident Fund, and so on.”

Ndlovu found great satisfaction in helping people and still hopes one day to go on to do an LLB degree.

But much as he enjoyed his time in the NGO sector, for a breadwinner it offered little security. Retrenchments in 2002 saw many people he knew losing their jobs and, although he was not one of them, he began to think about his future. So last year, Ndlovu applied to join the police. He passed the tests and was sent off to the Western Cape for his six-months training.

Now stationed at New Hanover, he is a van driver, out attending to complaints and working in a team of four.

“But it’s a dangerous job,” he says. “We get used to it. We are all together, all ‘singing one song’. But it is hard for our families — they are afraid.”

Ndlovu is once again making use of his experiences, good and bad, and working on another book, this time a non-fiction account of life as a rural policeman.

Already Maskew Miller Longman have expressed an interest in seeing the manuscript when it is finished and he has spoken to another publisher as well.

Prize-winning writer, policeman or future lawyer, Ndlovu is a man who is determined that he is going places.

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