Mohale Mashigo’s “Intruders”: a subversive alternative to Afrofuturism – Thulani Angoma-Mzini

Title:                            Intruders

Author:                       Mohale Mashigo

Publisher:                   Picador Africa

Year of publication:   2018

Number of pages:      182

Intruders is a collection of short stories by the award-winning South African author Mohale Mashigo. A second helping from her pen and pad – the first being the award-winning novel titled The Yearning.  In Intruders she takes stories that are active in contemporary peri-urban settings and re-imagines them in futuristic permutations. For example, Vera, a charming femme fatale ghost from Soweto, features as the target of two lady monster killers named Busi and Bellinda in the story ‘BnB in Bloem’. This version of the Vera has a clear agenda; to take revenge on perpetrators of femicide:

a Vera is a collection of energies emboldened by a particularly cruel death…death

[particularly the death of women at the hands of men]

had stopped being sad or shocking. The sadness, pain and fear of the women left behind in the violence calls on the dead women as protectors or avengers.  

The story ‘Manoka’ about a township mermaid is charming. It’s an interesting story of a woman finding out at the most inopportune time (while about to have sex on the beach – no cocktail) that her lower bits morph into a mermaid’s tail.

Mashigo employs anadiplosis to capture the frantic time travel of fragmented thoughts that flow when some weird discovery is being made; the mental hopscotch from then to now, the skips from one topic to another with only a thin thread tethering one thought to the next. Manoka’s first person narration also puts the reader in the mind of someone going through things. This clockwork also featured in The Yearning, with the main character Marubini taking us through the different phases of her life from one chapter to the next. Mashigo keeps the narrative moving from paragraph to paragraph with stylistic beacons marking the time warps.

Mashigo seems intrigued with time in both this collection of shorts and her previous novel – examining the flow of energy from past to future through the present. A story like ‘The Parlemo’ explores humanity’s wishes to re-remember the past as less hurtful. The story is about a shop with two names ‘…on a corner now named for two activists…where two apartheid-era presidents used to meet…’ and involves a refrigerator with powers of memory revision. It’s an experiment with the erasure of memories echoed in South Africa’s invocation of rainbows at the site of contemporary racism. It also reverberates from The Yearning’s commentary on how the past comes back to haunt us no matter how much we try to forget.

The ‘Untitled’ series is the most memorable of the collection. Untitled I, II and III explore a pre-, intra- and post- apocalyptic South Africa where

…the sun had dimmed; quite suddenly the daylight turned from grey to the colour of the hour before children are called in because the streetlights are on. The sun was definitely still in the sky, but angry clouds that looked like a frustrated artist’s splashes of paint blocked it. People stood in the street…with curiosity, which grew into panic when it became apparent that the experts didn’t have answers

In the stories, sacrifices are made by some for others in order to save the human race from what looks and feels like impending doom. The appeal of the series is the semblance of continuity in a collection of beautiful vignettes that each leave you at the edge of a cliff.  

Mashigo’s Intruders is subversive, providing an alternative to the speculation fiction genre known as Afrofuturism and warning against the passive parroting of the usual stories that tend to omit African experiences. The closing story to the book invokes the African emblems of ditshomo (folk stories). The short story is titled ‘Nthatisi’ and tells the story of a girl descendent of Tselani from a well-known South African folk tale about Tselani and the Giant. Set in the generational future of the original, the short story appropriately encompasses the lesson from Mashigo’s collection – we have our own past and present on which to base speculations on an African future.

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