Bafana Radebe – Book Review
For You, I’d Steal a Goat by Niq Mhlongo
For You I’d Steal a Goat
by Niq Mhlongo
Publication Date: 2022
Review by: Bafana Radebe
One of the most prolific writers in South Africa, deemed to be a notable contributor to the South African short story form, Niq Mhlongo brings us yet another vibrant collection of stories, For You, I’d Steal a Goat. Known for his previous short story collections: Affluenza (2016), and Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree (2018), Mhlongo here revitalizes his well-known wit and satire.
In this collection, he explores complex issues to do with families, history, hauntology, as well as romantic relationships. This collection of ten stories traverses various themes and intricate characters facing personal and societal dilemmas. As evident in “Unwelcomed Guests,” Mhlongo investigates a family affected by COVID-19 after the father is retrenched from his job, leading to his inability to pay the family mortgage. Eventually, the family house is forced to be sold by means of corruption. Chaos erupts as the court issues the new buyer with a letter that authorizes her to move in with the former house owners.
In “My Lover’s Secret” Mhlongo explores a tangled queer relationship. The story is told in the form of a letter written by a lover confessing to her idolized companion, who authors some of her favorite books. The letter she writes communicates her intimate relationship and the way in which she’s poured out her vulnerabilities, which are then exposed in the latest book by the idolized lover.
The story, “Displaced,” brings a touching setting of South African history involving the forced removals of Sophiatown, Kofifi, in the 1950s. Madoda Boya finds that his family has been displaced, coming home from work. His beloved home, Kofifi, has been turned to rubble, and he is forced to move without his wife’s and twin children’s known whereabouts. After meeting a man he knows, named Mr Shange, who lives close to his house, Boya spends his day walking to the new location of Ndofaya. While in Ndofaya, he struggles to find his family, and days turn to weeks and weeks to months until he finds a message written by his wife at the council office, which confesses to him, their whereabouts.
In “Johustleburg prison cell,” Itu Masike faces the regret of his life when he gets arrested for the second time on “the same spot” for “drinking and driving on a Friday night” (85). In the turn of events, we find that Itu’s prison mate, Druza, is related to Itu, through his father.
In a story attentive to detail, “The Stalker” relates an observation fashioned by a man in a car, following a lady to the famous Parktonian Hotel in Braamfontein. To his surprise, Amahle, his wife, is having an affair with Samu, a queer lady. When Ntando confronts his and Amahle’s family to resolve the brewing scandal, the family thinks Ntando is wasting their time.
In “Fireplace,” a story featured in another edited collection of Mhlongo’s Hauntings, the author explores a story imbued with such themes as deception, betrayal, and corruption. MEC Comrade Mgobhozi, is under investigation by the hawks. He receives a phone call from his informant, telling him that his friend, Comrade Vuyani, is engaged in a scheme facilitated by the “highest powers in the Movement” (118).
In another story exploring the theme of ‘specter,’ Mhlongo presents the character of Kabelo, a corpse-washer who doesn’t mind making money with his preoccupation. Kabelo is an entirely unbothered person who does not care about anything besides making money by way of an occupation that many fear. One day, Lunga brings him the corpse of a brutally beaten foreign man, Chris, who has been accused of killing two little children because of expired food that he frequently sells at his spaza shop.
“The In-laws” presents the reader with another family drama between the widow, Marang, and her in-laws. Mhlongo here narrates the pain of Marang, who’d lost her husband in a car accident. Rather than providing comfort in her time of need, the late Kumani’s father, old man Ntimani, and Kumani’s brother, Fakazi, are embroiled in a quest to chase Marang and her two daughters out of the house.
And in his final and titular story, “For You, I’d Steal a Goat”, Mhlongo explores the out-of-the-ordinary narrative of South Africans stuck in Berlin during the lockdown. Lungelo and Zwai are trapped and resort to the solution of slaughtering a goat to appease the ancestors and clear their path to be able to return home again. Ursula, Lungelo’s loving and supportive German girlfriend, although confused by the ritual of slaughtering a goat, helps Lungelo and Zwai steal her uncle’s “cheese-producing German goat” (184).
Mhlongo’s stories in this collection are critical and erudite, as well as masterfully crafted, using satire and careful deliberation to connect to the sublunary lived experiences of readers. Mhlongo’s stories entice readers into having fun while simultaneously allowing for reflection on matters of family, romantic relationships, and experiences that we can all agree, deeply impact how we think and the changes to our ways of thinking of things, through such experiences we were all forced to endure through COVID-19 and the lockdowns.
Specifically, Mhlongo brings two stories in this collection into direct relation with COVID-19, deliberately and with a sense of humor, delivering a critical reflection on some of the most transformative aspects South Africans have faced in recent times. It is in this sense that Mhlongo’s writing will be received with admiration due to the way he engages with crucial matters situated in the present. In his exploration of narratives about queer relationships, for instance, he brings to the surface the complexities in a broader community whose narratives have been imprinted with silence. Significantly, he also explores critical themes of haunting to bring attention to troubling aspects of the present that seem to have a causal relation with the past, a feature of his writing worth exploring, critically.
Bafana Radebe is studying to complete an English MA at the University of Johannesburg. His research looks at post-apartheid literature. Specifically, he looks at tropes of unspeakabilities in the narration of trauma in three post-apartheid novels, namely Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying (1995), Niq Mhlongo’s Way Back Home (2013), and Gillian Slovo’s Red Dust (2000). His interests, among many, include the following: Post-apartheid literature & criticism, Theorizations of Blackness, Modernisms and African realism.