Maverick Life

BOOK INTERVIEW

Yusuf Daniels, author of Living Coloured: I would not have written a book if there was no Facebook

Yusuf Daniels, author of Living Coloured: I would not have written a book if there was no Facebook

Yusuf Daniels’ book of vignettes about life on the Cape Flats and surrounds has captured South African hearts. Living Coloured (Because Black and White Were Already Taken) started as a series of Facebook posts, and now keeps Daniels busy as a full-time author. The Reading List caught up with him this week.

The Reading List: From what we hear, your book is selling extremely well. What’s your secret?

Yusuf Daniels: The book is just such a relatable and feel-good book. I brought all our coloured people’s stories and memories back from yesteryear and people are just enjoying the realness of the stories, you know. And also the community has come together nicely and supported this book. I’m busy with some community projects and I think they are just basically paying me back.

TRL: Do you think you would have written a book if Facebook didn’t exist?

Yusuf Daniels: No, I don’t think I would have written a book if there was no Facebook. Definitely not. Because that was where I wrote my first story, on Facebook.

TRL: In the introduction, you mention that most of your recollections are “stripped of the harrowing oppression, the poor living conditions, the legalised segregation and the systemic racism” that existed when you grew up. Why did you consciously decide to focus on the positive in your stories?

Yusuf Daniels: Although all these negative aspects are mentioned in the book, I feel what’s the point in dwelling on the past and just letting those things get you down further. So, it’s time to move forward and focus on the positive. And you know what, people need a little bit of humour and laughter in their lives and that is why I made it a very lighthearted book. The little things that I mention that are a bit sad, the happiness and fun in the book overshadow those things and, that was the idea, to make people smile.

TRL: In a lot of the stories, you mention how it saddens you that the children of today aren’t given a chance to experience life as you did. I hear you are visiting schools as part of your book tour; what is your message to the kids?

Yusuf Daniels: Yes, I am visiting schools now. And you know, I think these kids are so disheartened by life, especially in the poorer communities, in our coloured communities. There’s always bad things happening – it’s drugs – and gangsterism-infested. I’m going into these areas and I want to spread positivity. I used to be part of a gang and look where I am now. You know what they say: if one person in this world has done something then it’s humanly possible for others. And that’s the message I want to spread to these kids. Just always keep going, keep your head up and chin up and good things will come. As long as you just persist.

TRL: The stories are written in a very chatty way, with a lot of fun idiomatic language, and they seem to pay tribute to the tradition of telling stories as a family. Did you speak sentences out loud while you were writing to hear the rhythm of the words?

Yusuf Daniels: No, I did not speak sentences out loud, I just needed a one-liner to start the story, or a memory. And it just kept flowing. As soon as I started writing it took me 40 minutes to write a story. And I would start and finish in 40 minutes and I wouldn’t even go further up to check what I wrote. I would just send it off to my agent and have her read it. It was just one of the most amazing things – that stories just flowed the way they did. And ja, that’s how I ended up with all these crazy stories. 

TRL: Your writing has a wonderful freshness and spontaneity, did you do much rewriting for the book?

Yusuf Daniels: I don’t actually think that I rewrote anything. Maybe one or two names, I think, could have been changed. I wrote beginning to end, stopped and moved on to the next story. So ja, no rewriting that I can remember.

TRL: At one point in the book, you mention that, “Even the gangsters back then had respect for older people, and if they tried their luck with any of us, my uncles would give them a moerse klap, no change.” You also write about how sport prevented you from getting deep into gangsterism. Do you have any ideas about how the current gang situation could be improved?

Yusuf Daniels: I think if the current government can try and make sure all these kids hanging out on corners get opportunities to apply for jobs, or get jobs even, I think they wouldn’t be on the street today. This gangster problem is not that new, it has been coming on for years. It’s a build-up of years of where coloured people were just thrown by the wayside, basically. And now with the current government we are not black enough so again the coloured people are missing out on the jobs and just a chance at a decent life. And this is where we are right now. All these gangs in all these coloured areas, it’s just – come face it – they’ve got nothing else to do. These kids are influenced so easily by peer pressure and so they end up where they are and it’s a sad situation.  But it’s not a thing that happened overnight. This had been coming on for a long time.

TRL: You mention in the book that your family was the first to move back into District Six. How did that come about?

Yusuf Daniels: Yes, the company that built in District Six, the first company that built there, the little units were called Canterbury Square. And I think they approached my parents to buy the first unit, but it was just a front for them to show that they were concerned that the coloured people were getting back into District Six. The front page of the newspaper – my mom, dad, myself and my sister – was, oh, “First Coloured People to Move Back”. But I think it was just a front, that this company basically used my parents. They didn’t know any better because I think we were one of the first, if not the only coloured family that moved in there. The rest were all white. It was just a marketing ploy, basically.

TRL: I hear that a stage play and a TV series or movie are possibly in the works. Can you talk a little about those projects?

Yusuf Daniels: Yes, a possible stage play is on the cards. I’ve been approached by someone. I’m waiting for the details and the contract. And movies and CDs – I’ve been working with one or two guys, film guys, directors, and they are looking into that, it’s a possibility. I’ve got someone quite big also mentioning I should be doing something like this, so let’s see how it goes. We shall reveal when the time is right. ML

 Living Coloured (Because Black and White Were Taken) by Yusuf Daniels is published by Jacana Media and retails for R140. Visit The Reading List for South African book news, daily.

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