Maverick Life


Ten questions with author Sihle Khumalo

Ten questions with author Sihle Khumalo
Author Sihle Khumalo. (Composite Image: The Reading List)

Sihle Khumalo is the bestselling author of Dark Continent My Black Arse, Almost Sleeping My Way to Timbuktu and, most recently, Milk The Beloved Country. He chatted to The Reading List about his writing life.

In his latest book Milk The Beloved Country, the inimitable Sihle Khumalo reflects on the past and ponders the future of this captivating yet complex country. 

The Reading List (TRL): Hi Sihle, and thank you for agreeing to this interview.

We call this interview #TheFlap – it is based on the Proust Questionnaire, a parlour game made famous by the French writer Marcel Proust, who believed that the answers would reveal a person’s true nature.

So far we’ve revealed the true nature of some literary luminaries including Chibundu Onuzo, Yewande Omotoso and Michael Stanley. Let’s get going!

TRL: What are you most excited about people discovering in your book?

Sihle Khumalo: It is actually three books in one. The book has three distinct parts: history about names of towns, cities, streets, and so on. The second part deals with power brokers that could potentially be puppet masters. The last part of the book is a reflection on where we are as a country and where we are possibly headed. This is, even if I say so myself, good value for money.

TRL: What are some of the key ideas that inform what you’ve written?

Sihle Khumalo: As an adult I started asking myself whether politicians, not only in South Africa, have real power to change the country they govern, or if they are just puppets of the wealthy. Another key issue is how South Africa, at best, is going nowhere slowly. Hence one of the chapters is titled “Is South Africa already a failed state?” In another chapter, I explore when the state was really captured.

TRL: What was the most difficult chapter to write?

Sihle Khumalo: There is a chapter about the Freemasons. They are definitely not a secret society but they are a society with secrets. I looked at some of the masons, both in South Africa and abroad, who achieved big things in life. In the process, I also discovered that even our own Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu were, yep, masons.  

TRL: George Orwell said, “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” Would you agree?

Sihle Khumalo: I agree 100%. Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 

TRL: What’s the best music to write to?

Sihle Khumalo: I prefer silence. As someone who absolutely loves music, I cannot ignore great songs in the background while attempting to write something meaningful. 

TRL: What’s your favourite writing spot?

Sihle Khumalo: Most of the first drafts of my manuscripts are written while lying in bed with a laptop strategically placed on my lap. I call it the perfect writing position. Therefore, to answer your question directly, my favourite writing spot is the bedroom. 

TRL: Have you ever gone on a literary pilgrimage? Where?

Sihle Khumalo: While travelling around South Africa in 2016, although it was not a strictly literary pilgrimage, I visited John Dube’s grave. In 1930 Dube, mostly known for being the first ANC president, wrote Insila kaShaka (“Shaka’s Body Servant”) and thus became one of the first published Zulu authors. I also visited Nat Nakasa’s grave at the Heroes Acre in Durban. On the same 2016 trip, I visited the house (now a museum) where Olive Schreiner lived with her family in then Cradock, which has since been renamed Nxuba, in the Eastern Cape. I completed that trip by visiting Sol Plaatje’s grave in Kimberley. His book Mhudi: An Epic of South African Native Life a Hundred Years Ago, was published in 1930, and thus made Sol – who is mostly known for being the first ANC secretary-general – one of the first black Africans to publish a novel in English. He also wrote Native Life in South Africa, which is a must-read for those of us who consider ourselves patriots.

TRL: What habit distracts you most from writing?

Sihle Khumalo: It used to be social media before I took a four-year break. I recently crawled back, and I check it once per day. I have never had WhatsApp. One distracting habit that I still have is: when I am double-checking a minor issue on the internet, I get sucked into other related (and inconsequential, non-related) topics.  

TRL: What books do you currently have on your bedside table?

Sihle Khumalo: The Bible (Kings James Version) as well as The Complete Illustrated Kama Sutra. On a serious note, it is Our Poisoned Land by Jacques Pauw, The ANC Billionaires by Pieter du Toit as well as TJ Strydom’s Koos Bekker’s Billions. I am currently reading Witnessing: From the Rwandan Tragedy to Healing in South Africa by Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase (whom I will be in conversation with at the Franschhoek Literary Festival in May).

TRL: What books would you recommend within your genre?

Sihle Khumalo: I love books that question either the status quo or a well-established narrative. That is why Rogue’s Gallery: An Irreverent History of Corruption in South Africa, from the VOC to the ANC by Matthew Blackman and Nick Dall resonated well with me. I also appreciate books that give the “behind-the-scenes” account. To that end, I was at home reading books like Reverend Frank Chikane’s Eight days in September, Michiel le Roux’s Misadventures of a Cope Volunteer, Niël Barnard’s Secret Revolution, Riaan Labuschagne’s On South Africa’s Secret Service, Willie Esterhuyse’s Endgame, Dennis Cruywagen’s Brothers in War and Peace as well as We are Going to Kill Each Other Today: The Marikana Story by various authors and photographers. DM/ML

Milk The Beloved Country by Sihle Khumalo is published by Penguin Random House (R300). Visit The Reading List for South African book news – including interviews! – daily.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rory Short says:

    I like his picture attached to this article. He looks like a nice guy.

  • Danial Ronald Meyer says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Continent My Black Arse and Almost Sleeping My Way to Timbuktu. So can’t wait to lay my hands on a copy of Sihle Khumalo’s newest book Milk The Beloved Country.

    Khumalo’s sense of humor comes out in the interview – my type of guy.

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