Crude red tape fails to derail tour of enlightenment in North West town

Fred Khumalo Watching You
Niq Mhlongo, Zukiswa Wanner and Fred Khumalo promoting literature at the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley, Northern Cape, one of the four cities they visited recently. / SUPPLIED
Niq Mhlongo, Zukiswa Wanner and Fred Khumalo promoting literature at the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley, Northern Cape, one of the four cities they visited recently. / SUPPLIED

All we ever wanted was to tour four cities, in four days, speaking to young and old about literature, and also selling autographed copies of our own books.

But we ended up as students, being taught how the province of North West works, how almost everyone here is out to "get you".

A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but you're better advised to walk around with your eyes wide open.

My writer colleagues - Zukiswa Wanner, author of The Madams among other books; Niq Mhlongo and our accountant-coach-driver-fan-number-one Outlwile Tsipane - had arranged to launch our tour with book signings in Mahikeng on a Thursday afternoon.

From there we would proceed to Vryburg, then Kimberley, and rounding off the tour in Bloemfontein.

However, late-breaking stories in the media showed us that by that Thursday, the North West, which had started burning a few weeks earlier, was still not entirely stable. The citizenry, who had driven then premier Supra Mahumapelo underground, were not done burning things down.

It was therefore decided to cancel our Mahikeng leg of the tour. But the minute we communicated the cancellation on social media, it seemed as if our followers would come to Johannesburg and grab us bodily and drag us screaming and shouting to the venue. It therefore was with trepidation that we drove to Mahikeng.

On some streets there were charred remains of things that had clearly been torched a few days earlier, but we arrived at the Protea Hotel safely. For a few minutes it looked as though we would be addressing an empty conference hall.

But three minutes before the appointed time, people dressed formally, clearly well-to-do professionals, flooded in.

The talks began, followed by incisive questions from the floor and, of course, book signings. It was clear these people had been hungry for this interaction with their favourite authors for a while.

It was not lost on one book-lover that one of Mhlongo's books is called Dog Eat Dog.

"The title resonates with our lovely province of North West," she said.

We spent the night in Vryburg, also in North West, as we were due to address local school children the following day. But that was not to happen. The pre-arranged venue, administered by the municipality, was suddenly not available.

We thought we would make up for that with a much bigger event given to the community at large, at a venue we had secured for the afternoon, also administered by the municipality.

Closer to the time for that event, that venue too was suddenly unavailable. After frantic inquiries, we were told by some official that we had to give him "something". Damn, a brazen shake-down!

When it was clear that we had no venue, Tsipane, a native of Vryburg, did some nimble footwork and we were granted use of the Huhudi public library.

We had to laugh when a middle manager there tried to shake us down for a few rands, but was over-ruled by one of his juniors who said the municipality should, in fact, be paying us for bringing enlightenment to the province.

But we soon discovered the library had no water and electricity; staff members had to use their own cellphones to communicate as the library phone had been cut off "a long time ago".

With a handful people in attendance, using a spotlight for illumination, we got down to business. The rest of our trip- to Kimberley and finally Bloemfontein - seemed like an anti-climax after the North West drama.