South Africa’s favourite big-headed columnist has compiled the best of his columns from the last five years into a new anthology, Eat, Drink and Blame the Ancestors. We asked Books Live to meet up with Ndumiso Ngcobo to find out more…
Eat, Drink and Blame the Ancestors is a collection of Ngcobo’s most memorable columns from the last five years, edited and reworked for maximum effect, providing the perfect overview of his unique and wonderful insights. Whether he’s consuming fermented beverages and communing with the ancestors, describing life with terrorist children and skollie dog (RIP Spiderman), or dissecting dung beetle philosophy with the Men of Thurst, this is some of the funniest writing in the land.
Ndumiso Ngcobo is a creative phenomenon in the new South Africa. A one-time corporate lackey who used to write amusing emails for fun, he decided a change in career was in order and authored the bestsellers Some of My Best Friends are White and Is it coz I’m Black? before securing a columnist’s gig with the Sunday Times. He is also a radio presenter on Power FM and writes for television.
Q Where do you find the inspiration for your columns?
It is a deadly combo of everyday observations, the loud voices inside my head and booze. Seriously, my brain never sleeps. Ever.
Q What have been your easiest and most difficult topics?
Easiest: Mocking and ridiculing politicians. Most difficult: writing about my folks.
Q How do you remain creative?
I walk with my eyes, ears and nose open. Material is everywhere.
Q How much of your personal experience went into this project?
Practically every page in this book has got some personal reference. That’s how I always write.
Q How do you feel when you get narrow-minded responses?
Responses from an annoyed reader are like petrol on a fire. I consider them free entertainment.
Q Who would you rush to for any new materials?
Definitely my wife. That is why this book is dedicated to her.
Eat, Drink and Blame the Ancestors is available in all good book stores. Visit Books LIVE for all the latest book news: http://bookslive.co.za/
Chops and changing
An extract from Eat, Drink and Blame the Ancestors
I was a vegetarian once. It was a different time. My vegetarianism lasted a pretty impressive, but far-from-straightforward, eight years. Being a Zulu vegetarian is a much bigger deal than you might imagine. It’s a bit like being an English football fan who doesn’t fancy using blunt objects and offensive epithets when encountering Italian football fans. You see, Zulu traditions are heavily steeped in Old Covenant ways. We often use the blood of mammals as spiritual currency to communicate with the ancestors. And, if you need to put someone under a magical spell, the favoured medium for dispensing the concoction is, naturally, bovine flesh.
So, if you want to truly offend your distant aunt, try explaining to her that you don’t really feel like consuming the mounds of medium-rare beef rump she has just lovingly prepared for you. And that you are citing ‘vegetarianism’ as grounds for your flesh-o-phobia. For starters, there is no Zulu word for ‘vegetarian’. So inevitably, the conversation goes something like this:
“I won’t have any meat, thank you kindly.”
“What nonsense is this? Are you a Rastafarian?”
“Er… not really. I’m a vegetarian.”
“You’re a vegetable? Like spinach or pumpkin?”
I’m not making this up.
I remember the day I turned vegetarian like it was yesterday. It was a September afternoon in 1992. My father felt the gastronomic urge for some pure, free-range chicken prepared the traditional way. So, he sent me to the Mfekas, our neighbours, who kept fowls in a pen in their backyard.
“Get me a cockerel,” he instructed.
Upon my subsequent return with the still-panting rooster in hand (the expedition had involved a wild 15-minute chase), my father then commanded me to “prepare it”.
Conundrum. The problem was I’d never – ahem – ‘prepared’ a chicken before. Up to that point in my life, my interaction with poultry had been limited to the succulent drumstick-on-my-plate level. I had never been intimately involved in the process by which said drumstick came to arrive on my plate.
All that was about to change.
Some two-and-a-half hours later, most of which were spent mentally preparing myself, I finally plucked up the required yellow-hued courage, closed my eyes and, with a bloodcurdling scream, facilitated the separation of head and neck of our dinner-intended cockerel. The act came with predictably disturbing consequences, probably the worst of the lot being the way I collapsed into an emotional heap – but, in my defence, I had just witnessed the carcass tottering around the yard for a few seconds like… well, a headless chicken.
At this point my dad put his head through the kitchen door to inquire why he wasn’t already sipping on cartilaginous chicken soup. I surreptitiously wiped away a tear and mumbled a scandalous fib about how the bird had escaped and that I’d been hunting it down for several hours. He seemed to buy it.
During dinner I discovered that I had lost any appetite for meat. In its place, I kept seeing vivid images of the capon’s frightened eyes moments before Anne Boleyning it. I couldn’t even watch my family tucking into their evening meal and had to avert my gaze. Eventually I murmured something about an upset tummy and beat a hasty retreat to my lair, even forsaking a riveting episode of MacGyver.
It took weeks to announce that I had turned ‘vegetable’ and, even then, I confined the true reasons to the deepest recesses of my soul. I couldn’t, after all, lose cred by admitting I was a bleeding heart who couldn’t stand a mere chicken losing its head. In my ’hood, that’s how one attains the ‘fruity-tooty’ tag. So I lied for years.