Meet Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, Caine Prize winner

Image: Supplied

Image: Supplied



By Ayanda Sitole

DRUM speaks to writer, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi about his recent win for The Caine Prize for African Writing Award, which is Africa’s leading literary award for short stories. The writer recently returned from London and says winning has drawn attention to his writing and work as a filmmaker.

His short story, Memories We Lost, is set in the backdrop of a rural village similar to the ones he saw when he was growing up in rural Eastern Cape.

The story is about a loving relationship between two teenage sisters, the eldest suffering from schizophrenia (a chronic and severe mental disorder) while the other tries to protect her against a world that sees the illness as a curse.

“I wanted to explore the misunderstanding that people have of mental illness and explore the idea of reality versus imagination,” he says. “In the episodes that the schizophrenic sister has, she has to differentiate between what she thinks she sees and what is reality.”

Her episodes are dark and devastating, bringing fear to children at her school and grown men in her community, the only person who is willing to understand her is her sister.

“The girls develop a strong bond because there is an element of love missing from their mother,” he says. “There is a misconception that words are what human beings need to communicate but the sisters don’t talk to each other, they express themselves through physical affection.”

Lidudumalingani says he’s not a fan of talking but when he writes he uses language eloquently to say what many would struggle say using words.

“Words are not the only thing we need to communicate,” he says. “Remember that words can be used to hurt others.”

Lidudumalingani works as a fiction writer, as well as a commercial writer in the magazine industry.

“I have two personalities: One writes literature and about whatever he wants, but the other writes in a manner that is more restrictive,” he adds.

The writer is still on a high about his recent win and will explore more stories both in film and writing. However, he has strong views about the misconception that African writing should be viewed as a unique form of writing.

“There are good and bad stories coming out of Africa. I am against this idea that everything that comes out of Africa is unique, there is nothing unique about our continent,” he says. “But, it’s great that Africans are writing about their own people.”

Memories We Lost is part of a collection of short stories in the book titled The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories.

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