Mandla Langa (1950 - ) was born in Stanger, Durban, and grew up in KwaMashu township, whereafter he studied for a BA at the University of Fort Hare. After being arrested in 1976, he spent 101 days in prison on a charge of trying to leave the country without a permit. He was sentenced, skipped bail, and went into exile in Botswana.
He has participated in various arts programmes and conferences through Africa and elsewhere, and has lived in Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, where he did MK military training, Zambia, Budapest and London. In 1980 he won the Drum story contest for 'The Dead Men Who Lost Their Bones' and in 1991 he was awarded the Arts Council of Great Britain Bursary for creative writing, the first for a South African. He has held various ANC posts abroad, such as Cultural Representative in the UK and Western Europe.
He has been Vice-Chairperson of the successful Africa95 Exhibition in London, and a weekly columnist of the Sunday Independent. He was the convenor of the Task Group on Government Communications. His published work include Tenderness of Blood (1987), A Rainbow on a Paper Sky (1989), The Naked Song and Other Stories (1997) and The Memory of Stones (2000). His musical opera, Milestones, featured at the Standard Bank Festival in Grahamstown in June 1999. He has been the editor-at-large of Leadership Magazine and the Program Director for television at the SABC. He was the Chairperson of the Independent Broadcasting Authority from April 1999 to June 2000. In July 2000 he was appointed as the Chairperson of Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).
A former board member of the SABC, Mandla Langa sits on the boards of the Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), the Foundation for Global Dialogue (FGD), Horizon Strategies, Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ) and the Rhodes University School for Economic Journalism. He is a trustee of the Nation's Trust and the South African Screenwriters' Laboratory (SCRAWL). He also serves as the director to Contemporary African Music and Arts (CAMA).
From "Zizi" in The Naked Song and other stories (1996)
On this wet Monday morning, we queued at the bus rank. By the time we were inside, we were soaked to the skin. The interior of the bus was overwhelmed by Jackson's cigar smoke. He was a thin Malawian, as black as tar. It seemed that he smoked the evil-smelling cigars to irritate the women who were on their way to the madams' kitchens. They were discouraged from opening the windows because the cold air carrying icy raindrops was more unbearable than Jackson's fumigation. 'These MaNyasa,' the women would hiss, 'coming here with their strange ways!' MaNyasa was a derogatory term used for people who came from Malawi. If Jackson heard this, he did not let on. He puffed on, his ebony face as serene as a river. We certainly couldn't say anything to him because Jackson was our key to the shipyard construction company to which we were going. The bus roared on, picking up passengers at every stop until it was so packed that breathing was difficult; an auntie dared slide the window open to let in respirable air. We passed the brace of industrial buildings near The Point; a few feet to the left rose the grim greyness of The Point prison, its walls as sturdy as a fortress. We followed Jackson out two stops farther up. He led us to a clearing where a barracks-style prefabricated building stood forlornly. He knocked on the door, took off his hat and went in. 'What do you think will happen?' I asked. 'We'll see,' Siza said. 'Just don't get nervous. Jackson knows what he's doing.' 'Water is seeping in through my shoes,' I complained. 'Bugger the water,' Siza said. He was nervous despite the show of bravado. A few minutes later, Jackson came out, followed by two white men in hard hats. One was big with a beer belly; his companion was as thin as a rake, but there was something about them, the way they regarded each other, which made them seem like brothers. The thin one cleared his throat. My father always cleared his throat before making a long speech. 'My boys,' he said, 'I don't know what Jackson has been telling you. Be that as it may, we are here to work. I'm taking you to the docks, we are going to sweat there, make no mistake. You'll be paid hourly. If you work hard, we'll get along fine. If you don't, you'll soon know why men have given me a certain nickname.' A white van with the company name stencilled on the side panels pulled up. We were waved into the back. Jackson sat in the cab with the thin white man and an African driver in bluedenim overalls. We could see traffic along Congella, the brownstone building of the Electricity Supply Commission, the smoke billowing from the twin towers of the Hulletts sugar company.
To the right, people were already queuing up to enter the King Edward VIII Hospital. We were headed for Mobeni. 'What is his nickname?' I asked. 'People call him Mlom'wengwenya - the mouth of the crocodile.' Zizi seemed to know everything. 'I wonder why he's got a name like that.' 'You'll have enough time to find out,' Siza said. 'In the meantime why don't you all shut up, maybe we can hear what they're cooking up in front.' We pricked up our ears but could hear little above the roar of the traffic and the bone-rattling bumps as the wheels hit the pot-holes. Soon enough we were passing through Clairwood, the gum- trees and wattles paving the road, bougainvillaea and jasmine drooping in the rain. Indian and Coloured people milled about, some ducking the downpour, throwing themselves under bus shelters. Some schoolchildren in uniform emerged from the houses, satchels knocking against young, bobby- soxed legs and Bata shoes. The settlements were waking up. We reached the industrial site at 6.45 a.m. Men were already preparing themselves for work, stripping off their ragged street clothes to put on even more ragged overalls. Sandblasting equipment began to whirr; then a powerfully built man, whose torso glistened with perspiration and rain, started the siren. It was one of the loudest sounds I had ever heard.
1987. Tenderness of Blood. Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House. 1989. A Rainbow on a Paper Sky. London: Kliptown Books. 1997. The Naked Song and Other Stories. Claremont: David Philip Publishers. 2000. The Memory of Stones. Claremont: David Philip Publishers. 2004. Moving in Time - Images of Life in a Democratic South Africa. Gauteng: KMM Review Publishing Company. 2008. The Lost Colours of the Chameleon. Johannesburg: Picador Africa.