Lidudumalingani Mqombothi

We speak to Cain Prize award winning writer, filmmaker & photographer Lidudumalingani Mqombothi; about his journey, work and travels. Lidudumalingani is currently based in Cape Town

‍Lidudumalingani, winner of the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing. Source: The Caine Prize website.

Creative Nestlings: Please introduce yourself and what you do?

Lidudumalingani Mqombothi: My name is Lidudumalingani. I am first a writer, then a filmmaker and photographer.

CN: What does a normal day look like for you?

Lidudumalingani: A normal day to me means waking up in the morning and writing before getting ready for work, working til 17:00 and reading some poetry in between, taking a walk in the evening or attending an exhibition, and then spending my evenings writing. I spent my weekends seeing people or walking and making images. 

CN: Tell us about your path to what you’re doing now.

My path to what I am doing now has taken so many trajectories that it is hard to track - but let us make an attempt to.

I was born in Zikhovane, a village in Tsomo, in the former Transkei. I was an average kid; I played soccer and herded goats. After I matriculated, I wanted to be a radio DJ, and so off I went to study radio in East London at the then Border Tech which is now known as the Walter Sisulu University. Part of the appeal at the institution was that the radio course was the cheapest course offered. After graduating, I worked as a campus DJ, which I later left to work as a radio DJ for a community radio station in the Vaal. Around 2006/7; when I moved there, I also began to write poetry which gradually led me to write nonfiction.

It was whilst doing that, that I had an opportunity to go to the Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking - which I did for about three years; studying documentary and drama filmmaking. Before graduating I began to publish my writing in magazines and newspapers, and I suppose this is when my writing began.

I made a conscious decision to work and create stuff in a way that progressed forward. I stopped writing short pieces and wanted to write long-form pieces about art. I moved on to write long-form nonfiction and when that was done I ventured into fiction, which in 2016, I was awarded the Caine Prize for African writing award - which for the short story is the biggest award.

Photography only came to me after film school. While I was in film school I was always drawn more to still cinematography and the poetry that certain directors create on screen. And now I am juggling three things, writing, photography, and filmmaking.

CN: How has your family received your creative journey?

LM: My family - especially my mother; even when she had no clue of what I was up to at times; has been incredible in supporting me with my decision to be a writer, and I appreciate that. Of course, there used to be times when it would get really difficult but I have however always insisted on getting paid for my work and so the things have not been dire, even at the beginning - I have always worked strategically with the sole purpose of surviving on the art.

CN: That’s amazing, some parents are not as supportive. In terms of surviving the art, how do you enforce payments and people seeing the value, also how do you even bill correctly as many creatives suffer on that?

LM: It takes a little while to get to a point of refusing to work for free, and it is not even that you think your work is amazing. It occurs to you that if you are spending hours thinking about something and crafting it for someone else to use to make money for the newspaper or magazine, then you should as the provider of the work, get paid. Over time you learn that you should not be doing this for free. Billing is different for every company and so I bill however they want me to bill but I never begin writing without knowing how much I will get paid for the work.

CN: On writing on various platforms - how do you choose who to write for? Do you check owner's intention or do you just want to get your work out there?

LM: When I was starting out; eager to write for anyone and often for nothing, I wrote for platforms that I read and whose writing I enjoyed. Now it is slightly different in that platforms usually, come to me and not the other way round. I often insist on my own writing and not so much the entire writing of that platform. Of course, the politics of the platform are important and that is something I do not take lightly. What helps is that I am a reader and I am familiar with many platforms that publish good writing and I would know what they have published before.

CN: You are an amazing writer and an award winner; how do awards impact your life?

The majority of the industry is white owned and it would be nearly impossible to write if I held those politics. I am far more concerned with the content of that publication and of course the politics of the owners but one does not need to be pedantic about it. And so it is always getting paid but rather that one's writing is respected, both in its content and being paid for it.

Awards buy me the time and audience I need, but my writing, and what I want to write about has remained largely the same.

CN: What do you actually write?

LM: I write everything. It is a careful balance of writing what I am passionate about and what pays good money.

CN: What inspired your Caine Prize winning work "Memories We Lost"?

LM: The story was inspired by a combination of things. One was my own obsession with looking closer at how communities treat people with mental illnesses, and the other was conversations with friends and texts that I read which, because I was thinking about this, kept appearing everywhere I looked.   

CN: From what i have read; it was great, where can i find the full text?

LM: Not sure if it is still online, but there's two anthologies that have it; one is Short. Sharp. Stories anthology: Incredible Journeys and the other the Caine Prize Anthology.They are available for sale at Book Shops.   

CN: There is a myth that black people don’t read, what are you thoughts on that? We spotted you at the Abantu Book festival how was that experience?

LM: I find this an exhausting conversation because it entertains what we all know only exists as a myth but somehow we continue to talk about it. Of course black people read and have always read and will continue to. Abantu Book Festival was great. It was great to see black people gather in a space in which it felt perfectly fine to be black, in all the ways in which we can be.

CN: Very true, these myths are exhausting to discuss but they are constantly used to define us as a people in "research".  That leads to another question around books in vernacular languages in popular book stores; they are rare because apparently there is no demand. Do you think there is no demand or do we not have enough black writers writing in African languages?

LM: I think it's partly true that there's not enough readers who pick a book in their own language, but this is a fault of a long structured system in which our own languages were made inferior to English. And so the real work in publishing in our own languages is not only to do the actual publishing but to also undo the system that presents our languages as inferior. There are of course people who are doing the work and are publishing in their own mother tongues. They have readers, and I think that we must support those people who are doing the work.

CN: Your photography is really good, what do you like to shoot most? What do you shoot with?

LM: Thank you. I like shooting mostly space, people and the interaction between the two. The politics of it, the abstraction of architecture and its community as the architect David Adjaye calls it. Lately I have been trying to do some portraits; I shoot analogue and digital on a Nikon F3 and Fujifilm XT10. I'm now looking to do some collaborations with architects, fashion designers, painters, musicians, friends, and strangers - that's the next thing I do.   

CN: What advice do you have for fellow young creatives on the continent?

LM: I don't know. My own process of working and thinking is always being reimagined and questioned and I suppose in this world in which there appears to be a lot of sameness and repetition of both work and thinking that would be my advice.

CN: How has travel influenced your work?

LM: Meeting people and being in a new place is the best part of it because one's sensitivity as an artist is strengthened. One begins to write or imagine from a place; that is, after meeting the people and being in a new environment, perhaps has a lot more nuance.

CN: Any amazing creatives you have met on your journey, particularly at Ake festival?

LM: I met mostly really dope poets and publishers; Titilope Sonuga, Chika Jones, TJ Benson, Oris Dam, Wana Udobang.

CN: Actually in terms of publishing is there a way we can get book and magazine printing popular again or is digital the best way?LM: The strange thing is that research has shown that hard copy books are becoming more popular and are selling more than ebooks. I also think that the two can and should co-exist; the popularity of another shouldn't signal an end of the other. They should complement  each other to reach an audience it cannot access. Though I can read long form articles on digital platforms, I'm yet to be able to read an entire book.

CN: True, I still buy books from my friends and still subscribe to print magazines. What do you think is missing in the South African creative community?

Yo man. Eish, the obvious thing is support structure from government sectors, but also the private sector. Above that, what is missing is really simple things like supporting other people mainly people outside of these closed circles that creatives create and guard at all costs. The other thing that is missing, I feel, is trying to create work that has its own views and not to be affiliated with other work; which is something that is happening; but it can happen on a larger scale.


CN: Do we not need to create our own circles/networks?

LM: Totally, the circles I am talking about work in a way that is structured to benefit a certain type of creative; through the connections the circle creates. The issue is that in that circle, critical thought does not exist because this is how a clique functions. The circles that you are talking about are the ones that we need to create in  larger circles; that facilitate work for all creatives. That in a way we can as creatives encourage each other, go to each others exhibition, buy the art, buy the books, even if someone is not in our immediate clique.

CN: That's why we built CN as a large circle for all African creatives on the continent and diaspora but it seems people aren't as open to open collaborative systems created by peers why do you think that is? 

LM: CN is my ideal circle, that it is concerned rather about the creatives and not to be affiliated so well done on that, I do not know why that is. I love collaborations and like I said earlier, will be doing more. I do not know what the reluctance is, I think it has to begin with trusting that this can be done by us and not some white people from Europe.   

CN: What's next for you? What should we expect? What do you need?

LM: Writing my first novel. Spending some in between to research a nonfiction book in the Free State, which I'm hugely excited about, making images and collaborating.   

CN: Amazing can't wait to read the novel. How did you get the confidence to write and publish?

LM: A lot of reading, which included reading just about any book I could find and then years later I began to write. To write I think that one has to have an unappeasable appetite for reading. I learnt to write by way of reading and my reading has not stopped. It is only when one is intimately familiar with reading that they can know if their own writing is good enough or not.

CN: What advice do you have for young African creatives?

LM: Tell the story that matters to you, all else is background noise. 

CN: What is creativity to you?

Tough question. I do not know. I don't think there is one encompassing description. I am concerned, first, with telling stories that I feel passionate about and making images that speak to me.



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