Sifiso Mzobe

Sifiso Mzobe was South Africa’s literary sensation for the year 2011. His novel, Young Blood, is a gritty, hard-boiled coming-of-age story narrated by a 17-year-old youth called Sipho,a denizen of the Durban township of Umlazi, who “gave up on high school” to become a car thief.

The novel won the Herman Charles Bosman Prize and the Sunday Times fiction award, racing past Double Negative, a collaboration between two of the country’s artistic icons, both internationally renowned: author Ivan Vladislavic and photographer David Goldblatt. Although some demurred on the choice, insisting that Vladislavic’s was the more accomplished novel, there was an admission that Mzobe’s voice was fresh, his characters bristled with life, and he was a novelist with the more vivid and arresting (pun intended) story. And in a country plagued by crime, the crime novel — as literary scholar Sarah Nuttall put it in magazine Words etc — depicts “the South African real”.

The novel is as complete a cartography of crime in South Africa as you will find anywhere else, showing the township that incubates the aimless youth and the pitfalls littering their paths that make crime not just an incidental pastime but a real career option. The landscape Mzobe conjures in Young Blood is raw and lifelike, complete with girls, speedy cars, bling and a street argot to go with it all.

Until last year, the 34-year-old was a reporter for a community newspaper in Durban and occasionally had to go to the courts to cover cases of crime. He wrote the novel over two years, stealing time at night to scribble, to fine-tune its plot and make it the literary sensation has it become.

— Percy Zvomuya