I’ve got a little revelation – For a while I have alluded to a Twitter conversation where two users who are African fiction book lovers were arguing whether a particular writer was a good writer or a good storyteller. That writer was Niq Mhlongo. They could not reach an agreement but I always knew on which side of the divide I belonged. Dog Eat Dog is Niq Mhlongo’s debut which was published 20 years ago. I wanted to add a reread to my 2024 TBR and chose it for the special nostalgic memories it holds. I read it weeks after it was published and that period holds special memories for me.  Rereading it brings back those memories but while this review is not about the time when I first read it, previous memories play a part in rereads. One thing that is obvious in rereading Dog Eat Dog is how much Niq Mhlongo has grown as a writer. Dog Eat Dog is a post-apartheid novel that is set in 1994, and apartheid has just ended. Racial integration has just begun and non-segregation is becoming the mantra of public institutions. In it, the protagonist Dingz, is a young black Wits University student from a poverty-stricken family, whose mother single-handedly supports nine children (including grandchildren) from her pension. The basis of the story is how Dingz navigates life as a fresh undergraduate while being disenfranchised when his expected bursary does not come through and the new South Africa is unfolding. A new South Africa where the past holds back a typical black South African like Dingz and prevalent social issues like xenophobia, crime, HIV/AIDS and racism are at play.

Rereading Dog Eat Dog, there is a lot of fun and witty dialogue but the story is lacking in rigour and substance. The characters are barely developed and Dingz stumbles from one drinking session to a sexcapade to another drinking session. His academics are almost irrelevant in the scheme of things and he just seems to cruise through with little effect either way. The strength of Dog Eat Dog is not in its story (which is almost nonexistent), or even in its characters, but in its setting and descriptions of place. The description of the Soweto and larger Joburg environs is spot on. This is one aspect of Niq’s work that has been excellent from day one. No one describes or sets a story in South African townships any better. His subsequent works have been a marked improvement on Dog Eat Dog in terms of plot development and character development. This reread has satisfied a nostalgic itch but I’ll rather recommend his later works.


Write A Comment