'Outsiders becoming insiders'
Share this article:
DURBAN born and bred author Nick Mulgrew has set his latest book, A Hibiscus Coast, in New Zealand, with the meeting of Maori and ex-South African communities.
New Zealand’s anti-apartheid movement may have been quite mainstream, but there has always been a contradiction in the country to which many South Africans have emigrated, often fleeing crime.
“Race relations between the Maori and ‘pakeha’ (whites) have been fractious,” said Durban-born author Nick Mulgrew whose new novel looks at the interaction between Mary, a recent immigrant from Durban North where she was a wall away from a murder scene, and Buck, a self-appointed Maori leader.
Prominent in the story in A Hibiscus Coast is the issue of land.
“Land rights were not legally being taken very seriously in New Zealand. Marae (Maori meeting grounds) take a long time to be established. They are important places for people to gather and be themselves. They have an important spiritual function.”
Thrown into Mulgrew’s novel is a conflict of interest between Buck’s community and a South African club that has gone the conventional route in obtaining use of “spiritual” land and it creates quite an explosive situation.
“In real life it’s probably less dramatic,” he says.
Mary’s interaction with her new friend Buck paves the way for outsiders to become insiders, said Mulgrew, 31, whose childhood saw him shuttle between Durban North and Auckland’s suburb of Orewa.
“It shows the true nature of cultural exchange as people interact and get on with one another. One finds compromises. Often it isn’t even intentional. Just being in proximity to one another is enough. When people get to know one another there will always be faux pas.”
Mulgrew said Mary, who moved to New Zealand through a loophole in the 1990s, before immigration laws tightened, is to some extent, himself.
“I wanted to bring in my memories of Durban’s punk band and skateboard culture I grew up in.”
In Auckland, he experienced the “self-isolation” of South African immigrants.
“All my family’s friends in New Zealand were South Africans. The only New Zealanders we met were people my parents met at work and classmates at school.”
He said many South African emigrate to New Zealand thinking it will be easy to adapt.
“There is a rugby culture in common but New Zealand has its own national character.”
One feature of South Africans abroad, especially in the 1990s, was that they thought they were special, given the huge milestone in history the country had just passed.
“We are very upfront about our beliefs and we are able to talk about difficult issues. We have had to get used to having difficult conversations all the time.”
Elsewhere, people are often far more reserved when talking about difficult topics, he said.
Educated at Crawford College North Coast and Rhodes University, Mulgrew is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, the recipient the 2016 Thomas Pringle and 2018 Nadine Gordimer Awards and director of the award-winning poetry press, uHlanga. He is studying for a PhD in writing practice at Dundee University in Scotland. He lives in Edinburgh but still regards Durban as home.
The Independent on Saturday