Dog Eat Dog
Niq Mhlongo
(Ohio University Press)
Dingamanzi Manhadama Dingamanz ("Dingz") seems to have it made. He's student of law in college in post-apartheid South Africa, has a place to stay at the local Y with free meals, gets to spend much of his time at the local drinking hole exchanging insults with his friends, complete with their special codes (viz., a woman's buttocks are known as an "ATM.")

The biggest threats seem to be getting caught dodging out of tests, evading the beggars, and fighting with the local taxi drivers. In fact, a back-and-forth with the taxi queue marshals (all in Zulu) includes insulting the commuters, calling an old black lady a whore, with one of Dingz' friends telling the marshal that he's probably queer. As for the drivers, "We were all aware that the drivers were capable of stopping the taxi at any time and whipping a passenger with sjamboks that they always carry with them."

If there is any theme in Dog Eat Dog, it seems to be the anger in post-apartheid South Africa aimed at any and all: the drivers, the students, the teachers, the administration. And in this novel, non-stop bartalk.

At the Dropout Bar in Braamfontein they thump (drink beer as fast as possible), talk of AIDS and circumcision, watch "coloured girls" playing pool, and brag of their membership in the S.A.D.U. --- South Africa Drinkers Union ... with a B.A. in Bachelor of Alcohol.

It's not so much a dog-eat-dog as one of trying to con others as often and as easily as possible. Even Dingz' one warm sexual experience with Nkanyi gets him nothing more than a case of painful gonorrhea. If this is "post-democracy" South Africa, let me out.

Dingz' major talent seems to be that of a low-grade confidence man. His best accomplishment through these two hundred or so pages is to con the head of his university department into believing that the reason he missed his all-important final exam was because of the fake death of a non-existent cousin. This requires producing a death certificate from one Ma Mhlongo over in the township of Orlando East.

Dingz and his friend Dunga journey all the way over there (those dratted taxis again) to tell her they are from the African National Congress. (Later on we get to listen to a drunken speech mocking Nelson Mandela and all the ANC stood for.)

Dingz and Dunga have nothing to do with the Congress, but at the mention of her recently dead son, Ma Mhlongo weeps. Part of it is their promise as to what they will do for her and family. They convince her that her daughter-in-law will soon have food for her and the orphans courtesy of the ANC ... once they get a copy of the sought-after certificate.

Later, when Dingz's advisor continues to protest his absence from the exam, the student blurts out "I think you are prejudiced against me and there is no cure for that prejudice. I will have to contact the SRC to come and give you some lessons about our diverse cultures." The upshot: "The following Thursday I received a letter from the faculty saying that I had been granted a deferred examination

I suppose you could call this a picaresque novel, but the characters seem not only unnecessarily harsh and general rascals and so bored --- even as drunks and sham students and layabouts --- that one might think that the sole hope of all the newly blooming democracies in the world is nothing more than a burp, a drunken all-night fest, and another con job.

--- A. W. Allworthy
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