Spectre and Speculation: Haunting and Uncanniness in Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree by Niq Mhlongo

Decolonising Speculative Fiction

Keywords: Niq Mhlongo, magic realism, uncanny, decolonial, post-colonial, sociological realism, haunting


Niq Mhlongo’s collection of short stories, Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree (2018), does not perhaps immediately present itself as speculative fiction. The collection, however, gives the supernatural world of African indigenous knowledge as much weight in shaping characters’ lives and experiences as it does contemporary socio-political realities. It troubles established genre distinctions in that it can be seen as a work simultaneously belonging to magical realism, social realism, and horror. This article contends that it is precisely owing to the work’s use of supernatural and uncanny aspects that this collection can be viewed as a form of social or sociological realism, which aims at depicting the peculiar contemporary and subjective (sur)realities of many young black South Africans. It is faithful to the contradictory worlds of tradition and globalisation that many South Africans straddle, as well as to the spectres of colonialism and Apartheid, that impinge on the present in both material and immaterial forms. In many ways the collection stages the difficulty of decolonisation and the subjective spectres and doppelgängers that such a process unleashes. This paper will make use of the work of Sigmund Freud, Avery F. Gordon, Eve Tuck and C. Ree to explore instances of haunting and the uncanny in Mhlongo’s collection.