Fred Khumalo was born on 4 August 1966 in Chesterville, Durban, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), and grew up in Mpumalanga Township close to the industrial area of Hammersdale, Durban. Growing up in the township exposed him to a lot of crime from an early age, which pushed him to focus on his education as a way to escape the violence and poverty that surrounded him. It was also during this time, as a teenager, that he joined a group who called themselves the American Dudes, which Khumalo later explained in his autobiography, were a subculture of the American hip-hop movement. Nevertheless, he remained focused on his studies and decided to become a writer while still in high school.
Khumalo graduated from Technikon Natal (now known as the Durban University of Technology) in Durban after studying journalism and completed his MA in creative writing at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, Gauteng) with distinction.
He is an accomplished author of both fiction and non-fiction books, as well as an award-winning journalist and columnist. He has written for several publications such as City Press, Sunday World, Sunday Times, Sowetan, UmAfrika, Isolezwe, This Day, Toronto Star, and New African magazine. Khumalo has also published several short stories in commercial magazines and literary journals like Drum, Tribute, Pace, and Staffrider. His journalistic work has been published in South Africa, Canada, and the United Kingdom (UK). He has achieved high praise and respect for his work, which has garnered critical acclaim over the years.
In addition to writing, Khumalo also hosted a public debate television programme on SABC2 called Encounters, in 2008.
A list of his books includes Bitches’ Brew, Seven Steps to Heaven, Touch My Blood: The Early Years (his autobiography which was adapted by James Ngcobo into a stage production, enjoying a full house opening at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival), Zuma: The Biography of Jacob Zuma, #ZuptasMustFall and Other Rants, Zulu Boy Gone Crazy: Hilarious Tales Post Polokwane, The Lighter Side of Robben Island (which was co-written by Gugu Kunene and Paddy Harper), The Longest March, Dancing the Death Drill, and the short story collections, Talk of the Town and uManzekhofi nezaKhe – his isiZulu fictional title debut.
Khumalo’s books tend to focus on South Africa’s past and present. He is largely concerned with bringing South African history, particularly that which has been forgotten or generally unknown, into the forefront so that it may not disappear into the past but also reignite unfinished conversations around issues of race, identity and land, for example. “As a genre, historical fiction can be a powerful tool in the hands of a writer who is also an activist, which I count myself to be. The writer-activist can, by weaving a fictional story around a factual but little-known historical event,…insert chunks of what might be called ‘hidden history’ into the public domain” (Khumalo, 2018).
During his career, Khumalo has received a lot of recognition and numerous awards. These include the European Union Literary Award for Bitches’ Brew in 2006, a Multilingualism Award he obtained for his book #ZuptasMustFall in 2017, a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University along with fellowships from the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study, the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, as well as the Academy for the Arts of the World in Cologne, Germany. In 1991, he was a runner-up for the Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award, and again in 1996, for the Bertrams V.O Literature of Africa Award. In 2004, the manuscripts for the novel The Oneness of Two in Three achieved an honourable mention at the first European Union Literary Awards. His short story, Water No Get Enemy, also received a special mention in 2016 at the Short Story Day Africa competition. His autobiography was shortlisted in 2007 for the Alan Paton Award and in 2019, Dancing the Death Drill was the joint winner under the ‘Best Fiction Single Authored Volume’ category at the Humanities and Social Sciences Awards.
Khumalo is also a member of PEN SA – a branch of the PEN International organisation – which is a worldwide organisation of writers that aims to grow and strengthen literature as well as to promote freedom of expression. Currently, he works as a freelance journalist and columnist and is based in Johannesburg, Gauteng.
- Khumalo, F. (2018). Historical fiction is back – with fire in its belly, [online], Available at: https://fredkhumalo.wordpress.com/2018/05/10/historical-fiction-is-back-with-fire-in-its-belly/. (Accessed on 16 April 2020)
- KZN Literary Tourism. (n.d). Fred Khumalo, [online], Available at: http://www.literarytourism.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=171:fred-khumalo&catid=13:authors&Itemid=28. (Accessed on 14 April 2020)
- Nthunya, M. (2019). Fred Khumalo: Giving life to those excluded, [online], Available at: https://city-press.news24.com/Trending/Books/fred-khumalo-giving-life-to-those-excluded-20191108. (Accessed on 16 April 2020)
- Open Book Festival. (n.d) Fred Khumalo, [online], Available at: https://openbookfestival.co.za/authors/fred-khumalo/. (Accessed on 16 April 2020)
- Patterson, A. (2019). Literary Birthday – 4 August – Fred Khumalo, [online], Available at: https://writerswrite.co.za/literary-birthday-4-august-fred-khumalo/. (Accessed on 16 April 2020)
- PEN South Africa. (2017), Fred Khumalo Awarded a PanSALB Multilingualism Award, [online], Available at: https://pensouthafrica.co.za/fred-khumalo-awarded-a-pansalb-multilingualism-award/. (Accessed on 14 April 2020)
- PEN South Africa. (2019). uManzekhofi nezaKhe by Fred Khumalo, [online], Available at: https://pensouthafrica.co.za/umanzekhofi-nezakhe-by-fred-khumalo/. (Accessed on 16 April 2020).
- Timeslive. (2019). Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Awards 2019 winners announced, [online], Available at: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.timeslive.co.za/amp/sunday-times/books/news/2019-03-18-humanities-and-social-sciences-hss-awards-2019-winners-announced/. (Accessed on 14 April 2020)
- TVSA. (2008). New on SABC2 in February 2008, [online], Available at: https://www.tvsa.co.za/user/blogs/viewblogpost.aspx?blogpostid=13900. (Accessed on 16 April 2020)