Author: Redi Tlhabi
Publisher: Jacana Media
“Mabegzo’s place in my life is an uncomfortable space. The hypocrisy of my feelings for him has mauled my emotions for many years. I would think of him and my heart would swell with warmth, longing and regret and, immediately, disgust at myself for feeling this way. This would be followed by making excuses for myself: I was a little girl, I did not know, I was mourning my father and perhaps responded to the first male who showed me any kindness and warmth.”
When Redi Tlhabi is eleven years old, two years after her father’s death, she meets the handsome, charming and smooth, Mabegzo. A rumoured gangster, murderer and rapist, he is a veritable ‘jack-roller’ of the neighbourhood. Against her family’s wishes, she develops a strong connection to him. Redi herself doesn’t understand why she is drawn to Mabegzo and why, at eleven, she feels a brokenness that only Mabegzo can fix.
So while reading this book, I decided to look at what other writers were saying about it. I came across journalist, Sandile Khumalo’s article ‘Redi’s story of healing sugar-coats black suffering’- http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/sandilememela/2012/12/19/redis-story-of-healing-sugar-coats-black-suffering/.
In reading Khumalo’s article I must say I disagree with his opinion that Redi Tlhabi failed to place the story in its then socio-political and economic context which he claims would have also have had an effect on gangsters like Mabegzo; as some were “very political in their criminal activities” (Khumalo 2012).
In fact, I believe that Tlhabi did this on purpose perhaps, because she wanted to not only come to understand Mabegzo the criminal but she also wanted to shed some light on the scourge that is violence in South African society and why so many young men are consumed by anger.
Why do desperate people turn to crime and violence? What is the role played by stigma, abuse, and neglect? By taking on the massive task of trying to discover the complicated social processes that contribute to Mabegzo’s story – chased away from his grandparents’ home at 15 because he was caught up in gang activity, abandoned by his mother at a young age because he was a result of gang rape etc – she allows herself to understand Mabegzo. He always said she never understood, but how could an 11 year old understand, hence, Tlhadi undertook to this journey.
While Tlhabi is outspoken in her dislike of violence and gender abuse, this is not an angry story. In fact, by going through the journey of writing this book she tells a meaningful story exploring the roles of perpetrators and victims in shaping society and how a human being can become dehumanised to some and yet be fully human to others.