Books

Redi's memoirs of innocence and menace

Neo Leeuw

In her first book, Redi Tlhabi takes a journey through a hidden love in her childhood that opened her up to a world of secrets, violence and pain.

Redi Tlhabi. (Supplied)

Endings and Beginnings delivers a gripping account of Mabegzo, a 22-year-old gangster, murderer and rapist, who is a veritable jack-roller of Tlhabi's neighbourhood. Against her family’s wishes, Tlhabi developed a strong connection to him.

Two years after losing her father, an 11-year-old Tlhabi found herself vulnerable and open to the advances (or perhaps warmth and protection) of a much older man, much to the dislike of the elders of her community. At the time, Tlhabi didn’t know why she was drawn him.

Speaking to the M&G, Thlabi said she now understands that they found comfort in each other.

“We found each other in our brokenness. He had his issues and I was lost in mourning for my father. We lived in our own world due to hurt. We found immense solace in each other’s presence."

The book begins with Tlhabi looking over the body of the young Mabegzo, while people screamed and cheered because the infamous menace finally perished. It is in this chapter that we are introduced to Redi's pain from losing her father, as well as Mabegzo. He is described as a dashing young man whose appearance did not fit the stereotype of what a gangster should look like.

The book speaks about the violence and sexual abuse in the then-violent township. On her radio and television shows, Tlhabi is outspoken about her dislike of violence and gender abuse, but in this book she tells a story of forgiveness and love in the mind of an 11-year-old.

Tlhabi says she wanted to share her story of living in a community surrounded by both the victims and perpetrators and how it shaped the woman she is today.

“I speak of the shame brought on women by being violated and how it affects those around them. The truth is gender-based violence is still pretty much prevalent.”

She does not conceal Mabegzo’s violent streak, nor does she try to glamourise it.  At one point, Mabegzo attempts to murder a man who had tried to rape Tlhabi. Her revelations do not in any way excuse who and what he was, but they shed light on the scourge of violence in our societies and why young black men are consumed by anger.

But her thorough descriptions of how Mabegzo would wait for her after every school day and about how he would bring an umbrella on rainy days and make sure she was covered frame Mabegzo as a gentle soul who could be charming and protective of her.  

It is interesting to note that Tlhabi does not make any excuses for Mabegzo, but is honest about how she saw him, how she knew him and how there were instances when she feared him. “Mabegzo was polite, gentle, well mannered, and a part of me relied on the nurturing menace. He was not perfect, far from it. He was a menace.”

Endings and Beginnings highlights how some of our "menaces" are bred from the public failing to protect some of our young men, and how it leads to boys being angered by stigma and rejection. Tlhabi also speaks of how she was haunted by Mabegzo's presence long after his death.

“I could not obliterate him from my consciousness. A lot of events happened around my relationship with him, I had to make sense of it all,” she told the M&G.

Tlhabi went on a journey to connect with his family and try to understand why he turned out the way that he did. Her conversations with his family show a different man to the one the community portrayed

This book forces the reader to question if they too would have felt compassion towards Mabegzo.

“My story helped me seek the underlying layers of who we are. Why do people become who they become? It has also taught me to be compassionate and less judgmental.  It has really helped shaped my outlook on these issues.

“Mabegzo was just a young boy who could only gain respect and notoriety by raping and being violent. He was still a little boy with feelings inside and he showed these to me."

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