/ 20 October 2022

Book review: Boy on the Run

Boy On The Run Cover (2)

After a tragedy that killed his mother, freelance journalist Welcome Mandla Lishivha writes his first book. Described as the memory-keeper of the life he lived with his mother, in Boy on the Run Lishivha tells his story of growing up queer in a Pretoria township, and the love he received from the women in his life.

“I wrote this book to honour my mother’s life. I wanted to keep her memory alive. I was afraid I might forget what she looks like, her smell, what a lovely woman she was and an amazing mother to me,” says Lishivha. 

While the first chapters detail how much he loved his mother, Fundani Angelinah Lishivha, Lishivha also writes about growing up around strong women such as his grandmother who helped raise him after his mother had him at a young age. Lishivha and his mother moved from his grandmother’s home in Soshanguve because she felt the need to be on her own. At this moment he had the choice of staying with his grandmother or moving with his mother. Because of the mother-bond he chose to leave with his mother and move in with her. He further details in his book about the moments they danced together, how she rubbed his belly when he was sick and talks about how he should not let anyone touch him or treat him in a way he did not like. 

He describes these moments as “intensive freedom from pain, of joy that knows no bound and peace that passeth all understanding,” a place where he feels like a child again. 

His mother continuously reminded him that he was different from other children, though Lishivha was too young to understand what his mother meant. He did not know he was queer – or what it even meant to be queer.

Lishivha’s strength is the “realness” of his writing. He is easily able to place you in his shoes, and the mother-son bond is easy to imagine. One of the lessons his mother taught him was to stand up for himself and ever since he has imprinted this in his day-to-day life.

At just 12 years old, Lishivha’s mother is shot by her boyfriend before he turns the gun on himself. Earlier, he had been asked to make her a cup of tea. “My mother has been acting rather funny today. She asked me to make her tea earlier and you know she hates tea. When I took the cup I made to her, she asked me very nicely with a big smile on her face to ‘make it special’. What does that even mean for someone who hates tea? Anyway, I took those gold mugs from the room divider and picked a random flower from that one rose plant by the gate,” writes Lishivha.

Although it felt like his world had stopped, with the help of his remaining family he completed school and went on to study journalism at Rhodes University. Lishivha strategically took up space there by continuously being at the forefront on council initiatives, despite being the only black, queer voice.

“Through the pain and tragedy I still win and fight back, do better for myself and make my mom proud. Almost every minute women are killed in South Africa. I get so annoyed around 16-days-of- activism because of the abrupt social media trends. The country continues to see the trauma and violence that continues to not be heard,” says Lishivha.

Boy on the Run displays a unique writing style which engages the reader in the emotion Lishivha experiences. He documents his sexuality, his body changes, his choices and how he finds his identity through grief, love and friendship. He says he knows his mother would be proud of everything he has overcome.

Lishivha’s friends describe him as a love-filled person with a soft yet passionate energy and a brave heart who does not allow anything to break his spirit. Asked how he has come to terms with his mother’s passing, he says, “I know my mother is proud of my independence and that I have embraced my sexuality as a black, queer gay man. I know now that I am no longer overwhelmed by the agony and pain of her passing. When I say I miss my mother, it used to trigger me but after writing this book I have been able to rise above that grief. She might not be here but I am and I know she wants me to make that count.”

Lishivha’s book explores the theme of sexuality. He says he is a young, queer gay men and a feminist at heart. Growing up he was bullied by younger kids and teased because he did not behave like a typical teenage boy but he remained true to who he is. 

“People still stare at me when I dress up in a crop top or wear a flower on my head. This shows how many still have double standards when it comes to gays and lesbians. Doing the right thing is often unpopular but you have to be bold and embrace your decisions through courage. My ability to stand for the right things is what makes me a good person and I am not afraid to continue doing that,” he says. 

Although this is Lishivha’s first book, he says it will not be his last.

Boy on the Run is published by Jacana Media and is available at selected book stores. The price ranges from  R186 to R206.