I’ve been itching to write a review of Trevor Noah’s book of childhood stories Born A Crime (2016, Spiegel and Grau) after picking it up one night reading it and finishing before daybreak. A great fan of African(fiction) literature which tends to be heavy, it was refreshing to read a non-fiction book which was so funny I cried so hard from laughter. What cracked me up the most was his experiences with his hyper-religious mother; the long travels to the different churches, the prayer meetings, the exorcising of demons including the debates about how one determines the will of God in solving everyday problems. His stories resonated with me and at times it felt as if Noah and I grew up together while having parallel life experiences with different parents, in different parts of the country and now world. I have often wished to have a conversation with someone about the psychological impacts of dogma; what sort of human does an upbringing like that produce?
I wanted to write a whole blog post about how funny I thought he was and how much I loved his writing style in time for his South African three-day Comedy show (There’s a Gupta on my Stoep) from Wednesday to Friday at the Dome this week. But his first show coincides with Women’s day here in South Africa on the 9th of August which commemorates the 1956 March of an estimated 20 thousand women to the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African government in Pretoria. The women marched in protest against pass laws or the 1952 Native Law Amendment Act. The Law aimed to tighten the influx into the country’s urban areas making it illegal for any African (black men including women) to be in any urban area for more than 72 hours or three days unless in possession of the necessary documentation; pass books or dom-passes.
I wanted to reflect on what this historic day means for all South African women today, and writing about Trevor Noah’s book felt a little bit off. I also wondered if my reflections or sharing a story with you about the plight of women in South Africa today, wouldn’t be eclipsed by the results of the secret ballot or vote of no confidence against current President Jacob Zuma, which would either have parliamentary speaker and presidential hopeful Baleka Mbete elected as a (token woman) acting President of South Africa for the next 30 days or maintain the status quo with President Jacob Zuma holding on to his seat. You see, there’s so much material I had to work with…
Before you start accusing me of using Trevor Noah, his book and comedy show as click-bait to force you to read another unrelated story, let me do a two-paragraph review of the book. It was a wonderfully refreshing read which had me congratulating Trevor Noah out-loud for having the ability to turn his life story and experiences into a thriving multimillion dollar empire. Well done T! I bought the book as a birthday present for my youngest brother hoping that he would be acquainted with a bit of South African history which Noah does a great job of summarizing in this book. I thought he’d also end up saying hello fellow anomaly. But, Alas.
In short, I loved the book, thoroughly enjoyed all of it. I even told my younger sister about it who promptly borrowed it from my brother and is now reading it as we speak. She wants to start a support group for people who were raised by Jimmy Swaggart and radio pulpit. Even so, I was still torn about writing a review of Trevor Noah’s book on women’s day; even though Born A Crime is essentially about Trevor’s mother, even though Trevor gave his mother the last word in it. Even though Trevor has confessed in interviews and during his comedy shows that he’s a feminist. I was still hesitant because Trevor is still a man. He is a man who rightfully wrote a book about himself in honour of his mother. He can’t be faulted; the book speaks for itself so why do I even want to write about it? On women’s day too?
My dilemma provides a great segue way to this story: the one I actually want to tell you about. It concerns women in rural KwaZulu Natal who are made to pay a spot fine for speaking up and protesting decisions that their chiefs, Induna’s and iNkosi make on their behalf without their consent. They are charged because they are women challenging a man’s authority. Their story is a very long one which begins in the early 1970’s when they were being forcibly removed by the Apartheid Government from one community to the next, but today they are being silenced by culture and tradition under a democratic dispensation. Each time they have tried to voice their concerns over mining activities in their communities which have killed their crops, livestock and polluted their drinking water they are told that they are women, they don’t have a right to speak up. The king does not listen to women, he listens to men. And yet many of these women are widows, others have absentee husbands who work in urban areas and cities, others are too ill to do anything. Under the laws governing Traditional Authority, they have no right to complain, because to question a man is to question traditional authorities which are protected by our constitution over and above women’s rights to self-determination. So many of them die in silence and even if they speak out their voices are often drowned out by the more urban, trendy voices of those in power or those with influence.
And perhaps this is the difference between me and Trevor Noah. He’s a nice guy. He may have been born a crime but he was not born a woman which is still considered a crime in South Africa, today. So you will listen when he says something.
Maybe he can make you laugh about it too. I haven’t found the humour in it, yet.