Raw and appealing

2010-08-11 00:00

SIFISO Mzobe is a welcome new voice in South African writing. Here, with considerable panache, he lifts the lid on township life in Umlazi, focusing on the lives and frequent violent deaths of the young bloods, the township high school dropouts who are faced with a stark choice. You might be lucky and find a dead-end job: alternatively, you could earn obscene amounts of money in the criminal economy. It is a situation where poverty and the highest of high lives are cheek by jowl.

Mzobe’s father is a hard-working back-yard mechanic, and while Mzobe enjoys working on the cars, he’s never going to earn the kind of money or afford the kind of wheels some of his contemporaries flash around. And so, inevitably, he gets drawn into the life of the 21st-century teenager who has been, and will continue to be, let down by the wider society. Take away hope, take away self-respect; and the idea of living dangerously, making money and scoring with girls is irresistible.

The spiral from car theft, to violent hijacking and drug dealing moves fast. Mzobe offers readers graphic detail of a life that many of them might prefer to ignore, but that is nonetheless part of our society. There are traditional healers playing an ambivalent role; there are car thieves’ funerals where luxury cars are burnt over the grave. There is a pervasive feeling that justice and the law offer no refuge and therefore do not need to be considered. Perhaps the ending is rather an easy way out for the author and his central character, but there is a good deal of raw power here, and an easy, fluent writing style. I hope we will hear more of Mzobe.

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