Do you know who I am?

2011-08-20 09:50

‘Florah was 23 when she gave birth to Aida, but the young girl died as a toddler.

A couple of years later she fell pregnant again and Julius Sello Malema was born on 3 March 1981, sharing the same birthday as his mother.

Julius was two years old when Florah gave birth to her third child, Sarah, who was named after her grandmother. But like Aida, she too did not live to see her third birthday.

There are not many photos of Julius’s early childhood or of his siblings.

There is one of him and one of his sisters, posing with their grandmother. He was too young to remember it being taken, but it is one of his most cherished possessions.

There are a couple of others of him, and some more of his mother, but none of him and her together, no enduring visual proof of his immediate family.

That doesn’t hinder his memory of his mother or his feelings for her in any way. Julius speaks very fondly of her, and openly so.“She was always there.

Always. And I never had to compete for her affection. It was just me and her,” he says, one small unit in the larger Malema lot.

Florah had a very fiery character, which she got from her father and clearly passed on to her son.

And though Julius was the apple of his mother’s eye, she was never shy to reprimand him whenever he gave her occasion.“She could raise the roof, that one,” says her sister, Maropeng.

And whenever she did, Sarah would come to the young boy’s rescue.“Come to me, come to me,” his grandmother would tell him. And he would go running.

And so it was that he developed a deep love for the two women who watched out for him in life. His grandmother understood him and she would always stand by him, through thick and thin, both as a young boy and in later life.

And while he and his mother didn’t always see eye to eye, least of all on his hot-headed outlook on life, she was his number one and he hers.His eyes brim with emotion when he talks about the morning his mother died ...

He remembers how he had to pull himself together as the man of the house and organise her funeral . . . He was driving through Polokwane at the time, towards his house in Flora Park when it hit him like a bolt out of the blue. The tears came fast and furious.

“I couldn’t stop. I was screaming. I had to stop the car and pull over,” he remembers.

He had never known his father. His mother was now dead. And though he knew he could always count on his grandmother, he was on his own in life.

His then girlfriend – Maropeng – was heavily pregnant at the time and she gave birth to their son, Ratanang, two months after Florah died.

But in that brief period after his mother died and before his son was born, Julius felt empty for the first time in his life.

“I had never known emotional pain. Real pain. I had never known death so close.”

But he still had Sarah, a woman of whom he speaks in reverent tones and someone who plays such a big role in his life that she is one of the few who can call the young man to order.

» Extracts from pages 31-32, An Inconvenient Youth

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