She looks up to actor, producer, Tyler Perry, and sees herself one-day writing captivating screenplays telling African stories like her idol.
She lives in one of the most dangerous townships in Johannesburg, but 18-year-old author Itumeleng Lebese sees beyond the high crime rate in Diepsloot.
She has been writing poetry and short stories since she was 10 years old.
And by the time she was 16, Itumeleng had already written her first book titled Trouble in Diepsloot. After finishing the 73-page crime novel, she sought out poet and author Tshepo Ramodise who guided her through the process of having her book published independently in 2019.
“When I finished writing the book, I had to research how to get it published,” she says.
“I was then assisted by Tshepo Ramodise, who edited my book and helped get it published.”
Supporting her dream was mom Caroline Lebese and grandparents Emily and Joseph Lebese who funded her first 100 books.
"My family helped to pay for the printing, while my mentor offered me guidance,” she says. Since then, Itumeleng’s book has been selling like hotcakes and getting orders from across the country.
“People have heard and read many reports about the crimes that happen in Diepsloot, but never experienced them through a novel,” she says.
Trouble in Diepsloot is told through the eyes of 16-year-old character Lerato who grows up witnessing violence, crime, and abuse in her neighbohood.
“The book was inspired by my own experiences and those of many people living in Diepsloot, but I used the fictional character of Lerato to tell the story,” she says.
Itumeleng wanted to tell her story and to teach her community about safety.
“At my age, I have already witnessed a murder, xenophobic attacks, mob justice, and robberies in Diepsloot and I wanted to share the trauma of growing up in a neighborhood so dangerous,” she adds.
Itumeleng fell in love with writing and languages at an early age.
At school, she always excelled in the English language and Sepedi. But she took her writing seriously after reading Mother to Mother, a novel by Sindiwe Magona which explores the South African legacy of apartheid through the eyes of a woman who recalls a life marked by oppression and injustice.
“I read that book more than five times,” Itumeleng says.
“Sindiwe Magona’s work inspires me to write stories that are relatable, give insight on historical events and have a lesson to teach,” she adds.
After getting her Grade 12 results Itumeleng she'll decide between studying Media Studies at the University of Johannesburg and film at The South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance (AFDA).
“As long as I live my dream of telling stories and being a creator, I will be happy,” she says.