"Endings and Beginnings" by Redi ThlabiI've just finished reading Redi Tlhabi's book "Endings and Beginnings" for which she won the 2013 Alon Paton award. When we lived in Johannesburg, I used to really enjoy her 702 morning talk show and so I was intrigued to find out more about her and the story she wrote.
I was very moved by the story of her as an 11 year old girl and what she experienced. Though she is younger than me, it made me very aware of how different her life as a young girl growing up in Soweto, Johannesburg was to mine. I also grew up in Johannesburg, but in the suburbs, not too far from where she lived. While there is the obvious difference of lack of resources and access to basic necessities such as proper housing, sanitation, running water and electricity, for me the stark difference was in what these children were exposed to at such a young age; violence, gangsters, the loss of innocence and the fear of walking home from school in case one was violated by thugs. My eldest daughter turns 11 this year, the same age Redi was when she talks about her life in Soweto and there is such a strong contrast in the two lives as well as that of my own. My big fears at that age were failing a test or exam and not doing well in my swimming competitions! My concerns for my girls are the same; doing well at school and sport; growing up to be responsible and emotionally intelligent adults and making sure they follow their dreams.
The book also begs of me the question, how can two such extreme societies and lives exist in the same town? How is that even remotely possible? How could my life coexist at the same time as these children and yet be so unbelievably different. How come I knew nothing about this? Sadly this was and still is the reality of South Africa and many places of the world today. Still, these extreme opposites exist in my world, the difference is that I am aware of it, but am not able to change it. My domestic worker and her family face the same fear returning home from work everyday, that Redi did as a young child returning home from school. Rape is such a common widespread crime in South Africa and sadly it is still the victim that bears the curse and brunt of it in their communities. It's insane. My domestic worker still today has no access to proper housing or ablution facilities yet she arrives every weekday to her job looking impeccable and brings such joy and laughter into my home. How she does it I don't know. She is a complete blessing to our family and I am so grateful to her, yet I cannot change her family and friends' circumstances.
The book also stirs in the me the discomfort of the ugliness of the world we live in and how that can even find a place in this world? While I totally agree with Redi's ideas about how the lack of love; how shame, ridicule and isolation feeds and grows these 'monsters' and how poorly women are viewed in our society, I still wonder at the universe and people and how all of this can happen.
Then underlying it all for me is truth. Had the truth been spoken and had people's truth been honoured and respected, this tragedy would not have happened. To me this is what underpins life; truth, to yourself and others. I really admire Redi for taking the courage to speak the truth of what lay in her heart.
Here is a video clip of an interview Redi did with the Mail & Guardian about her book.