Reviewed by: Katlego Kganyago
Boy On The Run is one of the most authentic tell-all autobiographies I have ever read in my life. I predict that Boy On The Run will be nominated for a K. Sello Duiker Award because it is a work of genius that channels brave queer authors, some call it intertextuality. The memoir took me on a journey of recovery from heartbreak, overcoming grief and going after one’s dreams passionately. What makes the book stand out is that it captures the linguistic, economic and architectural diversity of Tshwane, a city I was born and bred in. Mandla relishes the readers with Spitori basics (a popular lingo that is spoken by Tshwane residents) and also switches the dialogue in TshiVenda, IsiZulu and kills it with the Queen’s.
Mandla wrote meticulously about places that I resonate with as a queer man navigating my identity in Soshanguve Block M (where I live), Block K (where I was born and completed my high school studies at) and Block JJ (where my spirit family and best friends are based). Mandla brilliantly documented parallel experiences that we have been through like the Cape Town accommodation drama (expensive city living), making life-long friends far from home and searching for the significant other as gay men.
One of the greatest themes I love in Boy On The Run is the mother-son bond that Mandla writes so exquisitely about. I believe that Mandla wrote one of the most compelling stories about the love between a mother and her son. I had the honour to be in conversation with Mandla at the book launch ekasi (at Soshanguve Library in Block BB) and it was one of the most liberating/ victorious events in my life. “I wanted to write about the pure love and friendship between my mother and me, because I hardly saw anyone write about that,” Mandla states bravely.
The tragic passing of Mandla’s wonderful and intelligent mother, Fundzani when he was younger is the inciting incident of the memoir and you really feel the psychological anguish he had to endure. If it were not for the love/ support of his aunt, family and friends we would not have this beautiful offering. If it were not for the self-love affirmations Mandla teaches us in the book, we would not have known how grief affects queer children. I know several people who have suffered depression and died because of grief, especially the loss of a mother.
Grooming black boy’s hair unapologetically in the edifice of Apartheid was a taboo, the legacy was that a boy child must rock a chiskop or ‘neatly-trimmed hair.’ It still permeates in post-democratic South Africa where black pupils are policed for their hairstyles. Fundzani was opposed to this notion, and made sure that Mandla embraces whatever hairdo he desires. This is seen in the captivating opening line: “She never had a garden, but she sure tended to my hair like it was her own bed of roses.” I wish more parents could learn a thing or two to embrace the crowns of their beautiful black children and not antagonise their form of expression. One of the most charming scenes in the book is where Mandla recalls the s-curl cut he became popular for during schooling years, and landed him as prefect at times, together with his passion for reading and revering teachers.
Mandla also takes you on a roller-coaster ride of becoming a responsible creative in South Africa: how you have to persevere when dealing with late payments from clients, coping with under-payments and all the jazz of juggling gigs to stay afloat which is one of my take-aways. “As a freelance creative and writer, you have to treat yourself as a business and keep maintaining relationships with previous employers.” Mandla gave us tips at the launch on how to make it in the creative industries.
I consider Mandla as a national treasure and I emphasised that during our conversations because he actively contributed to the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements during his varsity days whilst pursuing his Master’s Degree in Journalism. He could have had the luxury to just focus on his studies like some of his counterparts, but Mandla and his SRC comrades sacrificed their lives so that the movement could take centre-stage.
The book ends on a victorious note where Mandla attends a ballroom event with his beloved friends. He is dressed like a superstar queen and as a reader, you feel like you are watching a continuation of the iconic queer series Pose. In that scene, Mandla gives us a taste of what it is like to be comfortable in one’s skin, embrace the divine feminine energy we all possess and let it take over. In those uplifting moments, you learn that Mandla has learnt to channel his lovely mother’s spirit and he is ready to let Fundzani experience the world through his eyes, body and soul. This is a life-changing memoir I will never forget. A huge thanks to Fundzani for giving us a powerful force to be reckoned with: Welcome Mandla Lishivha.