Books

Suave charmer. Mum's the word


Born a Crime and Other Stories

By Trevor Noah

(Macmillan)

The real hero of Trevor Noah’s autobiography is his awe-inspiring mother. The nation is familiar with the suavity and sharp intelligence of Clever Trevor’s TV persona. His history of surviving disadvantage is a brave tale, not unique in the book of apartheid victims, but told with brio and a minimum of self-pity.

He does not speak for the doughty woman who bore him, but the facts of her riveting life and character are recorded eloquently. It is right and proper that he should have dedicated the book to her.  Who would have thought that she, who clawed dignity from a violent life, would produce the suave charmer of The Daily Show?

Her boy achieved fame as host of Comedy Central and featured on the cover of Time magazine. But his many accomplishments flowed from the fierce courage of a mother who, in addition to defying apartheid and rejecting traditional tribal female obedience, was actively determined to shape two new lives.

Who is the woman behind the man? She is a wonder. A modern woman who yanked herself up by nonexistent bootstraps when the constraints of the traditional obedient Xhosa female role became intolerable.

Trevor Noah describes his own struggle to rise from disadvantage to glamour. But his depiction of the battles of mother Patricia Nombuyisela  Noah is the stuff of heroism. Mind you, she did have Jesus on her side. No matter what pain the world inflicted on her, she never wavered in her faith. It gave her a radiant confidence which buoyed the young Trevor, despite  his eventual resistance to the endless hallelujah sermons of his childhood.

The Lord saw fit to test Mom’s steadfastness in ways which would have reduced lesser beings to cowering wrecks.

Trevor was created because his mother decided she needed someone to love unconditionally. Having made this majestic decision, she eventually succeeded in persuading a profoundly cautious Swiss neighbour to impregnate her. She made no further demands of the father. But he elected to be present in the boy’s life at a time when apartheid laws could have seen the trio in prison under the Immorality Act.

Trevor and friend

The campaign to educate Trevor was conducted with consistent fervour, despite the usual adolescent rebellion and some imaginative  boyhood mischief. Trevor survived and, as we know, prospered.

South Africa would have been a much happier and healthier land if the likes of Mrs Noah had been able to pour their energy, creativity and sheer guts into running senior social services government work. They would not have tolerated the wrong-headed defiance of the law and sheer incompetence that incubated the swamp of inexcusable delays and excuses that bred the Sassa disaster.

The final chapter of the book reads like a thriller, as Trevor records his mother’s miraculous survival following an appalling attack; her bullying drunkard ex-husband shot her in the head. This time, Jesus decided that she should live to triumph over adversity.

Patricia Nombuyisela Noah chose to pursue joy in life. She found it and she gave it. Trevor is a lucky boy.

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