A Walk ‘Down Second Avenue’ with Es’kia Mphahlele

I’ve been wanting to read this book for years, as Es’kia Mphahlele is well known as one of the most prolific figures in African writing and this particular title is a highly recommend classic. I finally got my hands on a copy and as a South African, knew from the beginning that I would enjoy this praised autobiography. The book made me long for a reread of Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy. Although the two books are twenty-seven publication years apart, each is a story about growing up in South Africa during the apartheid regime.

Mphahlele and his siblings are taken to the country at the age of five to go live with their paternal grandmother. (Remember Maya and her brother off to Stamps?) Later on his mother fetches them and they end up in Second Avenue, Marabastad in Pretoria.

The life in Maupaneng village is filled with stories of walking seven miles to school, bare-fist river fights, livestock, hare-hunting, story-telling at the communal fire, and the white sands of Leshoana River. In Marabastad they were in the slums. The people who had left the village for work in the city had described it as a glamorous place but where they lived was place far from glamorous, where there were long queues at the communal tap, thick smoke clouds from coal braziers in the yards, dirty yards, one room for a large family to sleep in, leaking iron roofs, and many other grim living conditions.

The marrow of the story, however, is the hideous face of apartheid and the lives of black people during that time through his lens, as a boy, throughout his growing up and as a man. The many characters in the book each give a picture of the various struggles of black people during those times, the violence, and the poverty, the hard work that didn’t have much reward, the sacrifices and most of all the fear of the white man. Mphahlele details his fears, his anxieties, and anger towards the system and the way white people had set it for their sole benefit.

There are children rummaging backyards for food, police officers who didn’t think twice when it came to violence towards young and old, the mothers who worked so hard washing clothes for white people and looking after their needs to make little money that went into the education of their children, and the hierarchy of who was better off than the other amongst blacks, Chinese, Coloureds and Indians, all under the whites. He also takes us through his literary journey and activism.

As a black South African, I was frustrated because of the familiarity of the events he shares, but I couldn’t stop reading it because even through the horrors and setbacks there is something encouraging about the way he kept on going. And it’s not just him but how Blacks at the time fought through those hard times, and still are.

Book Review: The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa

#Blessed

Bontle Tau is a fierce, beautiful, ambitious and street smart girl who uses her good looks and charm to secure a glamorous life from her blessers.

To keep the cash pouring in to maintain her lifestyle, she must maintain her physical appearance through beauty clinics and spas, be available when they want her and her heat button must always be ON. The expensive clothes, the penthouse in Sandton, VIP status in clubs, avalanche of expensive champagne, holiday trips and the luxury German machine she drives are all paid for by her looks and what she does with them.

She’s a not-so-academically-smart girl from Mamelodi with a dark family past and an unhealthy relationship with her ex, but she claims to be quite astute in what she calls MENcology. She’s also cunning and will go to great lengths for money and the things it buys. For a long time, she manages to maintain a sort of balance with more than two blessers and their demands.

The glamour starts to rust when the blesser she snatches from her friend enters her life, while her two other blessers have personal problems that wholly affect her opulent life. The family secret that’s long been buried comes out and her life takes on a chain of calamities.

The Blessed Girl delves deep into the blesser-blessee culture that appears so dazzling and desirable to many girls but has its downsides, much harsher for most than others. Through Bontle’s life, we see the depression, the drugs, and sacrifices that come into play in this kind of lifestyle. It also highlights the extreme things that young girls will do for this lifestyle when they don’t see any other option available.

There is also the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and it’s not just for the two parties, but also other blessees involved, as well as the spouses of these blessers. We also see how some families accept that kind of lifestyle because their daughters pay for that acceptance with money.

It’s a funny, simple and enjoyable read. If you’re South African or have been exposed to its culture you’ll enjoy it even better, because of the raw South African tone, lingo and characters. When I started the book, I felt the writing was dull and heavily laden with that South African attitude but as I went along I figured that it is part of the story’s makeup. It’s a very easy read, entertaining and insightful.

Title: The Blessed Girl

Author: Angela Makholwa

Published: Bloomsbury Publishing

Genre: General Fiction