Unit Two- African Revolution (20% of the course)saroj khanal
Copyright © 2016 by Trevor Noah
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC,
New York. SPI EG EL & GRAU and Design is a
registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in- Publication Data
Names: Noah, Trevor, author. Title: Born a crime: stories from a South
African childhood / by Trevor Noah.
Description: First edition. | New York : Spiegel & Grau, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016031399| ISBN
9780399588174 | ISBN 9780399590443 (international) | ISBN 9780399588181
Subjects: LCSH: Noah, Trevor | Comedians—United States—Biography. | Comedians—South Africa—Biography. |
Television personalities—United States— Biography.
Classification: LCC PN2287.N557 A3 2016 | DDC 791.4502/8092 [B]—dc23 LC
record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/ 2016031399
Ebook ISBN 9780399588181 spiegelandgrau.com
Book design by Susan Turner, adapted for ebook
Cover design: Greg Mollica
Cover image: Mark Stutzman, based on a photograph by Kwaku Alston (Trevor
Noah); Getty Images (background)
Cover Title Page Copyright Immorality Act, 1927
Part I Chapter 1: Run Chapter 2: Born a Crime Chapter 3: Trevor, Pray Chapter 4: Chameleon Chapter 5: The Second Girl
Chapter 6: Loopholes Chapter 7: Fufi Chapter 8: Robert
Part II Chapter 9: The Mulberry Tree Chapter 10: A Young Man’s Long,
Awkward, Occasionally Tragic, and Frequently Humiliating Education in Affairs of the Heart, Part I: Valentine’s Day
Chapter 11: Outsider Chapter 12: A Young Man’s Long,
Awkward, Occasionally Tragic, and Frequently Humiliating Education in Affairs of the
Heart, Part II: The Crush Chapter 13: Colorblind Chapter 14: A Young Man’s Long,
Awkward, Occasionally Tragic, and Frequently Humiliating Education in Affairs of the Heart, Part III: The Dance
Part III Chapter 15: Go Hitler! Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys Chapter 17: The World Doesn’t
Love You Chapter 18: My Mother’s Life
Acknowledgments About the Author
IMMORALITY ACT, 1927
To prohibit illicit carnal intercourse between
Europeans and natives and other acts in relation
B E IT ENACTED by the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, the Senate
and the House of Assembly of the Union of South Africa, as follows:—
1. Any European male who has illicit carnal intercourse with a native female, and any native male who has illicit carnal intercourse with a European female…shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.
2. Any native female who permits any European male to have illicit carnal intercourse with her and any European female who permits any native male to have illicit carnal intercourse with her shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding four years….
T h e geniu s of aparth eid was convincing people wh o were th e overwh elming majority to tu rn on each oth er. Apart h ate, is wh at it was. You separate people into grou ps and make th em h ate one anoth er so you can ru n th em all.
At th e time, black Sou th Africans ou tnu mbered wh ite Sou th Africans nearly five to one, yet we were divided into different tribes with different langu ages: Zu lu , Xh osa, Tswana, Soth o, Venda, Ndebele, Tsonga, Pedi, and more. Long before aparth eid existed th ese tribal factions clash ed and
warred with one anoth er. Th en wh ite ru le u sed th at animosity to divide and conqu er. All nonwh ites were systematically classified into variou s grou ps and su bgrou ps. Th en th ese grou ps were given differing levels of righ ts and privileges in order to keep th em at odds.
Perh aps th e starkest of th ese divisions was between Sou th Africa’s two dominant grou ps, th e Zu lu and th e Xh osa. Th e Zu lu man is known as th e warrior. He is prou d. He pu ts h is h ead down and figh ts. Wh en th e colonial armies invaded, th e Zu lu ch arged into battle with noth ing bu t spears and sh ields against men with gu ns. Th e Zu lu were slau gh tered by th e th ou sands, bu t th ey never stopped
figh ting. Th e Xh osa, on th e oth er h and, pride th emselves on being th e th inkers. My moth er is Xh osa. Nelson Mandela was Xh osa. Th e Xh osa waged a long war against th e wh ite man as well, bu t after experiencing th e fu tility of battle against a better-armed foe, many Xh osa ch iefs took a more nimble approach . “Th ese wh ite people are h ere wh eth er we like it or not,” th ey said. “Let’s see wh at tools th ey possess th at can be u sefu l to u s. I nstead of being resistant to English , let’s learn English . We’ll u nderstand wh at th e wh ite man is saying, and we can force h im to negotiate with u s.”
Th e Zu lu went to war with th e wh ite man. Th e Xh osa played ch ess with th e wh ite man. For a long time
neith er was particu larly su ccessfu l, and each blamed th e oth er for a problem neith er h ad created. Bitterness festered. For decades th ose feelings were h eld in ch eck by a common enemy. Th en aparth eid fell, Mandela walked free, and black Sou th Africa went to war with itself.
Sometimes in big Hollywood movies they’ll have these crazy chase scenes where somebody jumps or gets thrown from a moving car. The person hits the ground and rolls for a bit. Then they come to a stop and pop up and dust themselves off, like it was no big
deal. Whenever I see that I think, That’s rubbish. Getting thrown out of a moving car hurts way worse than that.
I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car. It happened on a Sunday. I know it was on a Sunday because we were coming home from church, and every Sunday in my childhood meant church. We never missed church. My mother was—and still is —a deeply religious woman. Very Christian. Like indigenous peoples around the world, black South Africans adopted the religion of our colonizers. By “adopt” I mean it was
forced on us. The white man was quite stern with the native. “You need to pray to Jesus,” he said. “Jesus will save you.” To which the native replied, “Well, we do need to be saved—saved from you, but that’s beside the point. So let’s give this Jesus thing a shot.”
My whole family is religious, but where my mother was Team Jesus all the way, my grandmother balanced her Christian faith with the traditional Xhosa beliefs she’d grown up with, communicating with the spirits of our ancestors. For a long time I didn’t understand why so many black people had
abandoned their indigenous faith for Christianity. But the more we went to church and the longer I sat in those pews the more I learned about how Christianity works: If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.
My childhood involved church, or some form of church, at least four nights a week. Tuesday night was the prayer meeting. Wednesday night was Bible study. Thursday
night was Youth church. Friday and Saturday we had off. (Time to sin!) Then on Sunday we went to church. Three churches, to be precise. The reason we went to three churches was because my mom said each church gave her something different. The first church offered jubilant praise of the Lord. The second church offered deep analysis of the scripture, which my mom loved. The third church offered passion and catharsis; it was a place where you truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit inside you. Completely by coincidence, as we moved back and forth between
these churches, I noticed that each one had its own distinct racial makeup: Jubilant church was mixed church. Analytical church was white church. And passionate, cathartic church, that was black church.
Mixed church was Rhema Bible Church. Rhema was one of those huge, supermodern, suburban megachurches. The pastor, Ray McCauley, was an ex-bodybuilder with a big smile and the personality of a cheerleader. Pastor Ray had competed in the 1974 Mr. Universe competition. He placed third. The winner that year was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Every week, Ray
would be up onstage working really hard to make Jesus cool. There was arena-style seating and a rock band jamming out with the latest Christian contemporary pop. Everyone sang along, and if you didn’t know the words that was okay because they were all right up there on the Jumbotron for you. It was Christian karaoke, basically. I always had a blast at mixed church.
White church was Rosebank Union in Sandton, a very white and wealthy part of Johannesburg. I loved white church because I didn’t actually have to go to the main service. My mom would go to that,
and I would go to the youth side, to Sunday school. In Sunday school we got to read cool stories. Noah and the flood was obviously a favorite; I had a personal stake there. But I also loved the stories about Moses parting the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath, Jesus whipping the money changers in the temple.
I grew up in a home with very little exposure to popular culture. Boyz II Men were not allowed in my mother’s house. Songs about some guy grinding on a girl all night long? No, no, no. That was forbidden. I’d hear the other kids at school singing “End of the Road,” and I’d
have no clue what was going on. I knew of these Boyz II Men, but I didn’t really know who they were. The only music I knew was from church: soaring, uplifting songs praising Jesus. It was the same with movies. My mom didn’t want my mind polluted by movies with sex and violence. So the Bible was my action movie. Samson was my superhero. He was my He-Man. A guy beating a thousand people to death with the jawbone of a donkey? That’s pretty badass. Eventually you get to Paul writing letters to the Ephesians and it loses the plot, but the Old Testament and
the Gospels? I could quote you anything from those pages, chapter and verse. There were Bible games and quizzes every week at white church, and I kicked everyone’s ass.
Then there was black church. There was always some kind of black church service going on somewhere, and we tried them all. In the township, that typically meant an outdoor, tent-revival-style church. We usually went to my grandmother’s church, an old- school Methodist congregation, five hundred African grannies in blue- and-white blouses, clutching their Bibles and patiently burning in the
hot African sun. Black church was rough, I won’t lie. No air- conditioning. No lyrics up on Jumbotrons. And it lasted forever, three or four hours at least, which confused me because white church was only like an hour—in and out, thanks for coming. But at black church I would sit there for what felt like an eternity, trying to figure out why time moved so slowly. Is it possible for time to actually stop? If so, why does it stop at black church and not at white church? I eventually decided black people needed more time with Jesus because we suffered more. “I’m
here to fill up on my blessings for the week,” my mother used to say. The more time we spent at church, she reckoned, the more blessings we accrued, like a Starbucks Rewards Card.
Black church had one saving grace. If I could make it to the third or fourth hour I’d get to watch the pastor cast demons out of people. People possessed by demons would start running up and down the aisles like madmen, screaming in tongues. The ushers would tackle them, like bouncers at a club, and hold them down for the pastor. The pastor would grab their heads and
violently shake them back and forth, shouting, “I cast out this spirit in the name of Jesus!” Some pastors were more violent than others, but what they all had in common was that they wouldn’t stop until the demon was gone and the congregant had gone limp and collapsed on the stage. The person had to fall. Because if he didn’t fall that meant the demon was powerful and the pastor needed to come at him even harder. You could be a linebacker in the NFL. Didn’t matter. That pastor was taking you down. Good Lord, that was fun.
Christian karaoke, badass
action stories, and violent faith healers—man, I loved church. The thing I didn’t love was the lengths we had to go to in order to get to church. It was an epic slog. We lived in Eden Park, a tiny suburb way outside Johannesburg. It took us an hour to get to white church, another forty-five minutes to get to mixed church, and another forty-five minutes to drive out to Soweto for black church. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, some Sundays we’d double back to white church for a special evening service. By the time we finally got home at night, I’d collapse into bed.
This particular Sunday, the Sunday I was hurled from a moving car, started out like any other Sunday. My mother woke me up, made me porridge for breakfast. I took my bath while she dressed my baby brother Andrew, who was nine months old. Then we went out to the driveway, but once we were finally all strapped in and ready to go, the car wouldn’t start. My mom had this ancient, broken-down, bright-tangerine Volkswagen Beetle that she picked up for next to nothing. The reason she got it for next to nothing was because it was always breaking down. To this day I
hate secondhand cars. Almost everything that’s ever gone wrong in my life I can trace back to a secondhand car. Secondhand cars made me get detention for being late for school. Secondhand cars left us hitchhiking on the side of the freeway. A secondhand car was also the reason my mom got married. If it hadn’t been for the Volkswagen that didn’t work, we never would have looked for the mechanic who became the husband who became the stepfather who became the man who tortured us for years and put a bullet in the back of my mother’s head—I’ll take the new car with the
warranty every time. As much as I loved church, the
idea of a nine-hour slog, from mixed church to white church to black church then doubling back to white church again, was just too much to contemplate. It was bad enough in a car, but taking public transport would be twice as long and twice as hard. When the Volkswagen refused to start, inside my head I was praying, Please say we’ll just stay home. Please say we’ll just stay home. Then I glanced over to see the determined look on my mother’s face, her jaw set, and I knew I had a long day ahead of me.
“Come,” she said. “We’re going to catch minibuses.”
My mother is as stubborn as she is religious. Once her mind’s made up, that’s it. Indeed, obstacles that would normally lead a person to change their plans, like a car breaking down, only made her more determined to forge ahead.
“It’s the Devil,” she said about the stalled car. “The Devil doesn’t want us to go to church. That’s why we’ve got to catch minibuses.”
Whenever I found myself up
against my mother’s faith-based obstinacy, I would try, as respectfully as possible, to counter with an opposing point of view.
“Or,” I said, “the Lord knows that today we shouldn’t go to church, which is why he made sure the car wouldn’t start, so that we stay at home as a family and take a day of rest, because even the Lord rested.”
“Ah, that’s the Devil talking, Trevor.”
“No, because Jesus is in control, and if Jesus is in control and we pray to Jesus, he would let the car start, but he hasn’t,
therefore—” “No, Trevor! Sometimes Jesus
puts obstacles in your way to see if you overcome them. Like Job. This could be a test.”
“Ah! Yes, Mom. But the test could be to see if we’re willing to accept what has happened and stay at home and praise Jesus for his wisdom.”
“No. That’s the Devil talking. Now go change your clothes.”
“But, Mom!” “Trevor! Sun’qhela!” Sun’qhela is a phrase with
many shades of meaning. It says
“don’t undermine me,” “don’t underestimate me,” and “just try me.” It’s a command and a threat, all at once. It’s a common thing for Xhosa parents to say to their kids. Any time I heard it I knew it meant the conversation was over, and if I uttered another word I was in for a hiding—what we call a spanking.
At the time, I attended a private Catholic school called Maryvale College. I was the champion of the Maryvale sports day every single year, and my mother won the moms’ trophy every single year. Why? Because she was always chasing me to kick my ass, and I
was always running not to get my ass kicked. Nobody ran like me and my mom. She wasn’t one of those “Come over here and get your hiding” type moms. She’d deliver it to you free of charge. She was a thrower, too. Whatever was next to her was coming at you. If it was something breakable, I had to catch it and put it down. If it broke, that would be my fault, too, and the ass- kicking would be that much worse. If she threw a vase at me, I’d have to catch it, put it down, and then run. In a split second, I’d have to think, Is it valuable? Yes. Is it breakable? Yes. Catch it, put it
down, now run. We had a very Tom and Jerry
relationship, me and my mom. She was the strict disciplinarian; I was naughty as shit. She would send me out to buy groceries, and I wouldn’t come right home because I’d be using the change from the milk and bread to play arcade games at the supermarket. I loved videogames. I was a master at Street Fighter. I could go forever on a single play. I’d drop a coin in, time would fly, and the next thing I knew there’d be a woman behind me with a belt. It was a race. I’d take off out the door and through the dusty streets of
Eden Park, clambering over walls, ducking through backyards. It was a normal thing in our neighborhood. Everybody knew: That Trevor child would come through like a bat out of hell, and his mom would be right there behind him. She could go at a full sprint in high heels, but if she really wanted to come after me she had this thing where she’d kick her shoes off while still going at top speed. She’d do this weird move with her ankles and the heels would go flying and she wouldn’t even miss a step. That’s when I knew, Okay, she’s in turbo mode now.
When I was little she always
caught me, but as I got older I got faster, and when speed failed her she’d use her wits. If I was about to get away she’d yell, “Stop! Thief!” She’d do this to her own child. In South Africa, nobody gets involved in other people’s business—unless it’s mob justice, and then everybody wants in. So she’d yell “Thief!” knowing it would bring the whole neighborhood out against me, and then I’d have strangers trying to grab me and tackle me, and I’d have to duck and dive and dodge them as well, all the while screaming, “I’m not a thief! I’m her son!”
The last thing I wanted to do
that Sunday morning was climb into some crowded minibus, but the second I heard my mom say sun’qhela I knew my fate was sealed. She gathered up Andrew and we climbed out of the Volkswagen and went out to try to catch a ride.
I was five years old, nearly six, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I remember seeing it on TV and everyone being happy. I didn’t know why we were happy, just that we were. I was aware of the fact that there was a thing called apartheid and it was ending and
that was a big deal, but I didn’t understand the intricacies of it.
What I do remember, what I will never forget, is the violence that followed. The triumph of democracy over apartheid is sometimes called the Bloodless Revolution. It is called that because very little white blood was spilled. Black blood ran in the streets.
As the apartheid regime fell, we knew that the black man was now going to rule. The question was, which black man? Spates of violence broke out between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC, the African National
Congress, as they jockeyed for power. The political dynamic between these two groups was very complicated, but the simplest way to understand it is as a proxy war between Zulu and Xhosa. The Inkatha was predominantly Zulu, very militant and very nationalistic. The ANC was a broad coalition encompassing many different tribes, but its leaders at the time were primarily Xhosa. Instead of uniting for peace they turned on one another, committing acts of unbelievable savagery. Massive riots broke out. Thousands of people were killed. Necklacing was
common. That’s where people would hold someone down and put a rubber tire over his torso, pinning his arms. Then they’d douse him with petrol and set him on fire and burn him alive. The ANC did it to Inkatha. Inkatha did it to the ANC. I saw one of those charred bodies on the side of the road one day on my way to school. In the evenings my mom and I would turn on our little black-and-white TV and watch the news. A dozen people killed. Fifty people killed. A hundred people killed.
Eden Park sat not far from the sprawling townships of the East
Rand, Thokoza and Katlehong, which were the sites of some of the most horrific Inkatha–ANC clashes. Once a month at least we’d drive home and the neighborhood would be on fire. Hundreds of rioters in the street. My mom would edge the car slowly through the crowds and around blockades made of flaming tires. Nothing burns like a tire—it rages with a fury you can’t imagine. As we drove past the burning blockades, it felt like we were inside an oven. I used to say to my mom, “I think Satan burns tires in Hell.”
Whenever the riots broke out, all our neighbors would wisely hole
up behind closed doors. But not my mom. She’d head straight out, and as we’d inch our way past the blockades, she’d give the rioters this look. Let me pass. I’m not involved in this shit. She was unwavering in the face of danger. That always amazed me. It didn’t matter that there was a war on our doorstep. She had things to do, places to be. It was the same stubbornness that kept her going to church despite a broken-down car. There could be five hundred rioters with a blockade of burning tires on the main road out of Eden Park, and my mother would say, “Get dressed. I’ve got to
go to work. You’ve got to go to school.”
“But aren’t you afraid?” I’d say. “There’s only one of you and there’s so many of them.”
“Honey, I’m not alone,” she’d say. “I’ve got all of Heaven’s angels behind me.”
“Well, it would be nice if we could see them,” I’d say. “Because I don’t think the rioters know they’re there.”
She’d tell me not to worry. She always came back to the phrase she lived by: “If God is with me, who can be against me?” She was never scared. Even when she should have
That carless Sunday we made our circuit of churches, ending up, as usual, at white church. When we walked out of Rosebank Union it was dark and we were alone. It had been an endless day of minibuses from mixed church to black church to white church, and I was exhausted. It was nine o’clock at least. In those days, with all the violence and riots going on, you did not want to be out that late at night. We were standing at the corner of Jellicoe Avenue and Oxford Road,
right in the heart of Johannesburg’s wealthy, white suburbia, and there were no minibuses. The streets were empty.
I so badly wanted to turn to my mom and say, “You see? This is why God wanted us to stay home.” But one look at the expression on her face, and I knew better than to speak. There were times I could talk smack to my mom—this was not one of them.
We waited and waited for a minibus to come by. Under apartheid the government provided no public transportation for blacks, but white people still needed us to
show up to mop their floors and clean their bathrooms. Necessity being the mother of invention, black people created their own transit system, an informal network of bus routes, controlled by private associations operating entirely outside the law. Because the minibus business was completely unregulated, it was basically organized crime. Different groups ran different routes, and they would fight over who controlled what. There was bribery and general shadiness that went on, a great deal of violence, and a lot of protection money paid to avoid violence. The
one thing you didn’t do was steal a route from a rival group. Drivers who stole routes would get killed. Being unregulated, minibuses were also very unreliable. When they came, they came. When they didn’t, they didn’t.
Standing outside Rosebank Union, I was literally falling asleep on my feet. Not a minibus in sight. Eventually my mother said, “Let’s hitchhike.” We walked and walked, and after what felt like an eternity, a car drove up and stopped. The driver offered us a ride, and we climbed in. We hadn’t gone ten feet when suddenly a minibus swerved
right in front of the car and cut us off.
A Zulu driver got out with an iwisa, a large, traditional Zulu weapon—a war club, basically. They’re used to smash people’s skulls in. Another guy, his crony, got out of the passenger side. They walked up to the driver’s side of the car we were in, grabbed the man who’d offered us a ride, pulled him out, and started shoving their clubs in his face. “Why are you stealing our customers? Why are you picking people up?”
It looked like they were going to kill this guy. I knew that
happened sometimes. My mom spoke up. “Hey, listen, he was just helping me. Leave him. We’ll ride with you. That’s what we wanted in the first place.” So we got out of the first car and climbed into the minibus.
We were the only passengers in the minibus. In addition to being violent gangsters, South African minibus drivers are notorious for complaining and haranguing passengers as they drive. This driver was a particularly angry one. As we rode along, he started lecturing my mother about being in a car with a man who was not her husband. My
mother didn’t suffer lectures from strange men. She told him to mind his own business, and when he heard her speaking in Xhosa, that really set him off. The stereotypes of Zulu and Xhosa women were as ingrained as those of the men. Zulu women were well-behaved and dutiful. Xhosa women were promiscuous and unfaithful. And here was my mother, his tribal enemy, a Xhosa woman alone with two small children—one of them a mixed child, no less. Not just a whore but a whore who sleeps with white men. “Oh, you’re a Xhosa,” he said. “That explains it. Climbing
into strange men’s cars. Disgusting woman.”
My mom kept telling him off and he kept calling her names, yelling at her from the front seat, wagging his finger in the rearview mirror and growing more and more menacing until finally he said, “That’s the problem with you Xhosa women. You’re all sluts—and tonight you’re going to learn your lesson.”
He sped off. He was driving fast, and he wasn’t stopping, only slowing down to check for traffic at the intersections before speeding through. Death was never far away
from anybody back then. At that point my mother could be raped. We could be killed. These were all viable options. I didn’t fully comprehend the danger we were in at the moment; I was so tired that I just wanted to sleep. Plus my mom stayed very calm. She didn’t panic, so I didn’t know to panic. She just kept trying to reason with him.
“I’m sorry if we’ve upset you, bhuti. You can just let us out here —”
“No.” “Really, it’s fine. We can just
He raced along Oxford Road, the lanes empty, no other cars out. I was sitting closest to the minibus’s sliding door. My mother sat next to me, holding baby Andrew. She looked out the window at the passing road and then leaned over to me and whispered, “Trevor, when he slows down at the next intersection, I’m going to open the door and we’re going to jump.”
I didn’t hear a …