If you only have a short time with someone like the constantly rising and seemingly roaring into the stratosphere Redi Tlhabi, it’s more difficult to consider what to leave out than what to focus on.
Having just read her first book, Endings Beginnings A Story of Healing (Jacana), I was keen to speak to this prolific journalist/ author/talkshow host on her choices. It’s an unusual book, but it’s clear this citizen with a conscience is driven much more by the people out there suffering than by her own modus operandi.
She says she was initially pushed to write by the noise in her head.
“Who was this criminal who was also so loving towards me?”
She wasn’t intending to write a book, she wanted answers for herself and that only changed during the writing of her story.
Redi (pictured) was only 11 years old when she was approached and befriended by Mabegzo, a rumoured gangster. He made her feel safe and took away the constant fear of being raped by others as she knew he would protect her.
Following his death and all these years later, she remained curious about this man who most in her neighbourhood knew for his evil rather than his good, which was the side she was exposed to.
But as you read the book, the question she doesn’t answer is why he felt the way he did about her. This young girl constantly fearing her surroundings and being threatened by especially one bully was relieved when someone whom others seemed to be afraid of became her protector.
That’s why she confided in him.
What was his attraction about?
It’s what I set out to answer for myself,” she says when I ask, “but I don’t, do I?”
Shaking my head, we realise she has rolled over and discovered richer and more rewarding issues perhaps, something I assume is the Redi way and why she first caught my attention. Listening to just some of her morning shows on 702, I’m constantly energised by her responses and the way she tackles issues. No one gets away and whether you agree on some and not on other issues, she’s fair.
She’s also an emerging, young, black female voice in a field where this is not a common feature.
But all those things are of short shrift if she doesn’t deliver – which she does in spades.
It seems she just has to decide on something and it happens. Her wisdom defies her youth.
“I don’t think of myself like that,” she says, not humbly, that’s not who she is, yet honestly. She muses perhaps because she spent so much time in the company of older people, it gave her more gravitas than some.
She was nine when she saw her father die and things changed.
“I grew impatient with giggly girls,” she says.
She always knew life was serious and there was little time to play. “I must be serious,” was her mantra.
She was also a young girl who feared she would be raped – every day walking to school and back.
“I still am,” says Redi and for many of us that’s shocking to hear. As a fellow South African, that’s not my experience.
Yet in a country like ours with the frightening rape statistics, it’s going to affect some in a different way depending on your life experience, where you grow up, how rape is viewed and dealt with in your environment, which is exactly what she writes about.
Her story takes a very different path to the one she set out to write. Like director/playwright Lara Foot did with Tshepang when she investigated the rape of a six-month-old baby, Redi went in search of the roots of her story.
How does it happen? Why do people do such unspeakable things? She investigates this young boy’s life, hence the title Endings and Beginnings. It’s exactly what she had, the ending, now she wanted to see what she would discover if she found the beginning.
It’s a scorching story even if it makes your flesh crawl because it draws back the covers on an issue that should be redressed radically so that people who have been victimised can reclaim their lives.
“I’m proud that I wrote this story on my terms,” she says.
That’s exactly who she is, someone who tackles life on her terms. She will do things for others she deems important, but she’s not someone who can be pushed around.
As she is flying across the country in between interviews to launch her book, presenting her daily radio show, something she’s passionate about. Redi also started a new global talk show on Al Jazeera this past Friday. “I’m quite terrified,” she says. “This is HUGE!”
And yet, she wasn’t sure if she should take it when first approached.
“When?” is what she asked her husband Brian. But he pushed her and pointed out she couldn’t not go for this one. An African from the soil to the soul, Redi is pleased that this programme will focus on our continent.
“Our voices have to be heard,” she says. Not just the sad stories, but people, sometimes small people, who make a difference in others’ lives.
“We have amazing people who we never hear or read about,” she says.
It is especially on those they wish to shine a spotlight.
But the Sibongile Khumalos, Arundhati Roys and such folk will also be featured.
Much as she is about to be feted by the rest of the world, this young South African wouldn’t know how to work if she should leave this country.
“There’s too much to do here,” she says. “I don’t want to be arrogant about being a role model, but if, as I am told, I am one, I take that role extremely seriously.”
These are still early days for this young South African. Watch out for her, she might be small in stature, but she has a knockout punch. Read her book, listen to her radio show and watch her latest TV appearance.
Many feel she has a voice worth listening to. And she has only just started talking ...
• DStv 406, TopTV 401, titled South 2 North and started this past Friday at 9.30pm. But check the schedules for repeats and watch the next programme on Friday, same time and place.