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Book Extract: From boyhood to manhood - a masculinity memoir

Kabelo Chabalala with the boys from his Young Men Movement. Picture Facebook.

Kabelo Chabalala with the boys from his Young Men Movement. Picture Facebook.

Published May 22, 2022



In the end, the book serves to invite everyone to appreciate the complexities in what is otherwise an ordinary life. It may, on the surface, be about fatherlessness and hopelessness, but is equally about motherliness and sonship and extended family.

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If you were hoping to read a book romanticising village life, single-parenting or the clichéd village-boy-makes-good-in-the-city trope, you will be disappointed.

This here is an honest reflection of life without a father, in poverty and about being black, young, and rural in a world that seems to forget that South Africa has many faces and many voices crying out to be heard and listened to.

Book cover. Supplied image.


I wish I knew that my father’s absence was the greatest expression of his presence in my life. I was never going to look for him in other men or wish I could live with him nor have him back in my life.

It was during my first year of pre-school, as a four-year-old boy, that I recall leaving a maroon and white shack in Pankop, Waterkloof section, where my father lived. It is still there, even today, with the same colours, just worn out over the years. For most of my recollection, I can see myself leaving that place that housed me, but no memory of me returning to that house registers.

I have never even asked my mother why we left. A very big part of me is happy that I have no recollections of the reasons why we left. Such unpleasant occurrences can damage someone forever. I already had trauma piling up. It is what I grew up to know as childhood trauma in my adult life.

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I have always been close to my mother, and I think healthy anger started finding fertile ground to grow in my heart. Even though I don’t know what transpired between my father and mother, I know that it didn’t go well. This is because, for days and months and years to follow, I never saw him again.

It was later on, in my teenage years, that I grappled with the absence of my father. When I was in high school, I played football for my father’s former team, Young Chiefs Football Club. I was often likened to him or his style of play. I knew that he played football all his life, and he was a good soccer player.

I was comforted by the public knowledge that, indeed, he was my father. For the longest time, I thought people didn’t even know who my father was. But evidently, my paternity was not a secret. The older generation of men knew a lot about him. He lived the best parts of his youth in Pankop. He definitely made a lasting impression on the soccer field.

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When I was playing against the Young Chiefs FC, before joining them, the elderly players and the coaching staff of the team would not stop raving about him. They would say, “This is Big Moss’ son. You could tell by the way he handles the ball that he took after his father.”

This haunted me.

After we had thrashed them, they used my father’s name or history with their team to lure me to play for them. But my rage towards my father would not let me fall for such an enticement. I never voiced it out before them. I just smiled and left with the affirmation that he genetically gave me a gift that I was super proud of. When I was on the soccer field, nothing else mattered. Even dating was the last thing on my mind.

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I eventually joined the team. This was not about my father. I wanted to play games outside our village more. The Young Chiefs FC had great financial support. The men who played with my father and those who played after him would do anything to ensure that they continued the legacy of the club.

They convinced me that if I joined the club, they would buy me soccer boots of my choice. I was thrilled by this idea. Even so, I did not join them for this reason. I wanted to see if they could take my talent any further. My pride did not allow me to be bribed. With them buying me soccer boots, it meant I was signing a contract to be controlled by them.

I wanted to leave when I felt like the team was not serving my interests any longer. I wanted to enjoy my stay with them without any obligations.

After playing a few tournaments with them, I left. They were older, and some of them did not want to give us, the younger ones, an opportunity to play and prove ourselves on the field of play.

When I passed Grade 12 in 2008, I asked myself this question: Where is my father? I looked at the hopelessness of the situation at home. I asked myself if he was going to ensure that I found a place at a tertiary institution and whether he would pay for it. I wished that I could sit him down and tell him more about my ambitions to further my studies, but he was nowhere to be found.

When I came back to my senses, I would have another meeting with myself. I would stop wallowing in self-pity. If my father was really interested in my life or cared about me, he would have reached out at some point.

But he didn’t. He went on with his life without a care. In 2009, I fell into depression, although I only learned later that I was depressed. This was the year after I matriculated. I saw the dreams of a village boy crashing down. I was without hope, I was helpless, I was drowning in my fears, I was losing my sanity.

And nobody noticed my ailing self. That is not where it started. Halfway through 2008, I realised that school had been a hiding place for 12 years of my life. That was most of my life, practically. I did not have to face abject poverty at home 24 hours a day. I at least had a school for most of the day to keep me away from the realities of my life.

The feeding scheme programme ensured that one always had a full stomach. That is one of the things I really appreciate so much about our government. It was, and it still is, the best programme for kids in the rural areas and townships.

I was schooled for free. That is one of the other perks of a government school.

I was an average academic performer, and that was threatening my prospects of furthering my studies. The reality sank in slowly. I had to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I tried my best, I was not an A-student that would have scholarships and bursaries lining up for me when I completed my Matric.

In January 2009, I hustled. I did my best with the R250 I had from the festive season. I managed to get to Pretoria from Pankop, queued at the TUT (Tshwane University of Technology) Arcadia campus for NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) funding application. The queues were long and exhausting.

The faith to make it through was still intact, but time was not on my side. At 3:30pm, I was still outside and part of the first 20 people in the queue. The offices closed at 4:30pm, and they did not compromise on that. They did not care whether we woke up at 3am or we were using the last of our money to get to campus.

About the author

Kabelo Chabalala is the husband of Lesego Chabalala. He is the founder and senior mentor at the Young Men Movement (YMM), an organisation that focuses on the reconstruction of the socialisation of boys to create a new cohort of men in our society across the globe.

He is also a columnist for a daily newspaper. His column appears twice a month in the paper on Fridays. He is a feminist at heart and a proud mama’s boy. By profession, he is a PR specialist, writer and journalist.

A journey from boyhood to manhood is sel-published and printed and bound by Inspired Publishing. It costs R270. Email [email protected] or WhatsApp: 072 371 6266 for your copy.

The Saturday Star

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