CityLife Arts

BERATING PUBLISHER OF SOARING AUTOBIOGRAPHY

By Jojokhala Mei

When I first saw the black, blue and red typeface and cover sketch of VOICES OF JESUS & ANCESTORS (2019 edition) I instinctively thought it must be the longest testimony from a Brazilian prosperity church famous for collecting tithes in SA. 

A few days before on a Joburg pavement I’d teased a lady for carrying a stack of new books, and within a beat she’d pushed the church’s founding Bishop’s long testimony into my hands. I was taken aback, because I’m used to the church’s brief and newsletters.  Since then I’ve never found the energy to read it.

So what did another of these books want in my hands? Convalescing in a hospital bed for 3 months my baby sister gifted me book1, book2, and even book3 of the International bestseller CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD by the American Neal Walsch. But I only had the stamina to read book one. It lacked the grit of a political thriller, even disguised as the autobiography of celebrity boxer Muhammad Ali, or THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X with the assistance of Alex Hailey. 

But the back cover of VOICES OF JESUS & THE ANCESTORS, plus the Foreword and Preface tantalized that Ms Ole Makgedelisa writes in the rarified space of conflicts of faith like Cape Town novelist Rayda Jacob’s racey CONFESSIONS OF A GAMBLER, hiding behind religious fundamentalism.

 Her Preface start is frankly: ‘My dearly departed mother Keatlaretse Rebecca Makgeledisa propelled me to tell this story.’ But Samaria Senne’s Foreword sees the three fingers pointing right back at her: ‘When ssomeone says they hear voices in their heads, we tend to react differently. … Those who are born-again attribute the voices to demon possession, with affected person swiftly exercised. … Then there those who dismiss those who hear voices as crazy.’

 Makgeledisa’s nightmare is the ambitious and upwardly mobile woman she is who must beat all the odds of child rape, abuse, possesion by angry ancestral spirits, brutal alcoholism, throwing herself into the grip of satanic men, spiralling family murders, rabid North West platteland rural AWB racism, dream-like rape again, the grip of so-called black tax, you name it.

Comic relief, true family love and small breakthroughs are generously sprinkled along the read like revelations and her mother’s looming spirit.

However, the autobiography makes an articulately gripping but fatal start, with eight year old Ole, as everyone calls her, is immersed in what she calls ‘a service unlike any other church service. It’s more a cult than a church really.’

 I soon baulked at Ole’s maturity, and quickly rage at  the adult Makgeledisa’s storytelling voice imposed on the child’s voice. I yearn for a genuine voice like the equally young boy watching the body of a universally despised South American patriach who hanged himself in master toryteller Gabriel Garcia Maquez’ novella called LEAF STORM.  The boy observes: ‘I always thought that dead people should have hats on. Now I can see that they shouldn’t.’

Now contrast this with the child Ole confessing: ‘I am a troubled child. ‘There is something inside me. A deep, dark malevolence.’  

Common on Ole, it is eloquent but not incisively childish. I should know. The child in me has observed horror when at 7 years I was shipped off to do Standard 1 at a concentration camp disguised as a Catholic boarding school for Africans in the Libode district of the Transkei.

Yes this is Makgeledisa’s first ever novel; but so was Marquez only 19 years when he gracefully grabbed the reading world by the throat and dragged it halfway across town.

All would be fine for me if the publisher simply cut and pasted chapter one after the second chapter; and done a professional proof-reading job. I see online there was a 2016 first edition.

Allow us to meet the younger innocent Ole for the first time at home in chapter 2, even if it iturns out to be a cesspot of domestic alcoholic violence. The writer’s mastery of images and emotion deserve it. Her world is as real, as a Joburg-to-Kimberley lift once showed me on irritating detours into the sprawling spiritual squalor of every North West township in between. 

Ole Makgeledisa is a dangerously talented writer to watch out for; if only she was not an accomplished technical graduate who is  now an eNCA technical director who won’t resist long the temptation to indulge us in a visual documentary.

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