|Monday, 23 August 2010 18:00|
by Sifiso Mzobe
Young Blood is the story of Sipho, a seventeen-year old Umlazi dropout who hankers after the high life with fast cars, money and girls. He has sharp dreams, pretty much like his friend Musa. School just wasn’t his thing; the subjects simply didn’t seem to make sense. (Was he lazy, like adults always assume about teens who don’t shape up? Or maybe it was other issues - ADHD, or social problems. Whatever the reason, Sipho simply called it quits with school, and started hanging around, waiting until opportunity came his way.)
But the occasional job at his father’s backyard auto shop will not pay for the flash lifestyle that he sees being enjoyed by some township guys, and so Sipho is slowly enticed into a life of crime. He knows it’s a bad move – stupid, wrong. You name it. His mother, for instance, will be hectically disappointed, as she’s hoping he will sign on for motor mechanics at the local tech college. But studying? There’s too much he wants: the pimped cars, the friendly girls, plus his girlfriend’s matric dance is coming up and he needs cash . . . So Sipho, with his mechanical skills, gets drawn in to special deals with gangsters who steal and refurbish cars. (He’s also caught in a sticky situation when the Cold Hearts, a rival gang, tries to get him on board.) And then later, there are murky drug mule transactions going down. As the blurb on the front cover says, “In the real world, money talks. Money, cars and guns”.At first, it all seems so easy and glamorous, with the cash coming in thick and fast. His father, who has done time and has prison tattoos to prove it, tries to warn him against getting involved. At the same time, though, he confuses Sipho: on the one hand, he tells him not to believe in the man-made fairy tales of the jail numbers which equate with gang rankings, but on the other he says that “Notes are the tiny hands that spin this world around. The more of these tiny hands you have, the better your life will be”. Where does that leave Sipho? Messed up.
When it comes to character: Sipho is your classic young black South African boy becoming a man and trying to find his place in the world. Like most young men (don’t try to deny it), he wants a life filled with money and glitz. Unfortunately for him, this does not happen to poor black boys with the occasional job but he still tries to turn his dreams into reality. So here we see he is determined, which is not a bad trait. Yet when Musa tells him about stealing cars for quick and easy money, he believes him. Here we can see he is gullible and money is his downfall. While reading I also felt that Sipho would have earned the money some other way if he could have, and that he turned to crime only as a last resort. In my eyes, his preferable method of earning money would have been on the soccer field. But then again, that’s a dream shared by so many, that only the excellent can make it.
No surprise, things start to go very wrong in Sipho’s life. A friend dies in a failed hijacking – found in the back of a stolen car with his head blown out. But Sipho carries on, the lure of more money being too strong for him. I don’t want to be a spoiler, so let’s just say that near the end of the novel he gets. . .okay, it involves the police, bribery, more stolen cars, and more dead friends. In other words, Sipho learns the hard way about paying his dues to crime. Though that, of course, cannot be the end….and Mzobe has to battle a bit to come up with a satisfying conclusion.
But I really liked this book.
I enjoyed being able to relate to the settings, which range from townships like Umlazi to ritzy Umhlanga to the green suburb of Kloof. I also learnt something about life in the township: that even though there are rivalries, it also seems there’s a closely knit community. Word travels fast at the local hang out spots where booze and drugs are freely available for a price. In these communities every one knows who the heavy hitters are, and who pulled what job, though when the police raid comes, neighbours act as though they know nothing and protect each other.
Also, the language in the book is fitting for the primary township setting, as the writer uses slang that sounds like it would be used by gangsters. The language is also symbolic at certain times such as when the writer describes the clouds as “gun metal” grey which made me smile seeing as guns are a significant feature of the narrative.What is clearly conveyed, for me, is Sipho’s confused desperation, and the constant theme that money talks. Loudly. Sipho wanted to live the high life, and in the beginning that was all that mattered to him. But during the course of the novel he learns there are other important things - such as staying alive, for instance, learning with difficulty how to live poor, instead of dying young while trying to get rich.