Inspiring story of a whistle-blower

Book: The Choice: The Gayton McKenzie Story

Book: The Choice: The Gayton McKenzie Story

Author: Charles Cilliers

Publisher: X-Concepts Books

Reviewer: Mzi Oliphant

At the age of five, Gayton McKenzie witnessed a murder. When he was six he stole for the first time. When he was nine he saw a neighbour being stabbed to death. And at 12 he could dismantle and assemble a gun with ease.

The Choice: The Gayton McKenzie Story, as told to Charles Cilliers, is a tale of the challenges McKenzie faced in a gang-infested society and the choices he made that eventually lead to his life in prison.

This is the story of the man who, with three other inmates, opened up a can of worms by exposing the gross corruption of the authorities at the Grootvlei Prison in the Free State.

Arguably the biggest prison scandal in the world, the expose led to a nationwide probe by the Jali Commission and the rolling of several heads.

The Choice is the story of a man who, though he started off well enough as the son of solid, hard-working parents, was soon drawn into the world of gangsters where he rose through the ranks to become a feared gang chief.

But witnessing 20 men raping a young man in jail altered the course of his life.

In a country with rampant crime, Mackenzie's story brings hope and a will to deal with the causes rather than the symptoms of the scourge of crime.

Without being too crude, the book makes a deep examination of the horrors of rape, pimping and prostitution behind bars.

McKenzie's narration gives an insight into how criminals are transmogrified into animals. It also advises youngsters who glorify crime to look elsewhere for heroes and heroines.

This former convict believes that it only takes those who hate something to speak out about it. He says that all the wardens in Grootvlei could see the corruption, but that it was up to the prisoners to expose it.

When the scandal blew up on national television, Linda Mti, the then national commissioner of correctional services, said that this was South Africa, not Hollywood, because all the evidence had been recorded on video.

But video or not, 22 wardens were axed and Mti is now under investigation.

Above all, it is McKenzie's transformation to become a motivational speaker who aims to deter youth from falling prey to crime and violence that gives The Choice the edge.

The book reaches out to the reader's conscience as to why everyone deserves a second chance - a vivid example of this being that of Mackenzie who, with the support he received, overcame the stigma of being labelled a thug and continues to save lives to this day.

It's not just a coincidence that Oscar-winning actor Jamie Fox has agreed to play McKenzie in the upcoming movie of the book.

To parents who read this book, pass it on to your boys and girls, it will surely inspire them.