A touching and remarkable book

Welcome to Joburg are the words a newcomer is likely to hear when they become a victim of crime in the infamous City of Gold.

Welcome to Joburg are the words a newcomer is likely to hear when they become a victim of crime in the infamous City of Gold.

Mugging or similar unfortunate incidents are regarded as rites of passage. If you can survive them in any of the big cities, then you can survive anything, country bumpkins are told.

Thembelani Ngenelwa was certain he was going to meet his maker when he was shot nine times and left for dead on a railway line in Germiston in October 2003.

Bleeding from multiple wounds and in pain, he miraculously escaped being mangled by a train by dragging himself to safety.

This was just one of many obstacles Ngenelwa overcame on the night he and his friends were attacked by ruthless criminals.

He chillingly recounts minute details of his ordeal, from the clothes his assailants wore to his thoughts as the bullets penetrated his body. As a result, just about every paragraph is littered with the phrase, "I was sure I was going to die".

Paying so much attention to detail can be unsettling and tedious, but handled properly it also keeps the reader glued to the narrative.

It makes one want to know how Ngenelwa survived one minute to the next and what he was thinking at the time.

Ngenelwa endures weeks in hospital and finally finds out that his friends escaped the ordeal unscathed but riddled with guilt at not having been able to save him.

His biggest trial, however, was not surviving the physical injuries but accepting that he might never find out why his assailant had chosen him to suffer such abuse.

Ngenelwa survives through optimism and by accepting that what happened to him was "God's will". It takes him on a path of spiritual growth.

The book, previously published in English as The Day I Died , includes expert commentary on post-traumatic stress disorder and details on where to get help.

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