THABISO MAHLAPE | There is more to Shebeshxt than meets the eye

People are complex and often a product of their upbringing

Shebeshxt was hospitalised after he was seriously injured in a car accident.
Shebeshxt was hospitalised after he was seriously injured in a car accident.
Image: Instagram/ Shebeshxt

There’s a moment in one’s career when something happens and they know with certainty the purpose of their work. For me, that moment was when I published Endings and Beginnings a story of healing by Redi Tlhabi.

I remember after we’d announced the publication people started saying it was just another vanity memoir publication. It wasn’t, in this book, Tlhabi details how at the age of 11 she met and befriended Mabegzo, a rumoured gangster, murderer and rapist.

Against her familys wishes, she developed a strong and sometimes uncomfortable friendship with him. As an adult, long after his demise and now armed with journalistic prowess, she went looking for the truth. What Redi uncovered was that he was a child born of gang rape.

He was stigmatised by neighbours and family alike and because of this, and in a quest to take charge, became the person society would fear. He created a reputation that would free him from mockery.

My work on this book as a publisher taught me why I am a black publisher. My job is to be a safe passage for books that allow black people to begin to look at themselves as a society, to see what we create. That any one person is a product of their immediate upbringing.

One of the things I tell all my authors is that no character is one-dimensional and that as a writer your job is to show a character in their entirety.

Before you get bored with my reminiscing, I am drawn back to this experience because of one of the trending subjects on social media for the past two weeks, Shebeshxt.

Shebeshxt, fondly referred to as “President ya ma 2000, was in a car accident that claimed the life of his young daughter. People have been polarised by this event, many saying that this happened as a result of reckless living and that he had no one but himself to blame. Other half saying that this is not the time.

I have gone down several rabbit holes since then in trying to understand who this young man is. And that is how my mind went back to Mabegzo. Is Shebesxt the modern Mabegzo? When a young boy turns out the way Shebeshxt did, is society to blame for who and what it breeds?

Luckily we do not have to ponder, he answers this question in one of the many interviews he has done. He speaks of the pain and hurt of him and others growing up without parental love, and says, “you see people like me who join gangs, that’s where we release our pain”.

Do people like him, whose notoriety is born from extreme vulnerability, not deserve redemption? I’d like to think so. Especially in this case where examples of love, generosity, kindness and humility are in full display. Shebeshxt, who redeems himself over and over, adored his child. One might say he channelled into that child all the love he never received and then some.

He has also gifted people everywhere around him. He is often seen slipping money into people’s hands. But perhaps my favourite part of him that I found was when someone asked him what he would do if he woke up as president, he said he would make sure that there were well-functioning libraries in townships because children must learn and they must go to school.

I am in no way dismissing the controversies around him, or excusing his often exhibited recklessness, but when you speak of him speak about ALL of him. As a society, we need to stop being a unit that allows more Mabegzos to be born.

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