A talented God-fearing girl grows up amid the flurry of bullets. She’s left to ‘mother’ her younger sister as the real mom goes out to work to eke out a living and put food on the table. The violence gets too close for comfort and the concerned mother shunts her brood off to the bundus for safe-keeping and uninterrupted schooling. Life in the sticks is a drab for the child star in the making; she wants the city lights.
In time she returns thinking she’d turned her back forever on the rural life. Unbeknownst to her, this is where she’d return – over and over again – to seek sanctuary from the ravages of city living. To escape her dirt poor background, she’s imbued with a magical voice that can take her – and her folk, to the heavens of the secular world. She hitches a ride to her first auditions in a garbage truck. After almost a year of belting out gospel tunes, she misses out on the crown by just a meager vote. She is shattered. Years later, thanks to her Go-given talents, the door of stardom opens up a crack and she not only steps in one foot at a time, she heaves into wide open. She makes it, the audiences where she sings eats out of her hands each time.
Things are looking up. She sings; she acts. She’s a darling. But like all of humanity, she has an Achilles heel – her [near] promiscuity. She kisses all sorts of frogs and even the knight in shining armor, who comes finally walks majestically into her life, is everything but. He’s a junkie, the famous son of an infamous mother who once lied to Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton that she helped turn around the lives of young drug addicts in Soweto. She buys him a top-of-the-range Mini Cooper to release his grip on her Hummer. What he does instead with the shiny wheels is plough into schoolboys at a drug-induced breakneck speed, killing some and maiming others. The only good out of their stormy relationship is the beautiful child he sires with her. The boy child inherits the charming good looks of the bad-boy father as if to punish the mother for her gullibility. The druggie and his co-accused are punished severely for cutting short the promising lives of the scholars and reducing others to virtual cabbages.
This is the material that was at the disposal of Melinda Ferguson when she sat down to write singer Kelly Khumalo’s life story. A published author and feature writer who understood the subject of drugs and addiction well, this was tantamount to a child being let loose in a toy shop.
But whatever ‘reviews’ The Kelly Khumalo Story garners or has garnered, adjectives such as ‘gripping’ and the clichéd ‘unputdownable’ ought not be used.
Published by Jacana Media in 2013, The Kelly Khumalo Story by Melinda Ferguson with Sarah Setlaelo should rightly have been The Melinda Ferguson and Sarah Setlaelo Stories Paraded As A Biography Of Kelly Khumalo. Ferguson and Setlaelo are telling their own stories at Khumalo’s expense. This is the only book perhaps, unless Jub Jub pens his prison memoirs, where we should have been taken behind the bedroom door for a tete-a-tete between Mama Jackie and Kelly over the scourge of drugs and how they scar lives.
The book was a missed opportunity at striking a big blow against drug abuse in the same week as Molemo Jub Jub Maarohanye, the bane of Kelly’s life, was sentenced to a hefty prison term for the schoolboy murders.
With the curtain finally drawn on the Jub Jub murder trial on Wednesday, The Kelly Khumalo Story could have been compulsory reading for our youth – and their long-suffering parents – who are battling Nyaope and coke.
The author learns very late – 24 pages before the end of the book, that ‘this is not my story’ (page 229)
At this tail-end of the story, it is late, the brain wave doesn’t help the reader who is virtually about to close the book and get off the couch. We know more about the Fergusons than the Khumalos.
The author says the Kelly Khumalo story is the songstress’ own, that as a biographer it was not hers to control, force or mold. But the outcome tells you she did exactly what she vowed not to do. She writes that “it is her journey and I’m just the watcher, the bystander” and adds that she’s merely “the one who is writing it down”.
She does not succeed because she becomes, in popular parlance, both a referee and a player at the same time. To counter this jarring anomaly, it is for this reason that journalism distinguishes clearly between the interviewer and interviewee. The trouble with this book is that the reader is left with the uncanny feeling that the author was intent on making this a trilogy of sorts after her own snorting memoirs, Smacked and Hooked, both of which were good books. Perhaps Ferguson should have persisted in writing about former beauty queen and now businesswoman Bassie Kumalo. With Kelly and her plight, it was a subject that resonated too much with her not to be subjective. The biographer loses the plot when s/he declares a la Ferguson: “I know how hard it is; I have been there, I know.”
A better book is one where it would be the subject of the interview saying this, not the interviewer, the “bystander”.
She grew up dirt poor. Her petulance was, strangely, the result of a difficult childhood, not affluence. She’d abandon her folk – leave home of her own volition but come back expecting to be asked where she’d gone off to. If her mother didn’t ask, it meant to Kelly that she didn’t care. Her wish to ‘get away from my family’ has always reigned supreme in her head. By her own admission, she’d always seen her music as ‘this ticket out of my situation’.
A prima-donna from the wrong side of the tracks, complete with little formal education!
Who says the dumps could not have their own royalty?
The process of writing the book, especially unburdening on the empathetic author and the part-of-the-deal sessions at Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have ben cathartic for Kelly. When and how will Jub Jub heal? Rehabilitation in the sense of the South African penal system is not covered in glory given the number of repeat offenders who speedily return inside hardly before the ink on their parole slips dry.
But seeing that he will now have ample time on his hands – 24 years’ worth of time – Step 1 of the fallen hip-hop star’s healing would be to learn from Kelly – by reading this book, again and again until he can open the vein behind bars and pen his own.
That achieved, the fight against drugs would have suffered a serious pounding. www.makatilemedia.com