Fred Khumalo is a proven storyteller with a couple of award-winning works of fiction. I read one of them earlier this year. However, it took the nostalgic memory of rereading this memoir for me to remember that I first encountered Fred Khumalo the journalist before Fred Khumalo the novelist. My introduction to his career was during his stint at ThisDay newspaper, hen ThisDay made a colourful but short splash in the South African media market. I read Touch My Blood a year after in 2006 and I enjoyed the breezy, honest and humourous style in which the memoir was written.
Over a decade later I found myself rereading Touch My Blood and I am reassured that it is indeed an insightful memoir. Fred Khumalo was born in 1966 and entered adulthood just as the vestige of apartheid was entering its final stages. Touch My Blood is an interesting coming of age memoir that traces Fred’s life from birth to his early thirties. It goes even further back to locate his ancestry and how the occurrences of the past shaped his ancestors and the role it played in shaping the man he became. In all of these, the current history of times is a side story but a powerful backdrop that shapes the decisions, biases and reactions of not just Fred Khumalo but the people around him. These are the days when Inkatha Freedom Party was on the loose in the KZN province of South Africa.
Fred Khumalo is shaped not just by the injustice of racial segregation that his grandfather had suffered but also by those he saw his own parents endure and those he experienced either on the campus of Technikon Natal and when he squatted with his aunty in Morningside. Looking closely and reading between the lines, the killings between UDF and Inkatha seemed to have had an even worse effect on Fred than apartheid did. While the former was a product of the later, the wanton violence that he witnessed around his surroundings seemed to have had a lasting effect that rightly led to that ball clenching incident in a bar far away in Toronto, Canada.
The story of Fred Khumalo as he tells it in Touch My Blood is not unique to him in the way that violence pervaded black South African townships and how it damaged young people psychologically, young people who have now become today’s adults and raising today’s children with a violent mindset. The trauma of living in such a violent culture that was often unprovoked and fatalistic, cannot be underrated. Touch My Blood is a product of Fred Khumalo’s honest introspection that was birthed after that ball clenching assault and one feels that most of Fred Khumalo’s contemporaries would do well to revisit the past as a therapeutic route to healing. On the downside, while apartheid and violence played a part in the environment that he grew up in, it still does not excuse some of the domestic violence that he seems to gloss over in the book. However, it may be harsh to knock him hard on that front as he could have told a more sanitized version of his childhood. He has opted for a sincere introspection of his early days, warts and all. The memoir is richer for it and one can only hope that a sequel encapsulating his later days is in the works.