Young Blood: an extract from Sifiso Mzobe’s novel
South Africa had been waiting for a novel like Young Blood when it won the coveted Sunday Times Fiction Prize in 2011. Community newspaper journalist Sifiso Mzobe set his debut novel in his hometown of Umlazi, Durban. It is a racy, fast-paced, stark narrative told from the side of the railway tracks where crime is part and parcel of everyday township life.
Narrated in the first person, this is the story of Sipho, a talented car mechanic working for his father until he gets sucked into the world of car hijackers at the age of 17. Although he has dropped out of school, he has a stable home. But honest work won’t bring him the kind of lifestyle and material rewards he wants …
Mzobe’s young characters inhabit an amoral world of thrills and spills, guns and violence, loose sex and a fixation with gangster bling ¬– “Musa rolled in a 325is that glided on seventeen-inch chromed BBS rims …” It’s a cautionary tale, sure to resonate with many young readers.
EXTRACT: Young Blood
For a car that breathes as freely as a BMW 325is, Durban’s West Street is best at night. It is empty, so the robots are there to be raced. The sky is pitch black, the streetlights a bright orange. The sound from the tailpipe reverberates off the buildings as if the high-rises, banks and chain stores have their own engines. I hit West Street a few minutes before seven. The 320 Building is where the city stands.
At night, there are suburban and township girls in equal numbers. The upper classes wait for daddy’s car to take them home; the hardcores for anything out of the city.
Musa was finished with business by the time I arrived at the 320. We tried to sweet-talk some girls, who would not give us the time of day. Locating Vusi was not a problem – everyone in the city knew him. We found him by the inconspicuous beaches beyond Willows and the Durban Country Club.
He was there with a crew of eight – five girls, three boys. His gestures and posture screamed township. They were sitting under a gazebo, highly weeded. A braai was in full flight, and there were two cooler boxes packed with liquor.
“Brothers, to what do I owe the pleasure? I guess I can never hide in this Durban,” said Vusi, flashing his gold grille. “We need to talk,” said Musa.
He did not have to add anything to entice Vusi into the 325is. The radio was switched off.
“I know both of you are serious about money. Well, here is a chance to make it. My friend… no, my brother, Sibani, told me about a hustle he has for me and two other people. What we’ll do is steal cars – real cars, six cylinders and above – change the tags, engine numbers and colour, and sell them. We’ll take them across borders if we have to. Sibani and I will raise the cash for paperwork and extras. All you two must do is get the cars.”
I had recently helped my father disconnect a troublesome anti-hijack system. Musa knew this. I had never stolen a car. Musa knew this too.
“I hear, Musa. I understand you, my brother. The problem is, I have never stolen a car before,” I said.
“It is not the hardest thing in the world, Sipho. Otherwise there would not be so many car thieves in the townships. The actual stealing is not complicated. Finding the heart to go steal is the hard part. You have to want to do it; that is the only way you will learn. Vusi, you are all quiet; what do you say?”
“I have been under a gang before, Musa. You know it is the runners that get less, even though they are the fire.”
“You have not heard the best part yet. When you bring us a car, we will pay you a few thousands – cash just to move around – but when we sell these cars, at just below the market value, half is for you two, the other half is for us.”
“Don’t be so quiet, Sipho. Say something,” Vusi said.
“I am thinking we should not ride these cars much. Digital odometers are hard to turn back, and mileage is what buyers look at most in cars,” I said. “In fact, we will drive them only when taking them to the buyers. Must I take this nodding of heads as a yes?”
Vusi and I nodded again.
“Sibani will give us the list in a few days. Business is over. Who are those chicks, Vusi?”
“Some suburban chicks we picked up at the 32o. There are some fly ones, though. You see this one…” That was how it went down. I heard it as I listened to the ocean. I did not even try to go against the tide. One girl rode me on the sand, so slow it seemed to never end. We smoked weed until sunrise.
Young Blood by Sifiso Mzobe
Review by Brent Meersman for GroundUp.
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