Review: Zenzele – Young, Gifted and Free

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Zenzele.jpgAuthor: Sandile Memela

Besides The Price by Niccollo Machiaveli – which, if read subjectively, is easily identifiable as one itself – I have never been fond of reading self-help books. I have always detested how the authors of such books ignore the intersectional and subjective nature of the struggles and problems that people face; suggesting that all the problems of the world can and are solvable only if the reader follows a formula that they (the author) have been blessed enough to have in their possession and have conveniently penned down for the benefit of the reader and the world at large. After being labeled a lost generation for many years, many such books have been written for the benefit and consumption of the incorrectly appellated South Africa ‘born-frees’; and ‘Zenzele: Young, Gifted and Free’ by Sandile Memela is one such book.

Penned by one of South Africa’s most outspoken and critical writers, cultural critics and civil servants – and said by the author himself to be inspired by, and have its contents anchored in, the Black Consciousness ideology; culminating from ‘ a thought process that began in 1986’ – ‘Zenzele: Young, Gifted and Free’ is a seven chapter book by Sandile Memele in which he delves into is idea of how young people can adopt a new mindset about the struggles they face; and how they can make efforts to step towards using the power of their minds to ‘lose the apartheid baggage and to begin the journey from passive victimhood to being a full human being.’ Now, being a follower of the Black Consciousness Movement and strong believer in the teaching of more young Black people about its ideology, the prospects of coming across and reading a book written for the Black South African youth, which is inspired by, and has its contents anchored in the Black Consciousness ideology got me very exited; notwithstanding my knowledge of it being a self-help book from the onset.

The book is a compelling read in which, to deliver his message and lessons for the youth, the author uses his personal encounters with successful Black people (both young and old) during his time as a journalist and after and draws from their stories lessons about taking on a positive mental attitude that he wishes to impart and deposit into the mind of the reader. As a consequence – and philosophically embedded in the thread that keeps the book together – the lesson about the importance of the changing of the mental attitude of all young Black people who seek to accomplish anything in life transcends through every chapter of the book and keeps the reader engaged at all times. The author writes extensively about how within the attitudes of all the successful Black people he has ever come across there is s not-a-victim-of-my-past-and-circumstances mentality that they have used to find solutions for their problems and transcend to the apex of success in their respective fields.

But, like most self-help books, the book has its own faults.

The author, following a similar route as every other author of a self-help book, also ignores the intersectional and subjective nature of the struggles that the post independent black youth of South Africa have to face. He ignores that even though, generally speaking, every young black person faces the struggle for a better education and economic emancipation, a combination of their individual economic and social background; level of education; access to resources; gender; sexuality and many other factors contributes to each one of their struggles: and that because each and every one of their combinations is different from the next – in both the intensity and variation – a single solution would never work for all of them.

The author’s implication that the post-apartheid Black youth of South Africa have no business blaming apartheid for their struggles, and that the onus is on them and them alone to find a way out of these struggles suggest a sort of ignorance that the author has taken towards the structural and economic barriers – buriers that are still prevalent and functional today – that were put up to hinder the success of all Black people by the very apartheid system he is asking them to not blame. The author, drawing from his own personal experiences of overcoming hardships and becoming a success in life, makes the erroneous conclusion that if every young person followed in his, and the other successful people he makes mention of in the book, they will be guaranteed success – even if it is not to the desired level.

But together with its faults the book has some very inspirational stories about men and women who managed to make success of their lives under some of the harshest conditions imaginable. The author uses these stories to try and inspire the reader to look at their situation in a different manner, and even though that is a good thing, the fact that no heed or mention was made about the intersectional and subjective nature of all problems, this can be seen by many to be very problematic. It is a book that, because of the unconventional, unpopular and somewhat drastic suggestions it makes, needs to be read with the utmost care and open-mindedness.

The book is a definite read, if not for anything else, then for the inspirational stories and strong message found in between its two covers.



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