Defend Truth


The deadly fate of young black males is a national emergency – a nightmare beyond hip-hop


Marianne Thamm has toiled as a journalist / writer / satirist / editor / columnist / author for over 30 years. She has published widely both locally and internationally. It was journalism that chose her and not the other way around. Marianne would have preferred plumbing or upholstering.

Rapper AKA’s untimely, violent death is the fear of almost every mother with a son in South Africa.

This was only going to be about South African rapper and artist Kiernan Jarryd Forbes, AKA, who was murdered by an assassin’s bullet outside a popular restaurant in Durban on 10 February.

The murder took place just days before the release of his much-anticipated album Mass Country, the first in four years, a 14-track collaboration with some of the country’s finest rappers and young artists.

If you lost the thread of South African music long ago – you got older, you got stuck, you prefer gospel, whatever – pick it up here and school yourself.

Sure, AKA said he was the greatest; so did boxing champion Muhammad Ali. It is part of the deal. The brag. Rap is a sport, an art, a competition, a revelation of the mind, heart and soul.

I never quite understood why AKA was known as the “Brenda Fassie” of rap. I understand now: it’s the politics, the anger, the courage, the despair, the search for something better. It’s the crazy energy… the fuel inside.

What is puzzling, however, is that so many who have ventured into this territory, this magnificent genre, have died so young and so violently.

There are more than 60 murdered significant rappers or hip-hop artists listed in Wikipedia, starting with Scott La Rock (25), shot dead in New York in 1987, and ending with our own AKA.

Flabba is also there, recorded as a stabbing on 9 March 2015 in Alexandra, Gauteng.

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The question we must ask is why so many rap artists have to die – and die violently – to be immortalised? Is it because the violence sells? Surely it cannot be.

It is a tragedy that so many talented young men were not granted the precious time to hone (or destroy) their gifts, to become a Miles Davis or Harry Belafonte or Hugh Masekela (or name your favourite veteran here). Sexy, old, recognised and seeking perfection in their art while enjoying fame and self-made fortunes (sometimes blown, but whatever).

Trauma revisited

AKA was 35, the father of a young daughter with DJ Zinhle and a man reaching the peak of his career in a tough industry. He had experienced the horrific death of his fiancée, Anele Tembe, in April 2021. She was only 22.

Just how deeply he was affected is evident in the searing Anxiety (Dear Diary), the second-last track on Mass Country. Before he was murdered, AKA disclosed in an interview that he had paid lobola two weeks before Tembe’s plunge from a 10-storey hotel balcony in Cape Town.

In the song he speaks of the trauma of the moment and refers to Anele as his “wife”. He also speaks of being shunned at her funeral and blamed for her death. He speaks of so much more, too.

When AKA’s mother, Lynn Forbes, posted on Instagram a photograph of a young Kiernan – he had to be primary school age, since his adult teeth had not yet cut through – he looked like so many of the boys I have known and have seen grow into men over the years.

He was so cute, his eyes revealing a glimpse of a soul animated by the spirit of “imp”, the prod to find your sweet spot early in life. A happy boy.

The photograph also made me think of all the parents of boys in our circle, and it is a circle that is growing and spreading as our daughters get older and connect more widely with the world.

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Parents of teen boys or young men, all boys in fact, worry about their children’s safety and how they will have to deal with the full force of the world, how it views men, how to read the jostle for dominance and power. How to deal with aggression. How to deal with violence.

If you thought it is tough raising two young women in this country…

Anxiety off the charts

Celebrations of various kinds drew a crowd of young adults into our orbit last weekend. There was a dinner; dancing later.

Over time we have come to trust that our girls, our young women, are going to be okay. They are surrounded by circles of friends and parents who look out for them. Sometimes take and fetch them. Know all their tricks and plans.

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Our daughters are at the age when young men (or young women, depending) are entering their lives, instead of the single-sex gaggle that is tight and that lingers into the early to late teens.

When your son is black and lives in a country where, as psychologist and scholar Kopano Ratele wrote back in 2010 already, “black men are still most likely to die violently from interpersonal conflicts”, your anxiety is off the charts.

Four young men made the journey to the southern suburbs of Cape Town and the glistening delights of Claremont’s Main Road.

There are pubs, clubs, fast-food restaurants and snack shops all in one place. It is where young Capetonians with a little money to spend find release in music and community. Sometimes it gets hairy, but the bouncers are honeys.

On arrival, the eldest of the four asked if he could give our phone numbers to his mother.

What followed then was a regular check-in and toing and froing until 3am, when the crowd, including her son, tumbled home safely and found a surface on which to sleep.

It is common knowledge that in Cape Town e-hailing drivers often refuse to drive to what they view as “townships” after certain hours, no matter how posh or established the area.

With no safe public transport, parents either have to come and collect offspring or kids arrange to sleep over somewhere safe.

Lynn and Tony Forbes navigated a world for their son this way as he grew up in Joburg and began to piece himself, alongside so many other young collaborators, into the artist and musician he was in the process of becoming. International.

That he died in full view of his friends and CCTV cameras in what was clearly a “hit”, in a country swimming with homicidal maniacs willing to shoot any target for any price, is a national tragedy, a national emergency.

To the angels and the benevolent spirits, we ask you to look after our sons. We need them. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

DM168 11/03 FRONT PAGE


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Investment in the youth is the problem,they see no careers forthcoming,no chances to make a decent living,with no job creation, no sport investment,no education investment,no art and culture investment,because our hoverment doesn’t care(only for money in the back pocket).Those that make it becomes the target of those that couldn’t through the inept goverment.

  • Pet Bug says:

    Amen. Thank you.

  • Clive Simpkins says:

    Affecting and sensitive article. So true and so scary.

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