And Then Mama Said...
By Tumi Morake
‘I married a man from a conservative Catholic background, thereby entering into a union and a belief system that is notorious for clipping wings. I was raised in a household that reins in its children, and when I stood up to an aggressive relative and the authority that protected him, it took 15 years to repair that relationship.”
The story of renowned comedian Tumi Morake, as told in her memoir And Then Mama Said..., is a dapper, smart tug at the heartstrings and funny as hell.
Morake’s memoir is a spiky blend of self-examination and critical thinking, with constant educational threads throughout its pages for a younger generation, told simply and compellingly.
It follows Morake’s life chronologically through sometimes pleasant and other times rough, and even awkward, childhood memories of her time in Thaba Nchu, Free State. This is where she was raised mainly by her grandmother, following the imprisonment of her father by Bophuthatswana homeland leader Lucas Manyane Mangope. This led to her mother having to work elsewhere to provide for the family.
Morake tells of her struggle to focus on school as a teenager while having to witness her mother go in and out of hospital because of manic-depressive episodes.
She bravely talks of being raped at the age of 15 by a friend she trusted, as well as of an attempted rape in her hood. She, like many young girls, had to learn what consent means and how to move through life fearing for your life but still having to be everything to everyone.
Morake goes on to recount having to help raise her younger sister while desperately trying to honour her promise to her mother to obtain her matric. In doing so, her tale reflects the stories of so many other black women in South Africa who had to grow up too fast, having to make the choice to either just survive and keep their heads above water – or break down the door of their prison.
Morake tells of how she continuously demolished the doors that were slamming shut in front of her.
As the title suggests, she tells of how she models her public persona on her mother, a charming and contentious woman who used her big, bold voice to say what others were afraid to.
It is this personality that Morake takes to the stage in the mostly male space of stand-up comedy, and the one that gave her the courage to join white Afrikaans radio station Jacaranda and comment about apartheid on air, which led to a tumultuous storm publicly and personally. She tells her side of what occurred and the abuse she endured from listeners who defended apartheid.
Morake’s humour in the book is never in your face. It is subtle and clever, a reminder that Morake is first and foremost a writer. Unlike many other memoirs, And Then Mama Said... is never preachy.
For all Morake’s efforts to depict herself as just another girl from the village, she comes off as a strongly opinionated dynamo with a comedic voice that is totally her own.
This memoir is endearing for its simplistic use of language, its pleasant form of storytelling and its sensitivity when telling traumatic stories.
And Then Mama Said... is a fair representation of Morake’s image as a smart, steadfast woman who has forced her way to the top of what is usually a man’s profession.
She skilfully contrasts her showbusiness and homebody aspects in very much the same way that her public persona swiftly moves from hardworking comedian to adored mother and wife.
The voice of this book is reminiscent of a cool, wise older sister – even though Morake is able to be anything but calm and cool as she juggles being there for her family with living up to her great career potential.
The book includes surprisingly down-to-earth chapters about having to leave her young children behind to work; losing her mother, grandmother and sister-in-law; and struggles with infidelity in her relationship.
Each chapter reads like a love letter to a younger sister, brutally honest but dished out with tenderness.
– Rhodé Marshall