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'Two Tons O' Fun': Fascinating foray through adolescence marred by rushed ending

19 May 2022 - 11:59 By Margaret von Klemperer
Fred Khumalo tackles the psyche of a teenage girl with aplomb in 'Two Tons O' Fun'.
Fred Khumalo tackles the psyche of a teenage girl with aplomb in 'Two Tons O' Fun'.
Image: Supplied

Published in the Witness (May 16 2022)

Two Tons O’ Fun
Fred Khumalo

Fred Khumalo is an author who continually surprises — he’s certainly not one to stick to a tried-and-tested formula. We’ve had his short stories, excursions into SA history with novels such as Dancing the Death Drill and The Longest March and non-fiction. And now, with Two Tons O’ Fun, he gives us a coming-of-age novel, with a female protagonist.

Tackling the psyche of an adolescent girl is a brave thing for a male writer to do, but Khumalo does it with aplomb, making Lerato lively, funny, sharp-eyed and poignant. The other strand of the story, intertwined with Lerato’s journey through adolescence, is life in Alexandra, with all its violence, vigour and prejudice.

Lerato, who lives with her mother and two younger siblings, is 14 when we first meet her. Mother, June-Rose, is a hard living, tough woman, packing a knife in her bra and with an eye for any opportunity, legal or otherwise. Lerato runs with a tribe of ghetto girls who all live in the same yard, but she also meets Janine, another Alex resident but of a different kind. Janine and her mother, Professor Gugu Ngobese, have a smart home and a car and Janine goes to a private school. Slowly Lerato’s eyes are opened to other possibilities in life besides the ones she seemed to be trapped in — and she and Janine set themselves up as the Two Tons o’ Fun.

As Lerato develops, confronting the realities of her existence, including the township Schadenfreude where other people’s misfortunes make some of the residents feel better about their situation, and the disastrous inadequacies of the education system, she grows up, becoming an assertive young woman, able to think for herself. It is a powerful portrait, combined with a strong plea for literacy and better education. The reader roots for Lerato, wanting her to overcome challenges and tragedy.

I was left with a sense that the ending was somewhat rushed. Khumalo draws his characters and their surroundings with meticulous care, but at the end things happen very quickly and unexpectedly, leaving the reader rather puzzled. It’s a pity, because, until that point Two Tons O’ Fun is a fascinating read.