The power of words meets the power of love
Rosie Motene introduces us to Boy on the Run, the growing-up-gay memoir by her friend Welcome Mandla Lishivha
Boy on the Run ★★★★★
Welcome Mandla Lishivha
I met Welcome Mandla Lishivha in 2019 at an LGBQTI+ event powered by The Other Foundation. Over a few drinks and a little dancing an instant bond was formed. We remained in touch online during the pandemic, then a few months ago I received a beautiful message from my friend asking me to be in conversation with him at the launch of his book, Boy on the Run.
Even before reading it, I knew Welcome to be a love-filled person with a soft yet passionate energy. He walks tall, filled with pride and positivity. To be around him is to be in a safe place.
His memoir sheds light on his humble beginnings, a childhood marked by his intense love for his mother, Fundani Angelinah Lishivha, to whom the book is dedicated.
His grandmother, with whom he also lived, was another powerful female force in his life. He has always known unconditional love and was constantly reminded he was impressive and could become whomever he chose.
In his book, Welcome skilfully articulates his grandmother’s strength and life journey, emphasising that he draws his power from being raised in woman-led homes where he was never “othered”, only loved and respected.
At the book launch he shared beautiful memories, such as his mom’s grooming tips. She loved teaching him to style and care for himself, particularly his hair. If there was a new salon in the township, she would take him there, and these rituals continued as they moved from place to place.
He paints a vivid picture of life in Soshanguve, focusing not on the poverty and hardship but on the humility, beauty and ubuntu the community displayed.
The mother-son bond extended way beyond grooming. Fundani’s deep love allowed Welcome the freedom to express his individuality and, from an early age, to learn to always stand up for himself. These lessons served him through his teenage years and later when he chose to become a journalist. The right to knowledge and speaking the truth were values carried through into his education, conversations, friendships and loves.
His home was a safe space for others too. Even today, Welcome says, he can bring anyone into his family home and they will feel loved.
That doesn’t mean he avoided hatred and homophobia, but Welcome says he was privileged in that such toxicity came only from the streets, never from home.
His mother’s support is also part of why he excelled at school. He tells the story of how he was once having problems with his homework, and his mom, who was out visiting friends, left the party so she could help him. This care went both ways: he’d stay awake if she was out late, then pretend to be asleep when she came home.
A strong theme in Boy on the Run is exploration, self-discovery and living life without shame or regret. Welcome writes about the innocence of his early sexual encounters in such a beautiful and natural way that one can only smile and giggle. He also takes us deeper into the realness and diversity of the underground gay club experience.
He used some of these experiences in his academic dissertation, aimed at changing the narrative around queer bodies. He tried to introduce the reality that there are safe spaces for gay men to go and be themselves despite their backgrounds. He wanted to create a different type of queer narrative, one that reflected him and his circumstances.
In the book he writes of wanting to try to make sense of what sex meant to him, quoting Michael Warner and Lauren Berlant: “ ... The privatisation of sex in the bedroom and away from public space and public dialogue has created a mystery around sex that is now used to control the morality of others.”
When he left home to study, Welcome’s grandmother told him he could always return home without judgment if life got too harsh. While studying at Rhodes University, he became head of the Student Representative Council. He says he knew he needed to occupy spaces strategically, even if it sometimes meant being the only black, queer or liberal voice in any group.
He also began to develop his own style after his friend Karabo told him no-one could tell he was gay by his clothing.
Welcome is determined to continue his mother’s legacy, which lives in him. She died in a gruesome and traumatic way — his memoir is not without extreme tragedy — but he insists her life will never be defined by that.
To be seen and heard is relevant to any queer person navigating their way through life, and for Welcome this also translates into pride, professionalism and discipline at work. He shares many moments of being affirmed by others, including lecturers and employers, as well as moments when he needed to draw on brutal honesty and ethics in his journalism.
Close friends supported him on his writing journey. One recalled how he introduced his friendship group to vision boards. On Welcome’s board was “publish a book” as well as Oprah Winfrey interviewing an author.
Welcome’s warmth and bravery in telling his truths — good, bad, happy, sad and comically awkward — should be celebrated. His talent in mastering the art of magnificent storytelling is remarkable.
At the launch, we called on our ancestors to make this a worldwide best-seller and, of course, that Welcome makes it into that golden chair next to Oprah.
Motene is an author, film producer and pan-African LGBTQI+ activist. Boy on the Run by Welcome Mandla Lishivha is published by Jacana.
“If there’s a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison. Lishivha says he read Morrison’s words and took them seriously.
“Boy on the Run is tough and fragile, tragic and resilient, and utterly compelling ... It is destined to be a classic.” — Mark Gevisser
Click here to buy Boy on the Run