Born a Crime – A story from a South African childhood by Trevor Noah


The memoir centers on the early life of Trevor Noah. His days in South Africa before he moved to the US. Born toward the end of apartheid, he was able to paint a glimpse of what black South Africans went through in the hands of the white South Africans. Although he tried to insert humor here and there, the evil meted out on the black was revealed.

Trevor is the colored kid born by a black mother and a white father (swiss- German) in a time in South Africa when an Act was introduced stipulating an explicit description of what relationship should not be.

The Immorality Act of 1927 was enacted to prohibit any form of illicit carnal intercourse between Europeans and Natives.

This particular law punishable with imprisonment of up to five years was broken by his mother when she chose  Robert the tall Swiss man in room 206 to be the father of her child. It was unlawful for Trevors’ parents to be in a relationship, having a baby is evidence of law violated; so he was born a crime.

Mrs. Nombuyiselo Noah played a very strong role in Trevor’s life. A very religious, strong, and independent woman who did everything to survive in an era where people struggled to survive. She broke so many rules but was able to pull through. She was the stubborn member of the family who wanted to get away from the cycle of poverty and violence that came with being poor. She never wanted her son to end up like her or her family members.

She raised him differently and was very strict. She wanted her son to do well to avoid paying the black tax. She gave him a name different from what the normal South Africans would give, she made him read books, go to a good school, whip his ass when he did things that she thought would ruin the future she was preparing for him. Going by the biblical proverb that says “spare the rod and spoil the child”. She spared no rod and spoilt no child Trevor says; Mrs. Noah toiled to school her self in areas that gave her an edge over normal black people. Her resilience made her get a job in positions reserved for the white. The same resilience made her move from the poor living condition her mother could provide to hustle his way into a good neighborhood. She thought herself to be strong and avoided being a statistic. Her independence and her hustle Trevor got. She couldn’t do much considering what was obtainable and how limited opportunity was but she never made excuses. She found her way around it all. She raised a strong and independent man that will not follow the status quo. She gave birth to her child in a time where things were not going well like they should but she prepared him for the times when things will go back to normal.

Together with the knowledge instilled by his mother, Trevor found a way to survive as a colored kid but was bullied sometimes. He identified as black but he had to constantly prove himself as black most of the time. His multilingual skill made him survive almost always.


No matter how you claim not to see color, the situation of things forces you to choose sides every once in a while. This was seen a lot in the course of the book. Trevor being a smart kid found an away to survive. He loves his mother and everything that came with her but her religious life he still questioned every once in a while. Even when she survived the gunshot from Abel his stepfather he still questioned how she still believed in God amid everything he let happen to her But she was very religious and she saw a silver lining to everything.

Trevor was always the independent kid doing one or two side hustle to make his own money. He was always the latecomer when he was in grade school but he found a way to utilize the situation to make money. After assembly, he ran so fast to be the first on the line. When people noticed he always made it to the tuck shop first, they started giving him money to buy them snacks or food in exchange for stipends. The children had to do that because the queue was long and if they waited they would be out of food or snack on things they don’t really want.

Much later during his teenage age, he was able to make himself more money from selling mixtapes (boot-legged record). He and his friend were running the business together. He did the mix mixtape, Bongani had the selling skill. He could sell anything to anyone. From selling mixtape and selling stuff in the streets they formed a dance crew and Trevor became a DJ.

They made money but it wasn’t a lot or enough to do much. It was just enough to eat and they were days they ended up back at zero but he felt productive. Mbuyi as her husband Abel Called her was the very definition of strength but she suffered domestic violence from her husband Abel. Although she tried to stand up to him sometimes it was sad that with everything she had been through she ended in such sham of a relationship. Trevor liked Abel as a friend but was never okay when his mom told him they were getting married because he felt there was something sinister about him. He could find the words but his suspicion was later confirmed later when he started exhibiting traits. Mrs. Noah did everything within her power to help him out each he needed it but he always let drinking and his ego get the better of him.

Trevor’s mom had other children much later: Andrew and Isaac. Abel loved his children. He never treated Trevor badly but he never treated him like his son. It was quite easy for him to leave the house and fend for himself most especially when he could no longer handle the issues at home. His mom supported him but he checked on them when he could. The thought of his mom in such a horrible relationship made him sad and tried to convince her to leave but she refused because she was scared Abel will hurt her. When she finally left Abel indeed came for them but she was saved miraculously.

Born a crime is a beautiful piece and a must-read with a lot of themes embedded. The author used the simplest of grammar and is able to capture and sustain the reader. He has a way of making horrible situation look subtle. With his wonderful choice of grammatical expressions, he tells his tale in a very relatable and very impressive fashion.

It is a book to read!

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Elelctrical and electronics undergrad, Pianist, Python-dev, Content writer and a bookworm. Been an engineering enthusiast for 8 years and will be a professional at that forever, likes jazz music and books,

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