Authors: Trevor Noah
Copyright © 2016 by Trevor Noah
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
and Design is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Noah, Trevor, author.
Title: Born a crime: stories from a South African childhood / by Trevor Noah.
Description: First edition. | New York : Spiegel & Grau, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016031399| ISBN 9780399588174 | ISBN 9780399590443 (international) | ISBN 9780399588181 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Noah, Trevor | Comedians—United States—Biography. | Comedians—South Africa—Biography. | Television personalities—United States—Biography.
Classification: LCC PN2287.N557 A3 2016 | DDC 791.4502/8092 [B]—dc23 LC record available at
Ebook ISBN 9780399588181
Book design by Susan Turner, adapted for ebook
Cover design: Greg Mollica
Cover image: Mark Stutzman, based on a photograph by Kwaku Alston (Trevor Noah); Getty Images (background)
E IT ENACTED
by the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, the Senate
and the House of Assembly of the Union of South Africa, as
Any European male who has illicit carnal intercourse with
a native female, and any native male who has illicit carnal intercourse with a
European female…shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to
imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.
Any native female who permits any European male to have
illicit carnal intercourse with her and any European female who permits any
native male to have illicit carnal intercourse with her shall be guilty of an
offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding four
he genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.
At the time, black South Africans outnumbered white South Africans nearly five to one, yet we were divided into different tribes with different languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho, Venda, Ndebele, Tsonga, Pedi, and more. Long before apartheid existed these tribal factions clashed and warred with one another. Then white rule used that animosity to divide and conquer. All nonwhites were systematically classified into various groups and subgroups. Then these groups were given differing levels of rights and privileges in order to keep them at odds.
Perhaps the starkest of these divisions was between South Africa’s two dominant groups, the Zulu and the Xhosa. The Zulu man is known as the warrior. He is proud. He puts his head down and fights. When the colonial armies invaded, the Zulu charged into battle with nothing but spears and shields against men with guns. The Zulu were slaughtered by the thousands, but they never stopped fighting. The Xhosa, on the other hand, pride themselves on being the thinkers. My mother is Xhosa. Nelson Mandela was Xhosa. The Xhosa waged a long war against the white man as well, but after experiencing the futility of battle against a better-armed foe, many Xhosa chiefs took a more nimble approach. “These white people are here whether we like it or not,” they said. “Let’s see what tools they possess that can be useful to us. Instead of being resistant to English, let’s learn English. We’ll understand what the white man is saying, and we can force him to negotiate with us.”
The Zulu went to war with the white man. The Xhosa played chess with the white man. For a long time neither was particularly successful, and each blamed the other for a problem neither had created. Bitterness festered. For decades those feelings were held in check by a common enemy. Then apartheid fell, Mandela walked free, and black South Africa went to war with itself.