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21 at 21 Author Sonwabiso Ngcowa Shares How He Interviewed a Boy Who Wanted to Take His Life

21 at 21Melanie Verwoerd and Sonwabiso Ngcowa visited Nancy Richards in the SAfm Literature studio recently to discuss their book, 21 at 21: The Coming of Age of a Nation.

To mark the “coming of age” of South Africa – 21 years after democracy – Verwoerd and Ngcowa travelled across the country collecting the life stories of “born frees”; people born in 1994.

The resulting narratives are funny and hopeful, but also challenging and distressing.

Ngcowa explained how the process of collecting the stories worked, and said they did not have any problems finding willing participants.

“Young people want to share their stories,” he said. “They want to have their voices heard. There wasn’t one person who said, ‘no, you can’t talk to me’.”

He adds, however, that there was a trust-building process, and shares how he interviewed a young man who had tried to commit suicide a few days previously: “That was one of the most difficult interviews I have done. But he was forthcoming and wanted to share his story.

“It made me ask myself questions about myself and the South Africa that we are living in. What has this place done to the psyche of a young person of 21 that they are wanting to take their life?”

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