The world according to Brian
12 Aug 2013
Photograph by Jonathan Burton
BRIAN Khoza wanted to learn about publishing so he published a book. Called Born Almost Free In South Africa, it’s a collection of his published and unpublished writings, which will be launched this week (August 16).
Where some might only dream of seeing their work in a bookstore, he took the initiative to find someone who could help him produce his own book. This can-do attitude is nothing new for the energetic Khoza (33), who has been writing regularly for The Witness since 2008.
A hip hop artist, he’s also recorded at least three albums, put together a volume of poetry, organised a concert, written a historical record of the Pietermaritzburg rap scene and keeps a blog. “The bravest thing I’ve done is write for the paper,” says this man who knows the perils of standing out in the crowd.
Born in Caluza in 1980 to a Zulu father and Xhosa mother, he was sent off with a false name to a school for Coloureds in the ’80s where he excelled, before spending his high school years at Carter High, a former Model C school.
“It’s been very strange,” he says of the experience of being a columnist. “I thought only middle-aged people, academics and a few nerds (though I am one too) would read it. But everybody, every category of people in life read it. They came and confronted me about what I wrote. Some [columns] they liked, and some were controversial, such as when I wrote about the generation gap, or race.
“It’s made people suspicious. The editing part is difficult. Sometimes the meaning of what I’ve said gets changed. I get SMSes from people and it’s really stressful. It’s not just in the black community, it’s all the communities.
“I’m putting myself out there. People can interpret a sentence in five different ways. I knew that, but I have to face my fears. Safety is a concern, but I also don’t want to alienate my friends, black and white.”
Khoza writes from his own experience and readers of The Witness and Weekend Witness will be familiar with his unflinching treatment of everyday issues, from his parents’ divorce to the racial ins and outs of making eye contact and gender politics.
“I’m very passionate about [gender],” he says. “Girls can’t feel comfortable walking down the street. I was influenced by [late rapper] Tupac [Shakur] — he was a hard-core gangster, but he was a feminist.”
Khoza’s dream is to be a role model for young men. “Until I made peace with my father, I was crazy,” he says about the effect of his parents’ divorce when he was six. He agrees that the phenomenon of single mothers in this country is a huge problem.
“All my friends who grew up with both parents are mostly married. [But] I’ve had to teach myself how to deal with relationships. I had to learn from TV. Kids grow up not knowing how to deal with conflict and co-existence because they haven’t seen their parents dealing with it.”
On his own path, he’s been influenced by hip hop culture, which is about self-knowledge and constant growth. “Hip hop pushes you to be as creative and original as possible. I use it in my writing. Because I have experienced different backgrounds, I’m aware of different perspectives.”
The courage to do this, he says, comes from being “in touch with my mortality. I do things for my unborn kids. I used to live a dangerous life and didn’t think I’d live long. I’ve been in lots of fights.”
Khoza has managed to navigate a passage through sometimes choppy waters. He’s now working on a full-time Masters degree in education and development, and has just started a salaried job with the Department of Agriculture and the Environment, as a sociologist. “I have no social life,’’ he says cheerfully.
He acknowledges that the company he keeps is important. “My friends are very intelligent overachievers. They motivate me.
“Attitude is important for success,” he says. “Getting a job is not all about having money to start with. We all have something we can do but fear stops us.”
• Born Almost Free in South Africa is published by BK Press and will be available at the launch, on August 16, 7 pm, at Illawu Inn Conference Centre, 111 Chief Albert Luthuli Street.
RSVP 0823260141 or
Download “Born Almost Free in South Africa” at