‘Listen to my story before you call me Skollie.’ If you’ve watched Noem my Skollie or read Skollie this line will be familiar. If you haven’t, you don’t know what you’re missing.

This is an inspiring story of determination and triumph over adversity and evil. About grinding poverty and survival by any means. About violence, prisons and death sentences but most importantly it’s about a miraculous core of love, integrity, dreams and spellbinding storytelling ability and mostly about the long, hard fight to get the story told in order to help others.

John W Fredericks grew up on the Cape Flats in the days of apartheid. Noem my Skollie is based on his life. John worked on the film script with producers Moshidi Motshegwa and David Max Brown for 13 years before the film finally became a reality in 2016. He had little schooling but his father was a dustman who would find magazines and books on the dump for him. He would escape into their world and read hungrily. At a very young age, he was brutally attacked by one of his father’s fellow dustmen on the City dump. After that, he and three friends formed The Young One's gang. From that point he ‘grew into an angry, dangerous teen always ready to strike first rather than be struck,’ says Brown.

Eventually, John went to prison for breaking and entry. There he used his storytelling ability to avoid being forced into a prison gang. Everyone would gather around him and he would use his profound eloquence to weave spellbinding stories. Before the first session, he said, ‘Here we are not gangsters. We meet in the mind and we go right through the roof.’ He’d also read letters from home to those who couldn’t read.

When you meet John you wouldn’t imagine he’d ever been a gangster. You’d probably pin him as a retired academic. He is softly spoken and the very soul of dignity.

Noem my Skollie premiered in August 2016 at Pollsmoor Prison. ‘The prisoners,’ says Brown, ‘among them gang generals, loved the movie and the warders were very moved.’ The film went on to become a box-office hit and was SA’s official 2017 foreign-language entry for the Academy Awards. A year later, in 2017, John’s autobiography, Skollie, was published. Brown concludes the foreword with, ‘…be sure to find a comfortable place to sit, because once you start reading I guarantee you will not be able to stop.’
“Here we are not gangsters or numbers. We meet in the mind and we go right through the roof”

The most important element in John’s phenomenal story is love. At a critical point in his life when he was fresh out of prison, what stopped him from resuming his gangster life was the woman who would later become his wife. As he ran past Una, axe in hand to join his old gang in a fight with rivals, the pretty teenager called out, ‘Young man, you just came out of prison today!’. ‘I swerved away from the fight and ran home,’ says Fredericks. ‘When I got there I went straight to bed and I heard Mom praying softly, thanking God for my safe return. I lay awake as I thought about the girl’s words.’ That was the turning point. Little did he know, at the time, that they would marry and have five children together.


‘John wanted to make a film that would challenge people to think twice about their conceptions of coloured people, to make young people think twice about their path in life and to give those who had done crime a second chance,’ says Brown. ‘We are incredibly proud to have been part of this Skollie ‘movement’. We hope that it will help overall understanding and tolerance between different cultures in this country.’ 
If anyone’s story is inspiring it’s John’s. At the age of 70 he’s realised his dreams and is teaching creative writing to prisoners. ‘Dreams never die,’ he said as he inscribed my copy of Skollie with ‘Dream your dreams in the company of Dreamers'.

DREAMS NEVER DIE DREAMS NEVER DIE Reviewed by Zandile Xabendlini on March 20, 2018 Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.