Welcome Mandla Lishivha on Boy on the Run: “Our stories matter”


Welcome Mandla Lishivha is one of several queer authors who have emerged in South Africa. He provides a uniquely South African insight into the mind of an African gay man in his moving and triumphant memoir, Boy on the Run.

The face smiling out from the cover of Boy on the Run looks so young, innocent. A face that doesn’t hint at the tragedy that struck Welcome Mandla Lishivha’s mother, and the agony of grieving the loss of a parent at a young age.

His mother died after her boyfriend at the time shot her before turning the gun on himself. Lishivha was just 12 years old. This was devastating for the young boy, who shared a deep bond with his mother. She had often told him that he was different from other children, hinting that she was aware of his queerness long before he was.

He describes the writing of the book as cathartic. “I had to go through all the emotions and come out better and stronger, and writing this book has done that for me. A lot was broken down in the writing process. It helped me deal with loss and grief,” he says.

Writing is not unfamiliar territory for Lishivha. He has kept a diary throughout childhood. Later, he went on to study journalism at Rhodes and has earned a master’s degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He has several other degrees under his belt, and is currently working on his PhD in Jurisprudence.

However, writing has followed him through his life, ever constant and acting as a trusted friend. He has written for several publications including Getaway magazine and The Mail & Guardian. He turned his talent and skill to creating his memoir in 2018.

“I’ve been writing my whole life,” he says, “The diary helped me to deal with emotions and process what had happened.”

Livhisha pulls his experiences together and weaves them into a compelling narrative that follows his life from childhood. He unabashedly includes details of his sexuality and being a black gay man in South Africa.

“I decided to write an honest book,” he says, “I did panic because my family and friends will be reading about my sex life. The book affirms queerness. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Our stories matter. We are misrepresented a lot and as queer writers, we are pushing back by telling our own stories.

He adds: “Queer writing in SA is still in a toddler phase of sorts. We are stepping boldly into our freedom, which is not enjoyed by anywhere else on the continent.”

Lishivha grew up in a township, in a household of strong women who supported him and accepted him exactly as he was.

“I was loved and I am not saying I didn’t experience homophobia, but my family and immediate community gave me a sense of being protected. I felt it was okay to be myself, my voice mattered, my feelings mattered. It’s the patriarchal element of communities that is creating the biggest hindrance.”

Lishivha believes that even though there are more freedoms for the LGBTQI+ community in South Africa, there is still a lot of stigma – both internalised and externalised.

“This hinders queer expression,” he says. “There are a lot of upcoming voices, and not just in writing, but in music and fashion, and various forms of expression. Queer artists who are saying enough is enough.”

Above all, though, Lishivha is certain that his late mother is proud of his independence and queerness. His voice won’t be silenced as he proudly declares, “This isn’t the last book I am going to write.”


Welcome Mandla Lishivha’s Boy on the Run is available in book stores and from online retailers.

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