Who is Abel Shingange? What significance did he play in Trevor Noah’s life? And what did he have to do with the shooting of Noah’s mother?
Abel Shingange is Trevor Noah’s ex-stepfather. Noah writes about him extensively in his memoir Born a Crime.
Learn the history of Abel’s abusive relationship with Noah’s mom and how these events led up to the day Noah’s mother almost died.
Trevor Noah & Abel: The New Man in Noah’s Life
When Noah was six years old, his mom Patricia started dating Abel, one of the mechanics who always worked on their orange Beetle. Abel was tall, with strong arms and large hands. He was moderately handsome, funny, and charismatic. He always helped whoever was in need. The world knew him as a good man. But at home, he was abusive.
At first, Abel Shingange was just Patricia’s cool friend they sometimes hung out with. But when Abel moved into their Eden Park home, their lives changed forever.
Trevor Noah, Abel, and the Mulberry Bullies
One of Noah’s earliest experiences with Abel’s temper involved kids that were bullying Noah. There was a large mulberry tree in Eden Park that kids played on. One day, a group of older colored boys came to the tree while Noah was playing. The leader of the pack knocked Noah’s berries to the ground. Then, the other kids started throwing berries at him, including unripened ones that were hard like pebbles. Noah got scared and ran home covered in berry juice and crying.
Noah knew Abel had a temper. It would be a few years before Abel started to abuse Noah and his mother, but he’d witnessed Abel’s rage at minor infractions, like being cut off while driving. Abel had also been drinking that night, which made him more volatile.
Noah usually didn’t want anything to do with Abel when he was drunk, but in that moment, he wanted revenge. He knew if he turned Abel’s rage toward the bullies, he could get back at them.
Abel and Noah drove to the tree. When they pulled up, the bullies scattered. Abel caught the leader, grabbed a switch from the tree, and beat him. At first, Noah was happy to see the boy get what was coming to him. But soon, it became clear that Abel wasn’t punishing the boy. He was simply an adult beating up a child.
The bully was terrified. Noah’s joy turned to empathy when he saw the fear in the boy’s eyes. He realized the bully was just another boy who’d become caught up in the convoluted system of race in South Africa. He’d been wrong to unleash Abel on him. He felt terrible.
Abel and Patricia Get Married
When Patricia told Noah she was marrying Abel Shingange, he tried to talk her out of it. He wasn’t angry or jealous. He just had an inclination that Abel was bad news. Noah had seen Abel’s fury the night at the mulberry tree when he beat up a child, and it hadn’t surprised him a bit. Furthermore, Abel’s name held the answer to his character. His Tsonga name was Ngisaveni, which meant “be afraid.”
Abel, Patricia, and Tsonga Tradition
After a year of marriage, Patricia gave birth to Andrew. Abel took the family to his parent’s house over Christmas in the Tsonga homeland of Tzaneen. Abel’s family was traditional, believing in stereotypical gender roles, in which women were subservient.
Patricia hated the customs. She didn’t believe in bowing to men (which was something women literally did) and made a mockery out of bowing when called upon.
In Tsonga tradition, the firstborn is cherished, especially a firstborn son, and treated with more reverence than the other children. To Abel, bringing home his firstborn son was a monumental event, and Patricia was supposed to play the dutiful woman. Her refusal to perform the customs were taken as a personal affront. He felt she was disrespecting him, and they argued the whole time. Patricia never went to visit Abel’s family again.
Once Patricia married Abel, she started to lose control of her life. Abel tried to make their family a traditional Tsonga family. He created new rules for the house, such as relegating Fufi and Panther to the yard. He thought going to church all day was disrespectful to him. What kind of wife spends the whole day away from her husband? What would people think?
Trevor Noah, Abel, and the Fire
Abel’s drinking also became a major problem. He was drunk every night by the time he came home from work. Some nights, he didn’t come home at all.
One night, Patricia and Noah awoke to a fire in the kitchen. Abel had come home late and passed out with a pot on a burner. The kitchen was scorched. Patricia woke him up and cursed him for being so irresponsible. Abel didn’t care. He was drunk.
Patricia called her mother and started to complain. Abel came in and disconnected the call, which incensed her more. She started yelling at him about his behavior. After taking it for a minute, Abel smacked her across the face so hard, she went flying. Noah grabbed Andrew and watched the scene from the doorway.
Patricia couldn’t believe it. It was the first time she’d ever been hit by a man. She jumped up and kept arguing. He hit her again, and she grabbed the boys and ran out of the house.
Patricia went straight to the police station to press charges, but what she found were patronizing officers. The cops accused her of making Abel angry and deserving it. They told her she didn’t want to get her husband in trouble. They said it was family business and to handle it at home. They refused to press charges. When Abel walked in, still drunk, the station became like a locker room, and the matter was laughed away.
Noah was nine and couldn’t believe what was happening. He thought cops had a duty to help. That night, he learned that police were just men with badges, not defenders of the law.
Patricia took the boys to Soweto, and Abel followed a few weeks later to apologize. His easy way and charm made his apology seem ingenuous. Patricia wasn’t sold, but her mother convinced her to go back. She said all men hit women, even Temperance. Patricia went home with Abel, and things went back to normal for a few years.
Abel’s Car Garage Flounders
Abel was a poor businessman and was buying parts on credit with crazy interest rates. He was amassing huge debts. Instead of paying off the debts with the money he was making, he used the money to buy alcohol, drinking the business into the ground.
Patricia quit her job and started doing the books to help. She used her office skills to turn things around. She was making it work, and customers and vendors noticed. But Abel started to feel like she was taking over the business, and he didn’t like it.
Finally, after a year of striving for nothing, Patricia left the business. She wasn’t going to sacrifice her life so he could get drunk. She found another secretarial job and bought the house in Highland North. Not long after, the garage closed and Abel moved his shop to the back yard.
Abel and Patricia Separate
After the move to Highland North, Patricia divorced Abel, but only financially. A couple could be legally divorced for financial independence but still traditionally married as a union. Patricia took back control of her own finances and started using her maiden name again, but they were still a family under one roof.
Patricia was moving up at work and making more money. She paid for everything, which made Abel feel even less like a man. He started drinking more. He became violent more often, including one incident when he trapped Noah in the kitchen pantry and punched him in the ribcage for a small school infraction. He started beating Patricia more regularly, as well. Each time, the police were called. Each time, they buddied up with Abel and did nothing.
Even with these episodes, Abel’s funny, charismatic character was always there under the booze. Their lives were encased in terror, but when he wasn’t abusing them, it was hard not to love him.
Then Abel bought a gun. That was the beginning of the end for Noah. Life became toxic in the house. Noah grew to almost the same height as Abel. If Noah had been Abel’s son, it would have been fine. But he wasn’t, and that made him a threat to Abel.
In addition, Noah had become a representation of Patricia’s former life, a life that Abel couldn’t control. Abel hated Noah for reminding him of Patricia’s past, and Patricia told Noah he needed to leave. She feared what Abel would do to Noah and helped him move out after high school.
From Abuse to Attempted Murder
Patricia eventually moved into her own bedroom for a year or two. Noah was counting the days until Andrew was eighteen and would leave home. He wanted his mother to be free to leave Abel once and for all. But when Andrew was nine, she became pregnant again.
Noah saw that she would forever be stuck in that house with Abel. When the new baby, Isaac, was born, Noah retreated from the family. He didn’t visit often. Then, another event would make him stay away for good.
Noah had gone over to the house for a visit and found police cars out front. Patricia had intervened when Abel Shingange was fighting with one of his workers, and Abel used Andrew’s bicycle to beat her. As always, the police acted like old chums with Abel, and nothing happened.
After that incident, Patricia hired people from work to build her a small dwelling in the backyard, where she started living with Isaac. Noah was incredulous, but she told him it was the only power she had. No one was going to help her, but she would make sure Abel was shamed by a wife living in the backyard instead of with him.
Noah stopped calling and visiting. As much as he hated Abel, his anger was directed more at Patricia. He blamed her for staying and choosing to be abused. He was too young to understand domestic violence or how it affects people. Noah didn’t realize the predicament Patricia was in. Abuse was part of life for African women. No one stepped in, not even the police. What was she supposed to do with children from different fathers in a male-driven society that refused to acknowledge her suffering?
The last time Noah fought with her about Abel, she told him if she tried to leave, he would kill all of them. She was calm when she said it, matter-of-fact. Noah never mentioned it again.
Patricia did finally leave Abel, though. Noah doesn’t know why because he wasn’t around. He had started working as a comedian and was traveling more. Patricia bought a different house in the same neighborhood and met someone new.
Abel Uses His Gun
Life moved forward for years for Patricia and the younger boys. Then, one Sunday, she was coming home from church with her new husband and his family, her two sons included, when Abel Shingange got out of the car with his gun.
Abel pointed the gun at Patricia, telling her she ruined his life. Andrew stepped up and tried to reason with Abel, as he’d always been able to do. Abel had always listened to Andrew, but this time, Abel threatened to shoot him. Andrew could see it was a real threat and stepped aside.
Abel started shooting, and Patricia jumped in the way to protect the others. She was hit in the bottom and collapsed. She yelled for everyone to run.
Patricia was on the ground trying to get up when Abel pointed the gun directly at her head. He pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. He tried again. Another misfire. He kept trying to pull the trigger, but the gun kept malfunctioning.
When Abel became distracted by the gun, Patricia pushed him and ran for the car. Andrew jumped in beside her. Just as she got the car started, another shot rang out, and Patricia’s blood splattered the windshield. Abel shot her in the back of the head through the rear window. Andrew pulled her out of the way and got behind the wheel. He drove straight to the hospital.
Trevor Noah Confronts Abel
Noah was able to see Patricia in the ER. He lost it at the sight of her covered in blood, a hole in her face, and part of her nose missing. Seeing her like that made him rage. He called Abel Shingange’s number, and Abel answered. Noah shouted that Abel had killed his mother. Calmly, Abel acknowledged it and said if he could, he’d kill Noah too.
The doctor came out after examining Patricia and didn’t know what to say. She’d survived nothing short of a miracle. Both bullets had passed through her body without hitting any major organs, arteries, veins, or nerves.
The bullet in her head slipped past the spinal cord, ricocheted off her cheekbone, and left through her nose. What Noah had seen earlier was just the aftermath. In actuality, Patricia had only lost a small bit off the side of her nose. Other than that, she was fine. They hadn’t even performed surgery. She was home within four days and back to work after another three.
Noah sat with her in recovery and felt regret. He was angry that he’d abandoned her and his brothers. He was mad that the police had never taken Abel’s abuse seriously. He was sorry he hadn’t killed Abel when he’d had the chance. He was furious with God. All of her devotion to Jesus, and this was what she got?
After Andrew drove off with Patricia, Abel had taken Isaac. Isaac asked him why he’d killed mommy, to which Abel said he was unhappy and sad. Abel dropped Isaac off at a friend’s house after telling Isaac he was going to kill himself.
Abel Shingange went around to all of his friends and relatives and told them what he did and what he was going to do. Toward the end of the day, a family member told him he was a coward and to turn himself in. Abel turned over the gun and went to the police.
Noah tried to block Abel’s bail, but because the police had never agreed to press charges, he had no priors. And Abel claimed he needed to take care of his sons, so he was released.
The trial dragged on. Patricia’s injuries changed the severity of the charge, and he was only accused of attempted murder. Abel took a plea deal and spent no time in jail. He got to maintain joint custody of his sons.
Abel still lives somewhere in Johannesburg, not too far from Patricia.
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- Why Trevor Noah's birth was an illegal crime
- How Trevor's single mother was the beacon of strength in his life
- How Trevor ultimately broke out and achieved success