Getty Images | Instagram.com/trevornoah
Source: Getty Images | Instagram.com/trevornoah

Patricia Noah: The Life Story of Trevor Noah’s Mother

Edduin Carvajal
Jul 06, 2022
08:00 P.M.
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Trevor Noah is arguably the most famous South African comedian and TV host. Still, his life and career would have been entirely different if it wasn't for his mother, Patricia Noah.


"The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah began his comedy career at a South African bar after he and a friend heckled a comedian. Trevor got onstage after the comedian challenged him and realized he could make an audience laugh.

His mom, Patricia Noah, was crucial in his upbringing, successful career, and sense of humor. He described her as a brave and progressive woman who fought to live how she felt she had the right to and stood up against social injustices.

Trevor Noah on March 30, 2019 in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images

Trevor Noah on March 30, 2019 in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images



Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah was born in South Africa to Temperance and Nomalizo Frances "Gogo" Noah. Patricia, a Xhosa woman, was a sweet but rebellious young girl who often butted heads with her mom for not being girly enough.

Although she has multiple younger and older siblings, she was an unwanted child. When Patricia was nine, her mother sent her to her dad's home. However, he made her move to her aunt's place at Transkei, their Xhosa homeland.

She spent 12 years at Transkei and faced many difficulties, primarily because she and the 14 cousins from different families she lived with relied on low-level farming on infertile soil.

Trevor Noah on September 28, 2015 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Trevor Noah on September 28, 2015 in New York City | Source: Getty Images


Patricia's life changed after a missionary school settled at Transkei. She learned how to read and write with them, which helped her get a job in a factory offering meal-based compensation.


She could sustain herself at Transkei until she was 21 and moved to Soweto, where she reunited with her mother. Although Patricia's situation improved, things were far from perfect.

Patricia enrolled at a secretarial school and, through an employment agency, got a job at a multinational pharmaceutical company in Braamfontein, one of Johannesburg's suburbs.


At 22, Patricia ran away from her mom's house in Soweto and moved to downtown Johannesburg. However, Black people were not allowed to live in the city unless they had a permit and an ID number.

Interracial relationships were illegal in South Africa due to the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act.

Still, Patricia didn't want to return to Soweto, so she would hide from authorities and sleep in public restrooms. She learned how to navigate the city from other Xhosa women.


Through them, Patricia learned that if she wore a pair of maid's overalls, people would not question her. They also introduced her to foreign White men who did not care about South African laws and were willing to rent apartments for Black women.

Patricia lived in a German man's apartment but was arrested multiple times for being in a White area after curfew or not having her ID. Luckily, she could always pay the fines and return to work.



While living at the German guy's apartment, she met a Swiss/German ex-pat named Robert Noah. Robert lived down the corridor, and although he was White and 22 years older than Patricia, he was the only person she could trust and feel safe around.

They would talk and go to clandestine parties and eventually developed a loving bond. One day, Patricia made an unusual proposal: she wanted him to help her have a child.


Robert initially said he didn't want kids, but Patricia explained that he would not have any responsibilities. He could see them as much as he wanted but wouldn't have to pay for them or even talk to them if he didn't want to.

"Just make this child for me," she told Robert. In Trevor's memoir, "Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood," he explained:

"For my mother's part, the fact that this man didn't particularly want a family with her [and] was prevented by law from having a family with her was part of the attraction."


Trevor added that Patricia only wanted a child, not a man running her life, so Robert was perfect for the task. After much insistence, Robert said yes, and Trevor, named after Patricia's favorite Hollywood star John Travolta, was born on February 20, 1984.

It is essential to remark that interracial relationships were illegal in South Africa due to the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, so Trevor was "born a crime."

Queen would pose as Trevor's mom, and Patricia, walking a few steps behind them, would act like Queen's maid.



Things didn't get any easier after Trevor was born. Patricia couldn't tell anyone that Trevor's dad was White, so she claimed his father was from Swaziland, a small landlocked kingdom in the west of South Africa.

She also lied in Trevor's birth certificate and claimed he was born in KaNgwane, the semi-sovereign homeland for Swazi people who lived in South Africa.


Although Robert knew he didn't have to care for Trevor, he wanted to be involved in his life, so the mother-and-son duo would sneak around to visit Robert.

Trevor and Robert could be together only indoors. If they went out, Robert had to walk across the street from him. When Trevor was a toddler, he could not be seen in public with Patricia, either, because a Black woman with a light-skinned kid would attract too much attention.

Eventually, Patricia found a way to beat the system. Although being "mixed" – to have a Black parent and a White parent – was illegal, being "colored" – to have two colored parents – was legal, so she claimed Trevor was colored.


When Patricia had to work, she would leave Trevor at a nursery in a colored area. She met a colored woman named Queen, and when she wanted to take Trevor to the park, she would ask Queen to come with them.

Queen would pose as Trevor's mom, and Patricia, walking a few steps behind them, would act like Queen's maid. When Queen could not join them, Patricia would walk or carry Trevor herself, but if she saw the police, she would drop him and pretend he was not her son.


Patricia eventually took Trevor to Soweto so her family could meet him, but living there was even more challenging than in Johannesburg because only Black people were allowed.

Trevor could not leave his grandmother's home because authorities would know he was mixed right away. His grandmother's neighbor was Black but worked for the police, so they had to be very careful to smuggle Trevor in and out of her place.



In 1992, Patricia married mechanic Ngisaveni Abel Shingange, father of Trevor's two brothers, Andrew and Isaac. Unfortunately, Shingange was abusive, so Patricia left him four years later.

She kept living with him in the Johannesburg suburb of Highlands North. In 2003, she moved to the property's backyard to avoid the abuse, but things got out of control in 2009 when she became engaged to Sfiso Khoza.


Shingange was so jealous that he shot Patricia and left her for dead. He then hunted down Trevor, but he couldn't find him. Fortunately, Patricia survived, and although Shingange was convicted of attempted murder, he was sentenced only to probation.

Trevor, who was already making a name for himself as a comedian, fled to America because Shingange threatened to end his life.



Although Trevor is a successful media personality in the States, Patricia still lives in Johannesburg. She runs a property company and has never wanted to benefit from his money or fame.

On the other hand, Trevor's grandmother lived in Soweto. Like Patricia, she refused several offers to get financial assistance from Trevor. She died on May 12, 2022.



Trevor once admitted that Patricia was the first "true comedian" he met. He described her as a "very animated" person who would do everything from pulling faces to changing her voice to make you laugh.

She would also do funny physical things and think like a stand-up comedian without realizing it. Patricia Noah passed down those "natural talents" to Trevor, who fell in love with comedy because it kept his family going throughout years of adversity. What a life story!

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