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Trevor Noah | Source: Getty Images
Trevor Noah | Source: Getty Images

Patricia Noah Is Trevor Noah's Mother Who Bravely Gave Birth to Him During Apartheid

Naomi Wanjala
Jan 18, 2024
10:09 A.M.

Trevor Noah's mother, Patricia Noah, is one determined woman. Despite living in the apartheid era where black people had no voice, let alone decent jobs, she was committed to succeed.

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Under apartheid, black men worked in factories and farms, and women worked as maids or in factories. The idea of working in a factory is something Trevor Noah's mother, Patricia Noah, never envisioned, nor working as a maid and being micromanaged by a white woman.

So, against all odds, she enrolled in a secretarial course and began attending typing classes. At the time, it was almost impossible to find a black woman who knew how to type, let alone attend a class.

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

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

As Trevor puts it in his book, "Born a Crime: South African Childhood," "A black woman learning how to type was like a blind person learning how to drive." Patricia Noah was determined despite knowing she didn't stand a chance of securing a typing job.

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During apartheid, the law dictated that white-collar and skilled labor positions were exclusively reserved for white people, so black people didn't work in offices. Fortunately, in the early 1980s, the South African government began making reforms in an attempt to stop international protests over human rights abuses of apartheid.

These reforms included the groundbreaking move to hire a few black workers for low-level white-collar jobs. Amid this historic shift, Patricia seized an opportunity that would change her life.

Trevor Noah's Mom Lived in a Place Considered Illegal for Black People

Through an employment agency, Patricia landed a role as a secretary in a pharmaceutical company in the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg. Living in Soweto with her mother, Patricia commuted to her new job.

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

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However, as she turned 22, she made a courageous decision that would challenge the unjust norms of the time. She ran away to live in downtown Johannesburg—an act deemed illegal for black people during that era.

Leaving the township for the city meant carrying a pass with one's ID number; non-compliance led to arrest. Furthermore, there was a curfew for black people; they were required to be back home at a certain time, and failure to do so also resulted in an arrest.

Despite all these rules, Trevor Noah's mom wasn't shaken. Determined to start a life in the city, she hid and slept in public restrooms until she learned how to maneuver around through other black women, many working as prostitutes.

In 1992, she married a man named Abel in a simple wedding—there was no ceremony and no rings.

Most of these women spoke Patricia's language, Xhosa, so it was easy for them to interact. They introduced her to white men, mostly foreigners, who gave prostitutes a place to live and work. Also, they taught her how to dress up in maids' overalls.

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But Patricia Noah wasn't interested in such arrangements, plus she had a job, so she could comfortably pay the rent. She eventually met a German guy who agreed to rent her a flat.

Trevor Noah at the 81st Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2024, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images

Trevor Noah at the 81st Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2024, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images

Life in the city had many challenges as people snitched on each other. Having no one to trust, Patricia began spending most of her time in the company of her neighbor, a Swiss-German guy named Robert. 46-year-old Robert lived in 206, and Patricia lived in 203.

Patricia Noah Defied the Apartheid Law and Had a Child With A White Man

Robert, a Catholic, was more reserved and calm, while Patricia was wild and free. The pair would sometimes hang out indoors or go dancing in a nightclub. In the era of apartheid, the worst offense was engaging in intimate relationships with people of a different race. This very crime is what Trevor's parents, Patricia and Robert, committed.

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They grew fond of each other, and Patricia wanted a child, but Robert didn't want a family. He eventually agreed but did not commit to being in the child's life, which Patricia was perfectly okay with.

Trevor Noah at NeueHouse Hollywood on November 6, 2023, in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images

Trevor Noah at NeueHouse Hollywood on November 6, 2023, in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images

Impregnated by a man she couldn't be seen in public with, Patricia gave birth to Trevor on February 20, 1984, via C-section. She didn't even list Robert as Trevor's father on the birth certificate.

After welcoming her child, Patricia rented a new flat in a different area. The following week, when she visited Robert, he asked her about the baby. Robert had developed an interest in his son and wanted to be involved in the child's life, contrary to what he had said. So, while Patricia lived with their child, from time to time, she would sneak Trevor to visit his father.

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Patricia Noah Survived Being Shot by Her Ex-husband

Even though they shared a son, Patricia and Robert didn't end up together. In 1992, she married a man named Abel in a simple wedding—there was no ceremony and no rings. The two just signed papers and were pronounced husband and wife. The pair went on to welcome their son, Andrew. The former couple ultimately divorced in 1996 but continued to share a living space until 2002.

Trevor Noah at NeueHouse Hollywood on November 6, 2023, in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images

Trevor Noah at NeueHouse Hollywood on November 6, 2023, in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images

Patricia's marriage to Abel wasn't a match made in heaven. During an interview, her son, Trevor, narrated one of the scariest moments of his life. He recalled receiving a phone call from his brother saying that his stepfather had shot his mother in the head.

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She miraculously survived, and Abel was convicted of attempted murder but sentenced only to probation. Recalling the horrifying experience, Trevor said:

"I remember after the shooting, my mother was in the hospital, and all I felt was rage."

Trevor Noah at MoMA on November 1, 2023, in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Trevor Noah at MoMA on November 1, 2023, in New York City | Source: Getty Images

Despite Abel's attempts to kill Patricia, her son said he fled South Africa because his stepfather also threatened to end his life.

Patricia's influence on her son is profound, and he openly expresses his admiration for her. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the celebrated comedian spoke fondly of his resilient mother, emphasizing how her fearless approach to life served as a powerful inspiration.

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He shared, "She's the example that I live my life by," highlighting the impact of Patricia's courage and determination on shaping his values and perspectives. Patricia's son went on to achieve global success, popularly recognized for hosting "The Daily Show," where he interviewed prominent people, including Barack Obama, Will Smith, and more.

Even with Trevor's success, Patricia remains fiercely independent, a successful businesswoman who operates a property company. She made it clear that she doesn't rely on her son for financial support, proudly asserting her financial freedom and the success of her business ventures.

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