Newsmaker – Emmanuel Sithole: A life over R2.50

2015-04-27 06:00

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The only physical evidence of Emmanuel Sithole’s life in Alexandra is the double bed he shared with his cousin, a small TV and a two-plate stove.

A hole in the wall of the single-room backyard shack in John Brand Street in Alexandra in which the 35-year-old Mozambican lived reveals little else.

Perhaps this is why the father of three from Moshongwe village risked his life to chase the four men who had robbed him of a single cigarette, which he was selling at his hawker’s stand on Seventh Street for R2.50.

South Africans knew little about Sithole before he was stabbed with an okapi knife about 100m from his stand in front of Sunday Times photographer James Oatway. Sithole became the seventh foreign national to be killed in xenophobic violence this month.

Thanks to Oatway’s pictures, the police arrested Mthinta Bhengu, Sifundo Mzimela, Sizwe Mngomezulu and Ayanda Sibiya. They appeared in the Alexandra Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

The four stood in the dock before a packed courtroom. Outside, scores of residents sang struggle songs, decrying the outbreak of violence in their neighbourhood.

Sithole’s uncle John called his slain nephew’s wife, Serena, who was at home in the thatch hut she shares with their three children – daughter Maria (1), and sons Chipo (3) and Josiah (6) – last Saturday afternoon to break the news of her husband’s death.

She became hysterical, sobbing loudly on the phone, unable to believe he was dead.

The number for Sithole’s uncle was the last one Sithole had dialled after he had been stabbed, but the call didn’t go through.

Sithole’s cousins, Anna and Fernando, said it was ironic that he had died in such a violent way. He was their family’s peacemaker.

“Whenever there were arguments, he always intervened and sat everyone down to help reach a solution,” said Anna.

“Even if we shouted at him, he would never get angry. He would always be soft and calm, and once we had cooled down, he would explain the other side of the argument to us.”

Last Saturday morning, Sithole left his shack and pushed his trolley containing cigarettes, matches, sweets and repackaged packets of orange maize crisps to his spot on Seventh Street.

He traded seven days a week from 7am until 7pm.

Fernando said Sithole worked like a slave to scrape together R2?000 a month to send home to his wife and children. He said Sithole had arrived in South Africa in 2013 to find a job.

He was insistent that his children, who he missed terribly and spoke about every day, would go to school and have a better life than him. After finding no work, he started his hawker’s stand in desperation.

Fernando said shortly after 8am on Saturday, four young men from the township approached his stall and one of them helped himself to a single, loose cigarette.

The man didn’t want to pay for it and the four allegedly ran away. Sithole gave chase and, in less than a minute, was fatally stabbed in full view of bystanders and Oatway’s camera.

Standing a few metres from where his cousin was killed, Fernando said the family was battling to come to terms with Sithole’s death.

“We lived together as brothers, and we sold cigarettes to support ourselves and our families back home.

“Emmanuel was the one who introduced me to selling things after I failed to get a job from many companies,” he said.

Although Fernando is fearful of more attacks on foreigners in the neighbourhood – he says he and other foreigners had been told by people in the area last Saturday that they should “voetsek” back to their home countries – he continues to sell cigarettes, crisps and sweets in the same area in which his cousin was killed.

“I have to make a living. Mourning and grieving will not pay the bills, and I have a family back home to support,” he said.

Anna, who lives in Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, said her cousin’s wife and children now had no one to care for them.

“With the little money he made, he ensured his family would not sleep on an empty stomach,” she said.

Sithole will be buried in his home village in Mozambique on Thursday.

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