Those defeated eyes aren’t new

2011-04-23 11:51

The pages of memory slowly flip open.

The widow’s anguished eyes are like a window onto the past.

Her’s is the voice of someone in utter shock and total disbelief. Just the other day her husband was alive, healthy and energetic as usual.

Then suddenly he was gone. At least for now she has the unwavering support of family and friends, who are themselves in shock.

There is a constant stream of visitors to the family home, media crews looking for a story and the story behind the story, and politicians allegedly coming to pay their respects and express regret at the brutal attack that led to her husband’s death.

The pages of memory flip open to one such time in the Eastern Free State town of Harrismith.

On August 31 2004, a young man of 17 years, Tebogo Mkhonza, joined thousands of residents to march against what has now been coined poor service delivery.

As the crowd of approximately 4 000 blockaded the busy N3 highway that flows past the town to Durban in the south and Johannesburg in the north, police officers, perhaps overwhelmed by the roaring mass of angry humanity, opened fire on the demonstrators.

As the demonstrators ran for dear life in the chaos, Mkhonza lay sprawled on the tar, writhing in pain.

Moments later he was dead, the first victim of what then became a wave of service delivery protests across the country.A day after Mkhonza’s death the family home in Intabazwe was a hive of activity, with media crews, politicians and family.

Media teams like ours got the interviews and the story, politicians made their promises and left, family from far and wide remained till just after the funeral.

The anguished eyes of Malehlohonolo Tatane, whose husband, Andries, was killed in a similar protest last week, reminded me of Violet Nqongwane, the aunt who raised Mkhonza.

Back in 2004 when I interviewed her following the death of her nephew there was this same disbelief and shock in her eyes.

But she kept a brave face as she spoke of the young man who was bright and obedient and determined to see change in his impoverished township.

This week when I visited Nqongwane she had a defeated look in her eyes.

After Mkhonza’s death the cameras left to chase another story elsewhere, politicians went on with their business of politicking, in the process neglecting to fulfil their promises to cover funeral expenses, and the family went back to their daily struggle to earn a living.

And then one day, she woke up to be greeted by a photograph in the local newspaper of the three police officers arrested and charged with Mkhonza’s murder celebrating their acquittal over a bottle of champagne.Nqongwane suffered a stroke.

Last week, as she watched the news on television and saw Tatane being savagely beaten up and shot by police officers; old wounds that had not healed were sliced open again.

The pages of memory flipped violently open and tears streamed down her 56-year-old face.

As I spoke to Malehlohonolo last week I wondered what life would hold for her and her two young children, aged seven and four, when the camera crews left Ficksburg to search for another story elsewhere.

What is going to become of the once happy family when politicians return to their constituencies to begin campaigning for the upcoming local government election?

All this we may never know, for tomorrow has yet to come. But yesterday taught us lessons, bitter lessons.

One can only quote the words of Alan Paton in his 1948 novel, Cry, The Beloved Country: “Aye and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved.

Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end.”

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