Richmond’s pain is still fresh

2010-10-23 00:00

THE scars of the past have not yet healed in Richmond, and the mention of a presidential pardon for killers from the 1990s is threatening to reopen old wounds.

Families of the victims said that although they would not stand in the way if President Jacob Zuma decides to pardon the killers, they are still bitter that the deaths of their loved ones were not accounted for.

Ninety-year-old Nanini Mchunu says he is unable to forgive the people who ambushed his wife, Nonhlwathi, with nine women and children in June 1992. They had taken refuge in his rural Phatheni homestead when they feared being attacked by ANC-linked warlords.

The frail-looking Mchunu displayed anger when the issue of a presidential pardon was raised. He said he will never forgive the killers.

“I don’t want to have anything to do with this pardon because my wife was killed for nothing. We were never IFP members and we knew nothing about politics,” Mchunu said.

Of 149 convicted murderers who have applied for pardon for political crimes, 21 are from Richmond.

Other families said they want to forgive and be able to exchange greetings with the killers on the streets, but the pain of losing their loved ones remains difficult to deal with.

Sthembiso Nxele (42) from Ndaleni lost his mother and three sisters on June 3, 1993. He is also blinded in his left eye and has a plate in his head, the result of being shot in the forehead. He said no one was arrested for the attack. “We always meet our attackers on the street and exchange greetings, but it is still painful that they were never arrested,” he said.

Nxele, the father of three children aged between three and 18, studied electrical engineering at Edendale and Northdale technical colleges in 1990, but his poor health due to his injuries meant he could not find a job.

The attack on the Ndabezitha family in Ndaleni left 11 people dead on January 23, 1999. They were on a night vigil,

Busi Ndabezitha (56) finds it hard to forgive those who killed her 18-year-old son, Syabonga Ndabezitha.

A local multi-party peace committee, which was formed in the early 2000s by Inkatha Freedom Party, ANC and United Democratic Movement (UDM) leaders, believes the murderers should be released for the sake of reconciliation.

The committee is organising a cleansing ceremony, which should take place before the prisoners are released.

Said Makhehla Mbanjwa, a member of the local ANC branch, “We have written to the premier’s office asking for its support because we want this to be a big feast for victims’ families to enjoy together with a hope that they will reconcile with the past.”

UDM leader in KwaMagoda Thomas Ngobese (56), whose sons Dumisani and Bhekokwakhe Ngobese, are in prison, supports the idea.

Nonhlanhla Nkabinde, the widow of slain UDM leader Sifiso Nkabinde, said her party members in the area are ready to receive prisoners back to the community.

“I cannot speak for all people in Richmond, but I know that UDM members are ready, and have always been ready to accept the prisoners back.

“Already we have five people who have been released and they have been integrated into the community. They are using skills they got in prison to make a living,” said Nkabinde.

She said that since the peace committee was formed in 2003, it has been mediating between prisoners and families of the victims in order to reconcile the two parties.

The ANC leader in Richmond, Andrew Ragavaloo, the author of Richmond: Living in Shadow of Death, said he cannot comment on the matter until there is a full consultation with victims’ families about the pardon. He said the peace committee’s role is not to consult the victims’ families.

The Witness has learnt that of 120 murders committed in Richmond between 1997 until Nkabinde’s murder in 1999, only 20 were successfully prosecuted.

Said a source, “The convictions were for the Ndabezitha homestead massacre, for eight victims of a tavern massacre and for the murder of Sifiso [Nkabinde]. If the rest of the murders are unaccounted for, it leaves a lot to be desired about reconciliation in Richmond.”

One victim whose killers have not been caught was Rodney van der Byl, former ANC deputy mayor of Richmond. He was shot and killed on May 8, 1998. His son Clinton said, “For a long time I have been trying to find out why no one was arrested, but nothing is coming out of it.”

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