And waiting for homes as poverty bites

2011-02-19 16:47

The wounds have not quite healed yet. It’s been three years already, but ­memories of bullets, blood and dead bodies still haunt the people of the ­Skierlik informal settlement.

Johan Nel, the man whose bullets killed four people and injured 11 others in a racially motivated shooting spree, is serving more than 100 years in jail.

But the people of Skierlik in North West are left to wander around the desolate settlement with deep physical and emotional scars, and a sense of fear and suspicion of whites.

Christina Loutering’s son Onkarabile was one of Nel’s victims in the January 2008 shooting. The boy was only three years old when Nel walked up to him as he played in the black dust of Skierlik and shot him in the arm.

Onkarabile survived the shooting but is paralysed in the left arm, a constant reminder of just how close he came to death. When other kids tease him about his arm, he threatens to “shoot them like that white man”.

Sometimes, says Loutering, Onkarabile wakes up in a cold sweat in the dead of night.

“He scratches me and demands we go to town so I can buy him a gun and military uniforms so he can shoot that white man,” says Loutering, looking out to the sandy street where her son was shot.

“I am afraid he will grow up to be a ­killer like that Nel boy. That worries me a lot,” she says.

Loutering was doing household chores when she heard what she thought were firecrackers. As she walked ­towards the gate to reprimand whoever was making the noise, reality hit her.

She saw a young white man in military fatigues firing shots at her neighbour, ­Sivuyile Banani (35).

As Banani fell to the ground, Loutering screamed in ­horror, searching around for ­Onkarabile. But she was too late. Nel had already fired at the little one, who had been left behind by the older kids when they saw what was happening.

Margaret Madimabe (32) was doing her washing under a tree in her yard ­behind Loutering’s shack.

She remembers feeling something warm on her right arm after hearing shots. Next thing she knew she was ­running across the railway line behind her shack to hide in the veld with other screaming residents.

Now she has been forced to quit her job as a labourer at a nearby slate quarry because of the constant pain in her arm.

“When I went to the hospital after I was shot, they said there was gunpowder in my veins. Now, whenever it is cold I suffer.

I cannot lift anything heavy and my work was hard,” says Madimabe.

“Right now I don’t even want to see myself next to a white person.

“I am afraid of them and I can never trust them,” she says.

Tears well up in Joel Leburu’s eyes when he speaks of the scars Nel’s shooting has left on his family. Leburu (52) is Loutering’s husband and he was sick at the time of the shooting.

He was ­sitting in the shade, unable to get up as bullets whizzed past.

“We will never forget,” says Leburu, looking into the distance, a distant past filled with gunshots and bleeding arms.

“You know, it feels so bad to give birth to a normal healthy child, only for him to be disabled in this manner.”

Ofentse Motshelanoka’s nephew Tshepo (10) was killed in the shooting.

To this day, he says, the little boy’s ­mother cannot bring herself to even look at his photographs.

She is constantly sick and has become withdrawn, and avoids any conversation to do with the little boy’s brutal murder.

Recently, the North West provincial government held a service to commemorate the incident. But residents were not happy.

“It would have been better if Nel’s ­parents came here to show that they were sorry about what happened.

“It would have been better to shake hands because then we could start the process of forgiving.

“But how do you forgive someone who is not asking to be forgiven, someone who does not care?” asks ­Motshelanoka.

The Nels have since moved away from their farm near Skierlik.

Their son is locked up in a jail cell far away.

They might be gone, but to the people of Skierlik it makes no difference – Johan Nel ruined their lives and they will never forget or forgive.

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