‘I’m a wreck. I feel pain in my heart’

2011-06-11 15:55

It is a photograph that is often seen in newspapers and on television screens – a man with a bloodied chest dying in the arms of another.

This man holding the dying man is dressed in an Orlando Pirates shirt and red baseball cap, his mouth wide open and eyes shut as he desperately calls out for help while the life ebbs away from the man in his arms.

While the image grabbed the imagination of the public, Molefi Nonyane (42), the man in whose arms Ficksburg activist Andries Tatane took his last breath, says it has brought him nothing but misery.

To this day, he cannot bear to look at the image. Each day he lives with the memory of loud bangs from police guns firing rubber bullets at his comrade and he often smells teargas even when there is none.

He recently began attending counselling sessions but the trauma has taken its toll.

“This is depressing me. It’s very stressful,” he says.

“When we started this thing we thought it was just something we would deal with quickly and life would get back to normal. We never anticipated that one of us would die in that manner.”

We are at a busy intersection on the outskirts of the township where Nonyane grew up. Motorists hoot and wave at him and he waves back but he’s not at ease, eyeing each car that slows down with suspicion.

Earlier we had met at a house where he said he was taking refuge and had driven to the outskirts of the township. He feared for his life, he said.

He says he suspects that being the key witness in Tatane’s murder trial and his position as an executive member of the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens (MCC) has put his life in danger, but he won’t say from whom.

The MCC is an organisation formed by citizens to raise grievances ranging from poor service delivery, nepotism and corruption to the slow pace of development against the Setsoto local municipality, which incorporates the eastern Free State towns of Ficksburg, Marquard and Clocolan.

To further fuel his fears, two weeks ago, after attending a meeting of the MCC in Meqheleng, he received a call from a former business associate who wanted to meet him urgently in town.

Nonyane, a businessman who regularly organises music shows and racing events, says back in 2006 he was involved in a deal to sell houses in Welkom.

But the deal failed after intervention from an organisation repre-senting people who could not meet their bond repayments and who were opposed to evictions.

To his horror, when he arrived in the centre of the sleepy town at about 7pm after the call from his former business associate, he was arrested by a group of officers who identified them-selves as members of the Hawks.

They were accompanied by a team of heavily armed riot police.

He was taken to Bloemfontein and charged with fraud 24 hours later.

However, he was released the following day after the charges were dropped.

The arrest raised suspicion that it was an attempt to intimidate him ahead of the trial.

“I don’t want to come across as a victim and say I’m being victimised because I’m a key witness in the Tatane trial ... but I find the whole thing quite suspicious,” he says.

Nonyane says while being taken to Bloemfontein, police questioned him about his role in the Tatane trial.

“I thought I was going to die.

“It all looked dodgy.

I know that the case was opened in Welkom in March at exactly the time that the MCC started mobilising people.

If it was opened in Welkom in March, why was I taken to Bloemfontein and why am I only being arrested now?”

During a protest march to the municipal offices in Ficksburg in April, police assaulted and shot Tatane, who was also an influential member of the MCC and a private tutor.

The post-mortem results revealed that Tatane died of a bullet wound to the chest. Eight policemen charged with his assault and murder have been released on bail.

Nonyane says though Tatane’s death has obviously affected him negatively, he will not allow fear to drag him away from the cause.

Last month a task team appointed by the Free State provincial government to probe the MCC’s demands suspended four municipal officials.

“We have been made to look like we are fighting the government but we are not,” he says.

“We are fighting corruption, nepotism and lack of service delivery.

We are exercising our rights as citizens.

That is why a week before the elections we suspended all activities of the MCC so that residents could vote.”

His eyes moisten and he pauses often to control his speech when he talks of the day Tatane died in his arms.

“No, no, no!” he says when I ask him if he still looks at the photograph.

“It was very hectic. I was not prepared for that.

It was as if there was no one nearby, although there were many people around.

My only connection with the outside world at that moment was the photographer.

He kept on coming closer, taking a few shots, then going back.

I thought he would come and help me but I could see fear in his eyes.

It was very, very traumatic.”

Nonyane says he has tried to deal with the trauma by “locking away everything and throwing away the key” but people remind him of it every day.

Although he is undergoing counselling now, Nonyane, a father of three boys and a girl, says he still feels weak.

“I’m a wreck. This thing has finished me.

I feel pain in my heart that I never had before, like someone is inserting pins into my heart,” he says.

“Before, I was very sociable but after that incident I feel I’m a changed man. My family is also suffering.

My wife has lost weight, my children always ask me questions, they want to know if I’m safe.

“But I’ve told my wife that if anything happens to me she should just accept it.

Some of these things are beyond our control.”

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