Corrie Sanders: How the murder of a boxing icon gave birth to hope

2016-06-20 09:33
Corrie Sanders informal settlement. (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)

Corrie Sanders informal settlement. (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)

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Pretoria – Poverty, crime and lack a lack of housing in the township of Oukasie, outside Brits, has given birth to an informal settlement that gives honour to slain South African boxing legend Corrie Sanders.

The nation was left reeling when news of the killing of WBO heavyweight champion Corrie Sanders broke in September 2012. As the world and country grappled with the violence behind the gentle boxer's killing, residents of the township near the scene of his murder took a decision to stand up and honour his life.

Residents of Oukasie mobilised and worked with police to get those responsible behind bars. The residents took their activism a step further when they vowed to make the area safer. Taking into account the challenges of living spaces and lack of employment, the residents vowed that no more blood would be spilled in their community.

That decision gave birth to the Corrie Sanders informal settlement. Despite there not being any running water or electricity, community members started building their homes in the bushy piece of land that the criminals who killed Sanders used as a hideout after committing the crime.

Joel Tlaila, a community leader, told News24 how the informal settlement came into being following the tragedy.

 "The suspects hid in the township in a bushy area that is now the Corrie Sanders informal settlement. There were other crimes that were taking place there. Two children were found murdered and the community got angry and decided that the only way to deal with crime was to occupy the land," said Tlaila.

Joel Tlaila in Corrie Sanders informal settlement. (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)

Killers got 43 years each

Sanders became the WBO heavyweight champion in 2003 after defeating Wladimir Klitschko via a second-round knockout in what was considered one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight boxing history.

The 46-year-old was shot during an armed robbery at the Thatch Haven Country Lodge outside Brits while attending his nephew's 21st birthday party on September 22, 2012. He died in the Kalafong Hospital the next day.

Sanders was talking to his daughter, Marinique, and a cousin near the entrance to the boma when three men stormed in and started shooting. He was hit when he moved in front of his daughter to protect her.

Sanders was already bleeding from wounds to his arm and stomach when he pulled her to the ground and told her to pretend she was dead. The robbers ordered guests to lie down and demanded their handbags, cellphones and cash. The Zimbabwean nationals were arrested a few days later at the Oukasie informal settlement near Brits after a tip-off. All were found in possession of some of the items taken.

The three were jailed for 43 years each in 2015, of which they have to serve 30 years. Pretoria High Court Judge Ferdi Preller sentenced Paida Fish, Chris Moyo and Samuel Mabena, all in their 20s, to 18 years imprisonment for murdering Sanders.

They were sentenced to 19 years for armed robbery and a further six years for possession of unlicenced firearms and ammunition. Preller ordered that some of the sentences run concurrently, giving a sentence of 30 years for each of the three men. They were all first offenders.

Corrie Sanders informal settlement. (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)

Building relations

The crime left residents of Oukasie shaken as some of them had interacted with the boxer and even trained with him at his gym in Brits. Although they have not yet discussed the naming of the informal settlement with the Sanders family, the residents said they felt it was the only way to show their appreciation for what he did for the community and ensure that he would never be forgotten.

"What happened to him hurt us and we decided to name this place after him. We don't want his name to fade from our history. We also wanted to build relations with those who were affected to assure them that we are not criminals. We are honouring him by naming this place after him," said Tlaila.

Sina Dlwengu, a member of the residents' committee, said they would like to meet with the Sanders family to explain why they used his name. She said they had been unable to do so as they did not have their contact details.

The informal settlement and the suburb he was killed in are only divided by a stream, which is also used by residents to get water. Poverty is rife in the area with the majority of those living there unemployed. Despite the lack of resources, the locals continue to honour Sanders' legacy by refusing to allow any criminal elements to thrive in the area.

In ensuring a crime-free community, shacks are not allowed to be unoccupied. Anyone allocated a stand is expected to live in the shack they build.

"We haven't had any serious crimes in the area since moving here. The only problem we had at the beginning was people not living in their shacks. Criminals would commit crimes somewhere and hide their loot in the shacks. We don't want that, which is why we demolish any unoccupied shacks," Tlaila said.

Corrie Sanders informal settlement. (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)

Waiting for services

Life is not easy at Corrie Sanders. Exactly a year since moving here, residents said they still do not have basic services. Samantha Eckersley said she would like to have clean water, electricity and frequent patrols from police. Walking through the streets of the informal settlement, electrical cables used for illegal connections are visible running above the shacks.

Residents say that was the only way they could get electricity to their area.

"Sanitary and health-wise, the toilets we're using in the area are not really equipped for women. Apart from that, all of us living here are doing it for memory and legacy of a great boxing icon that was murdered here," Eckersley said of the residents' determination.

Another resident, Khotso Modise, said he welcomed the decision to occupy the land as one of his relatives was a victim of crime on the very same piece of land.

"My aunt was once raped in the bushes that we are now occupying. It was a nightmare for the residents. I would love to see this area approved so that we can properly honour Corrie Sanders' name for generations to come," said Modise.

Read more on:    corrie sanders  |  pretoria  |  crime

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