Kelly Khumalo: 'He is here, he will always be here’

Late on Tuesday afternoon, I drive through rush hour traffic to Kelly Khumalo’s home in the south of Johannesburg.

I have no idea where we’re going. I’m with Percy, Kelly’s friend, who’s told me that Kelly wants to see me. I cried when he called me.

By Tuesday, Kelly had fled her mother’s home in Vosloorus, the tiny house where two days earlier, her goalkeeper boyfriend, South Africa’s soccer hope and dream, Senzo Meyiwa, was brutally shot by alleged robbers.

One of three bullets fired exploded into his back and heart in front of seven people – including Kelly; her mother, Ntombi; her sister Zandile; and Christian, her six-year-old son who she conceived with convicted killer Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye.

I enter the lounge of her home in the gated, face brick complex. It bears testimony to her profound grief – images of Senzo in action are everywhere, among them photos of the two so obviously in love.

I look for Kelly as I enter the front room.

Her mother is holding Kelly and Senzo’s seven-month-old daughter, Thingo. The baby is a little replica of her father.

Kelly’s sister Zandi walks around dazed, apparently unsure of where she is going, what she is doing. I hug the two women and whisper condolences. I hold little Thingo. She is the only one smiling in the room.

“Where is she?” I ask.

“In the room, packing [Senzo’s] clothes.”

After shock, death is followed by brutal practicality.

Kelly finally emerges, tiny and torn apart by tears. Her eyes break as she moves towards me.

We hold on to each other, weeping for what feels like an eternity. There are no words.

Later, squeezing together on a black bean bag, she will tell me what happened that night. The fear, the terror, the chaos.

The gun cracked, tearing into her beloved’s heart. She spoke of how she raced him to the hospital through the darkness, across unforgiving potholes.

“I tried everything to save his life,” she said through spilling tears.

By the time they got to the Botshelong-Empilweni Private Hospital, Senzo was barely breathing.

“He died in my arms, Melinda. I felt his body go cold. We were so happy. Everything had been moved out the way for us to love each other. Why? Why?”

I have no answer.

Later, she smiled a little when I told her: “Besides me, you are the bravest girl I have ever known. One day, I promise you will wake up and it will be a little better.”

Embracing her grief-wracked body, I promise to throw fire at the haters.

Kelly has been vilified on social media, called “bitch”, “whore” and “murderer”. She has been accused of causing Senzo’s death.

She once told me: “The talent God gave me is bigger than the scandals, the drugs and mistakes I made with men.”

As I leave, Kelly says: “I am strangely peaceful.”

“He is here. He will always be here.”

While writing my book The Kelly Khumalo story, I spent a lot of time in the home where Senzo was shot.

The house, with SPAZA spray-painted on the front wall is tiny. The huge television and couch take up most of the living room. The kitchen where the two killers burst through is even smaller.

I first met Kelly in an empty restaurant in Norwood, Johannesburg, in October 2012. She was much tinier in real life, out of the tabloids. I first noticed her expensive snakeskin boots and then I saw her face: a fresh scar, the size of a 5c piece, aching to heal, dug into her skin just above her jawline.

She would later tell me that this was where Jub Jub bit her during a last round of fights. It was one of many wounds her life had inflicted on her.

Growing up in Ntinini in rural northern KwaZulu-Natal, she fought tooth and nail for survival – a chicken foot at Christmas was a treat.

She’d recently left the cocaine- and alcohol-fuelled relationship behind. Her eyes and face, devoid of make-up, looked wasted.

Images of Kelly, weave messed up, swollen-lipped, bruised black and blue, overtook memories of the young, nubile Zulu singing sensation who burst on to the music scene with her megahit Qinisela.

I accompanied her to her first Narcotics Anonymous meeting that night. Her desperation was clear and she was ready to receive help.

I have hardly followed her love affair with Senzo, repelled by garish headlines about catfights, lies, make-ups and break-ups.

The one consistent theme was of Kelly the home wrecker, while Senzo’s wife, Mandisa Mkhize, was the faithful and long-suffering wife.

When Kelly was arrested for assaulting Mandisa on the M1 highway last August, I castigate myself for not making contact. What kind of a friend am I? I make a mental note to call her. I forget.

A month later, Drum magazine reports that the charges have been dropped. It seems Senzo has made a statement to the police in defence of Kelly. He said it was in fact his wife, Mandisa, who had tried to sandwich between their two cars as they drove.

Then there are the pictures of Kelly, smiling serenely and heavily pregnant. Of her holding Senzo’s beautiful baby girl. Kelly had never looked happier.

I read how Senzo tried to negotiate with his traditional family to take Kelly as his second wife. Negotiations fail.

Senzo made his choice and embraced Kelly both privately and publicly. Her love for him was no mistake.

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