Gun violence and the tragedy left in its wake

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In August 2015, 32 year-old Brenda Nyala was shot and killed in a friends’ home by an intruder. The death of the young mother of three left her family reeling both emotionally and financially, as they tried to answer the why’s while picking up the pieces caused by the tragedy.

“Please God help me.”

These are the first words that left the lips of 63-year-old Mabel Nyala from Gugulethu when she was told that her daughter, Brenda, had been shot and killed.

It was 3am when Mabel’s cell phone vibrated next to her as it rested on the bedside table. The voice on the other end of the line delivered news that would forever change the trajectory of Mabel’s life, as it told her that her beloved daughter had been fatally gunned down.

The details that surround her death are sketchy, no one has been arrested and the investigation is continuing, but for the family that remains, no conclusion can bring peace to their hearts.

“Brenda was my helping hand. She worked sometimes, but couldn’t find anything permanent so she would help me and my older sister sell vetkoek from a container.

She always wanted things to be bigger, she would take the vetkoek and put it in a basket and walk to schools and community centres trying to sell more. She knew our family needed the money and she always worked hard for us.”

Financially, the toll of Brenda’s death has been a weight firmly on Mabel’s shoulders as she provides for her daughter’s three sons aged 4, 9 and 14 with the money she receives from her government grant and takings from her vetkoek sales. However, she says they will be okay because of the emotional support she receives from her sisters.

“Brenda is gone, but we want the boys to know that they have many mothers within all of us.”

“The eldest son is having the most difficult time. I’m older and don’t know how to help him through what he is feeling because he misses his mother. We’ve taken him to a counsellor and I am really hoping it helps him. We’ll pray it does.”

“I can’t take away what happened to Brenda, we live with it every day, but I can do something. I talk to my grandchildren about creating safer communities. They are young so I hope they will be able to make a difference.”

Mabel’s story is one of many stories of women who have survived gun violence either directly or indirectly.

For more information on how to make South Africa a safer country by reducing gun violence visit Gun-free South Africa.

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