1976 – A Country Re-Imagined (Part 2)

10 February 1990

I am now 26 years old and ever since I watched the police shoot Tsietsi Mashinini dead, a specific dream has been a regular feature on many nights. It’s about me running in the dust then being shot by, well, me. On this particular night I am roughly shaken from my sleep. I realize that it’s actually my friend, Hastings Ndlovu, who’s shaking me awake. I had past out and missed our meeting hour at 11pm, it was now 11:20pm. He laughs at how I always struggle to wake up. I put on my sneakers and we live my back room shack, which is in my families yard. We head out into the night to begin our job.

Well, it’s not a job as such because we don’t get paid. “The struggle is the duty of every black soul in this land”, declared Radio Freedom. Myself and Hastings decided to contribute with what we new best, running. If Tsietsi’s death had taught me one thing, it was “run faster”. Due to our speed, members of the underground movement had made us messengers. Underground postmen, so to say. Moving important letters from one Section of Soweto to another. We were forbidden from opening any of the letters for fear that if we are captured, we would be tortured into confessing and thus compromise the struggle. So we moved through dead of night doing, at least, 2-3 Sections before dawn.

Let me tell you about the Sections Act in Soweto and other townships. The Pass Laws of the 1950’s had nothing on what the Apartheid government hatched up in ’84. After some episodes of violence between two townships in Soweto (some would say this violence was state sponsored), the government decided to build a 2 meter high wall spanning the “border” of the two townships. “It is for the peoples’ own safety”, they had said. At the time, one wall didn’t seem all that bad, good even. But by 1990, the walls were law and Soweto had been chopped up into 12 Sections, A-L. This simultaneously obliterated the townships that had made up Soweto in the first place. I lived in F. Each Section had one entrance. All entrances required a pass to get in or out. It was the same in many other townships around the country. If you didn’t have a valid reason for wanting to leave or enter, neither happened. This meant that children under 16 were not allowed to leave any black area.

But, any system has flaws. There were parts of the walls that weren’t that heavily guarded. Messengers would exploit these and scale the barbwired walls. We always worked alone. But on this night Hastings had asked me to go with him to Section B because he had received orders to go there. It was unfamiliar to him and the instructions had made him nervous. I, on the other hand, had been at this for longer than him. So agreed to go.

It was simple enough: go to Bab’Gumede’s house in F. Collect the back pack and go to B and deliver at the given address. It was in D where things went wrong. A patrol car had come out of nowhere. We weren’t too far from the part of the wall where we climbed over and I was a fast runner. Hasting wasn’t. I was perched on top of the wall, barbwire digging into my flesh, trying to pull him up when the police dogs got hold of his legs. I was pulling him up by pulling the back pack. He was screaming in pain but the dogs would not relent. With the force of the pulling, the bag straps snapped and Hastings fell. I was flung to the other side of the wall by the force. I heard him scream from the other side as the dogs dragged him and the police beat him. “DELIVER, HECTOR! DELIVER!” It would be a long time before I heard anything about Hastings again.

I had never ran as fast as u I did that night. I delivered the bag, but I didn’t go into the house. Messengers were not allowed to deliver to sections they were not assigned to. I left the bag on the front door. Knocked, then split. I delivered my package and barely made it home before the sun was creeping up.

11 February 1990

In the morning I’m woken up by my sister, frantically banging on my door. “There’s an important announcement on Radio Freedom!”, she shouts. I get out and run with her into the house. The announcement had already begun.

 “…He (President De Klerk) says there was an attempted escape on Robbin Island. Some tried to break out. They shot him. The shot him”. Said the announcer, emotional in disbelief of the very words he was saying. “MANDELA IS DEAD! THEY KILLED HIM!”, she shouted

* This story, although influenced actual event, is purely fictional. All due respect is given to those whose names are mentioned throughout, their families and friends.