I heard a loud screeching of car tires behind me as I was about to get inside the house. It was a shiny black Mercedes Benz, the recent model, with dark windows. I had noticed a week ago that it was following me, but it never went past me that close.
I felt my heart beat fast and my palms sweating whilst my body was shaking and my vocals froze. Good gracious, what was happening?! My mother, whom I live with, came out immediately. Her face was pale from fear; I could see it in her eyes that she felt like crying.
“Oh my goodness, Zama! Are you okay?” My ears were somehow blocked, her voice seemed like it came from a long distance or in a teeny tiny tin, but her warmhearted hug eased my own fear, “Get inside!”
“Yeah, I’m okay, mom! Nothing to worry about, really” I said after drinking the sugary water for shock, trying very hard to hide my true feelings.
“No, you’re not! Is this all about the new story you’re working on?”
All of a sudden, my tears rolled down uncontrollably, it was as if a flood-gate was opened, “Yes, mom.”
“My child, I know you are passionate about your job, but I think you should lie low for a little while, stop your investigation.”
“Not you too, mom. Not you too! People need to know that what’s happening to them is not magic or karma, it is serious. How long must innocent people suffer because of those in power who think they are invincible?”
“Your Editor-in-Chief is right, baby. This is a serious issue and your life is more important than a story.”
“I can’t believe this; you think it’s all about the story? Ma, it’s about people’s rights that are being violated, my right and my freedom of speech is also being violated here. I refuse to be silenced, Ma. I refuse.”
I could see that mom was terrified. She was torn apart by all that was happening, but I needed to expose these people. Even if it’s the last thing I do. After a few weeks, I could feel the pressure. I was suspended at work and I had no backing, but I was adamant of getting to the bottom of the story.
I had met my friend and former colleague, Nadine, a super good investigative journalist, and she had agreed to secretly help me. Hence, we met at a struggling coffee shop out of town, away from prying eyes and away from the black Mercedes Benz that had been stalking me these past weeks. Five weeks to be precise.
“I can see this has taken its toll on you, Zams. Take it easy.”
“I have interviewed a number of the residents in the informal settlement. The water issue has not been resolved. This means that they are using their time and resources on keeping people quiet instead of working with the community to resolve this.”
“I have some information here. The names of the key masters are in here. Treasure this envelope with your life, Zams. See you.”
After a year-long investigation
As I was stuck in the traffic, the man beside my car held a bunch of newspapers, one with the big bold caption: FREEDOM AT LAST: THE WATER CRISIS AT NKANINI by Zama Mantla and Nadine Prakur. It surely proved to me that fighting for one’s rights came at a price. As a result of the long risky investigation that made me duck bullets and flying fists and even resulting in me going into hiding, my dear friend, Nadine, was murdered on her way to work just a few weeks ago. And today, I am going back to work, having retained my freedom of speech and the masterminds having been arrested for corruption.