The air was always heavy and thick as if to suppress the lungs from doing their duty. A plan was composed to wipe strength and courage from the surface of the earth. At times when I sit quietly I can still hear the grinding and roaring of the toughest beastly machinery of what we called “Istabhilithi”, packed with what looked to me like soldiers.

I still choke from the memories of breathing in teargas at random times of the day. I can still remember how I questioned myself, “Is freedom really free?” I was only 5 years old yet properly informed. I asked myself such a question because whenever I looked around I only saw ruins of what society described as freedom.

Where I come from is a place where every mother’s nightmare quickly becomes a reality when uncertainty strikes. But to them we were caterpillars yet to spread our wings and show our beautiful colours of success. Just yesterday I was a primary school scholar and my mother used to playfuly say, “Kusasa lokhu okusayo uzobe ungithengela isithabathaba somuzi” (It’s not too long now before you buy me a huge luxurious house). Her words brought hope and excitement. They brought about dreams of breaking free from the streets life offered me.

But we still live under the apartheid era under segregation and discrimination – as free as people claimed we were, the chains of politics still bound us mentally and psychologically.

The vivid evocation of stillness I felt on this particular day will never be erased from the corners of my mind. How am I honestly expected to forget the events of the day I was almost burnt alive.

My grandmother’s home was always warm and welcoming, I enjoyed the type of peace I felt, like trees moving calmly in a fresh breeze. Gogo, are you making me another beautiful dress for church?

See my grandmother was a Christian and we were obliged to go to Sunday school each Sunday. Gogo always said, “Yebo Nkosiyazi ngifuna ube muhle angithi nobaba wakho unezitayela ungafunga inkosimpela ukuthi uyakhohlwa ukuthi uzele,” (Yes Nkosiyazi, I want you to look absolutely beautiful, you do know that your father hardly buys you any clothes, you would swear he forgets he has a child).

Vezi (my uncle) says, “Hayi, Ma, ungayisho leyonto enganeni (don’t say that to the child) besides, Nkosiyazi knows I have committed myself to fathering her.”

“Yes wena baba omncane,” I eagerly responded. For me ubaba omncane (my uncle) was my everything. He meant the world to me and that day he took a bullet for me. They meant to destroy his prized possession.

From the corners of my eye I saw a close burning fire from the back window.“Hhayi bo! Gogo ubani oshisayo emnyango?” I asked that as calmly as I could. In my head I knew what was going on, but the innocence in me chose not to believe it.

“Vezi!” a voice from outside shouted.

“Ubucabanga ukuthi ngeke sithole ukuthi uwena osidayisayo? Kuphelileke ngawe nomndeni wakho namhlanje.” (Did you think we wouldn’t find out that you sold us out? It is over for you and your family today!)

My grandmother immediately turned pale from panic and fear. After setting the house on fire they stood surrounding it with guns and waited for any moving object that would come out.

It took such bravery from my uncle to do everything possible to rescue us. I still don’t know how he did it but I am so grateful he did. When he came out with me someone was already pointing a gun to my chest. He threw me down and jumped toward the gunman. The sound of the loud BANG the gun made will forever be engraved on my mind. I became paralysed from that disturbing sound and from all the smoke.

I soon felt hands grabbing me and pulling me in the opposite direction. I fainted, then looked up – it was my aunt. I was safe. I passed out again.

Although we all made it out alive and I survived I can never break free from these recollections of my past. Now, is freedom really free when my mind is withered and exhausted from such a traumatic event?

After all that I was moved from Mandeni and relocated to Durban to start afresh, to start a new life. Life promised to be gentle life, it promised to be good … or so I thought.