“Maziko, you fool, come here!” shouted a voice among a group of eight men. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

The men were all dressed in camouflage-brown overalls, like soldiers’ uniforms. Their eyes were red, as if they had all shared a mega-pound of marijuana. They all wore dark-brown half-boots; their eyes were all fixed on Maziko as they leaned against the side wall of a ruined house. None of them were smiling.

Maziko was Sandile’s younger brother and he had just returned from the Liwala shop where he had been sent by his mother to buy two litres of milk and a loaf of bread. It was still early morning.

The moment his name was called out, Maziko stopped. He strained his eyes to see if he recognised any of the faces among the men. There was not a single face he could identify. How did they know his name? They must come from around here, he thought.

“Oh! You think we are stupid, ne?” The same voice called out. The men were heading towards Maziko. As they came closer he knew he was in trouble.

Just as he was about to duck and run for his life, the men caught him by his arms and held onto him.

“Take that!” the men pulled the plastic bag from Maziko’s hand.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t hurt me, please! I beg you.”

“Now look who’s crying for help?” said one of the men, laughing.

“Don’t worry, we just want our money and that’s it.”

“Help!” Maziko cried out, but there was no one to come to his rescue.

“Shut up!”

By now the men had taken hold of Maziko’s legs and two of them pulled him off the ground and held him upside down. Maziko’s head was in the dirt. They began to shake him up and down like a sack of money.

There was a heavy clinking sound from Maziko’s pockets as the men kept shaking his trousers. Silver five-rand coins fell out like a casino jackpot machine.

“Ah-ha!” said one of the men delightedly.

“Hey, the money’s for kids, but those Nike trainers of yours …” They forced the white trainers from Maziko’s feet.

“No, please. Just take the money,” pleaded Maziko.

“You can walk barefoot the way you were created. You don’t tell us what to do here.”

Maziko was left barefoot in the dirt. His face was cut from where it had been scraped against rocks. His hair was full of sand.

As he stood up slowly, he felt dizzy and frightened. There was no sign of the men.

The place where Maziko had been robbed was a wide, open field near a ruined house, far from the Liwala shop. There was no one there to act as a witness to what had happened, even if the police caught them.

Maziko limped back home.

“Maziko, what happened to you?” asked his mother Joyce, shocked at the sight of her son.

“Ma, I’ve been robbed.”

Sandile came out from his bedroom. He was alarmed when he saw his young brother’s face all dirty with sand. He looked like a ghost.

“Who did this to you?”

“They took everything – the food, the money and even my trainers. It was a gang nearby the Fairview fields. I don’t know who they are; it was the first time I had seen them. One called out my name but I didn’t recognise him. Then they hung me upside down and took everything.”

Maziko placed his hands on his head as he sat on a wooden chair, still frightened to death.

“Those cowards are going to pay,” threatened his mother bitterly. “If they think they will get away with this, they are wrong.”

Ma Joyce was short with a light-brown complexion. She had a curly black afro ladies’ cut. Her features were identical to that of her son. She was a force to be reckoned with. Now she leant down and gave her son a warm hug.

“Don’t you worry, my son, it will all be all right,” she consoled him.

“Eish! Sorry, mfowethu,” replied Sandile with his own words of comfort for his brother. “You’ll need to take a warm bath, just to wash the dirt off.”

Maziko slowly stood up from the wooden chair and headed off to the bathroom without saying another word.

Sandile and his mother stared at each other for a moment, shaking their heads.

“What has become of this place?” asked Ma Joyce.

“This is what they were speaking about yesterday on the news. We can only be grateful that Maziko was not killed.”

“Well, Sandile, as the elder brother, it is time that you kept an eye on Maziko. We should all be thinking of each other’s safety for a change. I could never forgive myself if something were to happen to the both of you. Today was a lesson for me to not repeat the same mistake. The next time around you will walk together when you go to the shops.”

I was sitting outdoors in my yard in the morning sunshine as Sandile came back out of his house. In the morning we always chatted across the fence as the day began.

“We were live on the screen man. Bra Slash was right. Edo-Mill township is overrun with the Grizzlies.” Sandile shook his head. “They said this nightmare’s been going on for some time. I just could not believe my eyes when I saw everything. Clifford, my man, did you really see the news?”

Hayi, Sandile, it was bad man.”

Sandile was quiet for a moment. He looked upset.

“What’s wrong now, Sandile?” I asked.

“This morning my brother, Maziko, was robbed by a gang of tsotsis as he came back from the Liwala shop.”

“Where’s he now?”

“No need to worry,” replied Sandile. “He’s inside the house taking a bath. I’m just relieved they did not take his life. What they took from him was the groceries, the money and his trainers.”

“The Grizzly Bears,” I said quietly. They had moved so fast.

They were now operating in our neighbourhood.

* * *

Question: What do you think the residents in Sandile’s neighbourhood should do?