By Friday Fana has changed his mind. He has even let Tony and his brothers stay with us, in the back room, for a while. The ward councillor has agreed to come to the meeting and he is for peace in the community.
At the hall he starts by explaining that everyone will be allowed to express their views but that people must respect each other’s views.
“These people sell us expired foods that make us and our children sick,” a lady at the back voices her opinion.
“They are the perpetrators of crime!” another adds, and I sense chaos about to erupt in the audience as they all join in. Everyone seems to agree.
Nonny looks at me nervously and holds my hand tightly, “This doesn’t look too good,” she whispers and I nod. I see Tony from the corner of my eye and I’m afraid to look at him and see the disappointment in his eyes.
“Anyone else?” the councillor asks after almost everyone has said their piece. I raise my hand, and before I can think twice, I am on my feet and standing, facing everyone.
“My name is Melokuhle,” I say and the audience quietens, “And I disagree with those of you who want foreigners out.”
People start grumbling but the councillor silences them.
“My father taught me to stand up for what I believe in. And today I believe in justice. I believe in freedom – for everyone. I believe that the days where we were discriminated against because of race and ethnicity should be long gone. I believe in the new South Africa.”
Nonny smiles at me. I go on: “I believe in the Constitution that clearly stipulates that everyone has a right to life and human dignity, and a right to be treated with respect and not be discriminated against, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or skin colour.”
A lot of people whisper and finally a hand is raised. “So how do you suggest we live together in the same community with these people who are getting wealthy out of our own sweat and tears? They were not there when we built this community, a society of people who work together.”
There’s a commotion again and I see some heads nodding.
“I believe that we could work together, reach a compromise and decide together as a community on how we can alleviate unemployment, without blaming others for taking jobs.”
A few heads nod in agreement.
“I also believe that we can reach a compromise where everyone contributes to the growth and well-being of the community. We could work together, share skills and create employment.”
More people nod although some still look unsatisfied.
“And no selling of expired goods!” someone shouts and I nod.
“We will make sure that doesn’t happen too,” I say – hoping that this can be achieved.
The commotion starts again and I return to my chair.
Nonny whispers, “I’m proud of you,” but I still feel like I haven’t done enough.
Fana now stands and shares his legal opinion – how it is illegal to discriminate against other human beings. I smile at him. I am glad he changed his mind.
The head of the local police unit, who has also come to the meeting, states that he will be making sure that arrests are made of anyone who attacks foreigners.
The meeting is concluded by the councillor. Although I can see many aren’t convinced, they agree that it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to make sure that peace is restored in our community.
Some people walk out dissatisfied, but there is more relief than sadness now.
“I’m proud of you.” Tony grabs my hand as we walk out.
“What’s your full name I ask him?”
“Tonderai,” he says, and it sounds so smooth rolling off his tongue.
“Tonderai,” I say and he smiles before kissing my lips softly.
“You’re so brave,” he says, “and that’s why I love you.”
I smile at him and the new sense of freedom we’ve found. This is a milestone in our community. It will be hard, but I am hopeful, and I am glad to have been part of this change.
“I love you too, Tonderai,” I say and his smile widens. His smile looks brighter, and not burdened by the fear of tomorrow. He holds my hand. There’s a new sense of freedom and belonging.
It is a beautiful feeling – it’s a new dawn.
Tell us: If you were Tonderai, would you ever feel safe in that community again? What choices would you have though?