Slowing down to a trot they turned onto the next street where Ntlazane Road intersected with Sakrili. It was also the juncture where the twins usually played in the yard of one of their friend’s houses.

Abongile spotted Sisipho – the youngest of the twins by a minute or two – slowly tip-toeing towards one of her friend’s hiding places behind a bush.

“Sisipho! Ma’s calling you and Thando,” he shouted.

He didn’t really know why he said that, but right then he felt a protective urge to make sure they were safe at home. He didn’t like the thought of them playing around innocently when there was so much violence possibly happening, so close by.

He saw her disappointment as her body suddenly sagged and he felt a slight pang of guilt.

“Why!?” she asked, beginning to seethe at the injustice of it all. It wasn’t late yet.

He pretended to not hear her. From Sakrili they turned into Qoqobe and 200m away they saw the crowd standing in the middle of the road, like they were watching a cow being slaughtered. There were people still arriving.

Finding a new burst of speed, they ran towards the crowd and threaded their way towards the centre. His friends had been right, a sizeable chunk of the community was there.

The boys saw a lifeless, bloodied body, lying on its stomach in the middle of the road.

“He’s dead,” Avela whispered, like it was a secret between them, a secret no-one else in the crowd was privy to, though they were the ones who had just arrived.

Talk buzzed around the gathering, like a song. They were like flies doting upon a dead, rotting thing.

“I wonder, what did he–”

“They always look pitiful when it’s like this. You just feel sorry for them … forgetting what they did to get here.”

“Is he still alive?”

Abongile looked around, saw the looks of horror, of disgust. And yet people continued to stand there and watch, determined to see things through, without participating in any active way.

There were people on their phones; he figured they were calling the police and an ambulance.

Just then Siphenathi suddenly careened into Abongile as he and Lutho were pushed aside by a man carrying a 20-litre bucket, with water splashing up the sides. He walked over to the body and stood, pouring water on the head.

The boys were jolted, looking the same way the crowd must have looked when Jesus brought Lazarus back to life. The body was now animated, raising its head and trying in vain to wipe the blood from its face before flopping back down again.

It reminded Abongile of the times when he was younger, slowly drowning ants in his backyard with soapy water he sprayed from a used Handy Andy bottle. He would sometimes let an ant drag itself out of a muddy pool, watch it wipe at its antennas with its front legs. He would be mesmerised by the almost human quality of it, like it was lathering soap into its hair before he gave it another shower. Now it was disturbing.

The man with the bucket had not stopped, nor did he seem surprised that the body still had life in it. He continued walking towards the other side of the circle the crowd had made.

It was then that the boys realised that a second person had been caught. They had been so transfixed by mortality and what violence can do, that they hadn’t noticed that there was someone else; someone yet to be battered, cut open with fists and kicks.

The other body was seated on the kerb, a car tyre around his waist and stomach, his back to them. He was talking to some of the men, who eyed him with anger and threw him sadistic sneers.

Abongile was drawn towards the scene; he threaded through the crowd, moving closer to see what was happening.

Suddenly – from nowhere – one of the men talking to the boy kicked him, very hard. The force of the blow turned the boy towards him. And to Abongile’s horror, through the red, bloody spray, he realised he knew who the boy was.

It was his older cousin, Phumlani.


Tell us: Do you think what the community are doing to Phumlani and the other boy is right? If so, why?