When Thato returned to court a few days later there was a mass of people outside, marching and singing for justice. A swarm of press were there coaxing and digging for opinions from both sides. As Thato made his way from his car, entering the building, he was quickly, and firmly grabbed by the hand of Luthuli.

“I am sorry for your mother’s death. But I hope son, you haven’t been deterred from your goals. Such is life with its twists and turns. We still have a lot to do, me and you… Keep at it; you’ll soon be a partner at my firm. And who knows … you might end up like me someday.”

“Ah yes,” Thato responded. His mind was otherwise occupied.

The lawyer representing the people of Alexandra reminded the court of how such injustices go unpunished in South Africa, and questioned the morality and ethics of a system that favoured the wealthy. He stated how the perpetrators tried to shift the blame, and he was met by an uproar of wails and chants … chants which increased in volume when Thato got up.

“Shame on you. You killed your mother!” the cry of a woman from Alexandra echoed in the court.

Thato cleared his throat and then began to speak.

He told of his shame and how he had deserted his principles and his people. Everyone looked on, amazed and confused.

“To the community of Alexandra, as your son, please find it in your hearts to forgive me.”

He turned to the judge. “Your honor. People like me and my clients get away with so much. It goes against the Constitution which we say we uphold. It was through negligence and lack of foresight, but mostly lack of compassion, that Swartz Corp didn’t track what was happening to their waste. I have a witness who can prove that they knew where the waste was being dumped and ignored it.”

There was a gasp in the court.

The Judge ordered more witnesses be called, including Thato’s, and when he eventually passed judgement it was in favour of the people in Alex. Swartz Corp was ordered to pay sizeable compensation to them and make sure their waste was properly disposed of and not dumped where people could become poisoned by it.

The people attending court sang Thato’s praises when the case was closed. It was too late for his mother, but the community got reparations.

Thato knew that Edward Luthuli would disown him as ‘his son’, never speak to him again, and that his friends in high places would shun him.

But it was worth it, as his soul was once again, at ease.

***

Tell us: This story tells us that big corporations and the wealthy treat poor people’s lives as worth less than those of well-off people. Do you agree this is the case in South Africa today?