The rest of that day, not much more happened. I was photographed and my fingerprints were taken. I had to sign some forms. Not all of them made sense to me. At the police station was a cell, where I was locked up. I had to spend the night with an old, fat, very drunk guy who snored the whole time and did not speak to me at all.
The whole of the next day, I just stayed in the cell. On the third day, I was taken to a court not far away. The presiding magistrate was what we called a boer, a white Afrikaner, who looked at me with disgust. He explained the charges against me in Afrikaans, and they were then translated into isiXhosa by an interpreter. But I’d understood what was said anyway as I was not bad in Afrikaans at school.
I was accused of having raped Ababalwe during the night. And threatening to beat him if he told anybody. I was sure that he would never have invented this story by himself.
The magistrate paged through some documents for a while. Then, finally, he said to me: ‘Guilty or not?’ I knew I had to be strong and stand up for myself.
I looked at him and answered in Afrikaans: ‘Nie skuldig nie – not guilty!’ He made no response to my answer, just scribbled some notes on a piece of paper and gestured to one of the policemen to take me out. I was escorted out to a police van, but it did not drive back to the police station. Instead, it took one of the roads leading out of Graaff Reinet. I saw signs to PE.
PE is what we call iBhayi – Port Elizabeth, a big harbour town in the Eastern Cape.
By the time we arrived at the outskirts of PE a few hours later, my back felt painful from the long drive in the uncomfortable van. We pulled up at a modern-looking place with high walls around it that had barbed wire on top. I didn’t know it then but this was Enkuselweni, the juvenile prison for awaiting trial prisoners, young guys of between fifteen and twenty years
old. I had turned seventeen just a month before…
The policemen escorted me in. We had to pass through a few security doors, with lots of cameras and armed guards. I had to empty all my pockets and sign yet another form. Other than that, I could keep my normal clothes. I was then brought to a big cell with many other prisoners in it, some younger, some older than me. The door was locked again behind me. There were about fifty of us, just in our cell. I saw that some had their gang names tattooed on their arms and hands, and one even had it on his neck.
One of the older guys tapped me on my shoulder as I was trying to find a place next to the wall: ‘Uzotini apha – what are you here for?’
Everybody was watching us. He had a tattoo of the ama26 on the top of his hand. Ama26 are the robbery gangs, as ama28 is for those who do rape. I knew that one wrong word or one wrong move could be fatal – or at least cause serious trouble for me. Right now, at this moment … or later, tonight.
‘Shoplifting!’ I answered, looking straight back at the other boy.
‘Phaya – there!’ he pointed to a dirty but empty mattress across the way.
Tell us what you think: What do you think it feels like to be falsely accused?