By Vanessa Papas: Thandokazi Mashalaba was 12 years old when a series of gunshots altered her entire existence. In a period of less than a minute, she became one of the hapless victims that our society often overlooks – a child who witnesses a parent gruesomely murdered. Today, 14 years later, Thandokazi is an adult who carries with her scars she says will never fade.
“You can’t undo something you’ve seen. For me, learning to live with the loss of my mom and the tragic circumstances surrounding her death is something I’ve yet to deal with. My mom, Nomalunga, and I were incredibly close. We did everything together. I was an only child for 10 years so wherever she went, I was there. If she were alive today, she would have been my best friend. Instead, her life was taken away from her at the age of just 29, and at the hands of her own brother.
Recalling back to the events that unfolded on the eve of Sunday, 9 November 2003, Thandokazi explains she’d just come home from visiting a friend when she heard arguing. “We lived in a block of flats in Kempton Park and shared the flat with my mom, dad, little brother and uncle. I was walking back home from a friend’s house. I got up to the fourth floor of our apartment and heard some noise. I could recognise my mom’s voice. I had never before seen or heard my parents fight so I knew something was wrong,” says Thandokazi. “I went inside and saw my mom yelling at my uncle who I later found out was drunk. He had vomited all over the couch. My mom was shouting at him while cleaning the mess. At the time my uncle was employed by my mom, who owned a security company. He was to report for duty the next morning at 04h00. My mom was angry and could not understand how he could be so disrespectful towards her and get intoxicated a night before work.”
Thandokazi says the noise eventually died down and she thought everything was resolved. “I went into my mom’s room and I was playing on her cellphone when my uncle came inside and pulled out a jacket that my dad had given him as a gift. He then walked to the side of the bed and was fiddling but I wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing. I remember him looking at me and saying, ‘I’m sorry’. I assumed he was apologising for yelling and fighting in front of me so I replied back, ‘it’s okay’, and gave him a quick smile before returning back to my game.”
A few moments later, Thandokazi heard the family’s helper screaming followed by loud bangs. “I ran out to see my mom falling to the floor. My body froze. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I bolted out the door and to the parking lot where I told the security guard what had happened before running to my friend’s house and alerting a Metro Police officer who was patrolling the area.”
When Thandokazi returned home paramedics and police were on the scene. “I asked one of the paramedics if my mom was okay. He shook his head and replied, ‘it’s not looking good’. I had no idea just how serious her condition was. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed she was dead. They wouldn’t allow me to go back inside the flat. I spent the night at my friend’s house. I woke up the next morning I actually still went to school! At school I never said anything to anyone. I was very hopeful that I would visit my mom in hospital but when I got home all her clothes were packed away and that is when I knew what happened. I do not remember giving a statement to any police officials.”
Thandokazi later learnt that her mom had been shot seven times by her uncle, Abongile Mashalaba, who was 26 at the time. When police entered the flat they found Thandokazi’s two-year-old brother Aviwe playing on top of the his mother’s body, surrounded by a pool of blood.
“I don’t remember much of my mom’s funeral service. It was held back at home in Libode Village, Umthatha, Eastern Cape,” she says. “The funeral was very big. All her friends were there. The company she worked for hired a bus for all her colleagues to attend the funeral and flew family members down to Mthatha. I had my head bowed the entire service and just sobbed.”
Mashalaba was arrested and the gun used in the fatal shooting handed over to police. The court imposed a lighter sentence for murder because he was intoxicated when he committed the crime and Mashalaba was sentenced to just 10 years.
“He came out after seven years for good behaviour and moved in with my cousins in Soweto,” says Thandokazi . We stopped visiting them when we heard they’d allowed him to stay there. I have seen him twice since my mom died. From what I’ve heard he is now occupying the property on which my mom was buried. He has tried to get in touch with me on social media but I am not interested in hearing what he has to say.”
When asked if she has come to accept her mom’s death, Thandokazi says the loss is something she carries with her all the time. “Losing my mom changed my entire life. I feel her loss more now that I’m an adult than when I was a child. I envy the relationships my friends have with their mothers. There are times I break down. It’s a feeling that just comes without warning. I have had to leave meetings and go cry in the toilet. What is sad is that I hardly talk about family because I do not have anyone. After my mom passed away I lost my dad and my gran passed away two years ago. She was my everything and step into my mom’s shoes when she died. The only one I have left is my brother. Big events will not be same for me. Who will accept my Lobola since my parents are no longer around? Who will speak honestly about my upbringing since my close family has all passed on? Who will be there to celebrate with me if I ever have a family of my own? The split decision my uncle made has ramifications no one will ever be able to truly understand.”