From Msinga to Madala Hostel: tracing the path of Emmanuel Sithole's 'killer'

07 June 2015 - 02:00 By Beauregard Tromp


On April 18 this year 21-year-old Mthintha Bhengu stabbed Mozambican Emmanuel Josias Sithole in Alexandra township, Johannesburg. Like Sithole, Bhengu was not always from the big city, writes Beauregard Tromp In Johannesburg a man is killed. His death is foretold hundreds of kilometres away, in a place of internecine battles that go back more than 200 years and spread their tentacles from Durban to eGoli and leave a bloody trail in their wake.This is a place of war. This is Msinga, in rural KwaZulu-Natal, which has offered up its young men to the mines and taxi ranks and whatever piecemeal work they can find in Jozi while the women toil daily to keep bellies full and hope alive.This is where rounded rocks litter the dry rivers, where clumps of ash-grey soil crumble underfoot, where place names such as Matshematshe (Place of Stones) leave nothing to the imagination.This may explain why, on a rubbish-strewn street in Alexandra, Johannesburg, Mthintha Bhengu stood over a cowering Emmanuel Josias Sithole with a knife held high.story_article_left1"This is the way it's always been. It comes from all the wars," says Phendukile Luvuno, an aunt who a decade ago was the closest person Bhengu had to a mother.Like her elders before her, she tells the young of the battles: the Bambatha Rebellion and the great wars of 1922 and 1944.At the centre of many has been the battle over this arid land; first skirmishes between tribes, then against the European settlers and finally tribal and intertribal wars that ran for years and cost the lives of thousands of men.For five years this blood-soaked soil has given nothing back."The seeds rot in the soil because of the heat. Every year we plant. We don't give up," says 53-year-old Thulani Khanyile, a farmer and former councillor.He works with young men on his farm but worries about the hundreds of young men who go to Joburg, seeking to emulate the handful who have managed to do well as taxi bosses or tavern owners.Most, he says, won't find work and will be driven to criminality."Izinkabis," Khanyile whispers. Assassins.The men from Msinga have a reputation for warlike behaviour and are often sought out as hired killers. They are hungry so they ask no questions, says the farmer.Much of the area is awash with firearms, with more recent battles being fought with AK47s and R5 rifles.Among the young men working with Khanyile is Hlalani Ngidi. Six years ago, his younger brother went to Joburg to look for work, finding employment at a steel factory. When he returned home to Msinga every few months, he would leave up to R2000 to help his family.Ngidi warned him it wouldn't last. "Put away something," he told his younger sibling. But life was good and the brother revelled in his largesse, entertaining friends and making sure his family was comfortable. Then the factory closed in 2012."When we were not working, guys go rob," says Ngidi.His brother is now in Modderbee Prison in Benoni, east of Joburg, two years into a 16-year stretch for murder. A robbery gone wrong. A cousin is in a wheelchair, in jail too, after another botched robbery. Five other young men he knows from the area were killed in a police shoot-out, trying to rob containers in Denver, outside Joburg.full_story_image_hleft1"I told you before, these things will happen," Ngidi says he told his brother during a recent visit to Modderbee. "Now he is crying."Here, the belief among many is that the greater your ability to master English, the better your chances of success. Many place their faith in education.There are schools aplenty in Msinga, but most of their pupils will not finish school. Forty percent of people here have never been to school."When we run a marathon and you are in Tugela Ferry and I'm in Pomeroy [21km away] I cannot win. That is why we'll stay poor and the rich will get richer," says Khanyile.It's even further to eGoli, still the preferred way to refer to Johannesburg in this remote part of South Africa. It's along grey roads with endless forks through a bleak landscape.It's a journey that Mthintha Bhengu's father, Patshana Mkhize, and his father before him, and his grandfather, made.More than 20 years ago the marriage between Patshana and Tshitshana Bhengu wasarranged.She came from over the hills, from Ntuli, to Ngulule, both in Msinga. She was humble and did what was asked of her, bearing four sons. When Patshana came back one year, in 1998, he was in pain. In less than a month he was dead .block_quotes_start He kept trying to stab people for no reason. I thought maybe he became mad there in Joburg block_quotes_endFor three years Tshitshana donned the widow's black garb as she and her boys fell under the care of Patshana's brother.Day after day, before the sun crept over the horizon, Tshitshana joined the women to fetch water from the river and wood from Makhubela mountain.She sat in the ixhiba, peeping into pots as smoke swirled along the rounded walls, snatches escaping through the open door.In the fourth year, 2002, the widow approached the family. She was going to Joburg to find a job. When she had some money she would send for the boys. Life would be better for all of them. For the first few months Tshitshana sent money and called, reporting on the life she was trying to build in eGoli. Then the calls stopped.The boys - Muzi, Gadonkuhle, Mthintha and Fikakahle - were going to school and cared for by their aunt Phendukile and her daughter, Zinhle."They were good, obedient. But Mthintha ... he was stubborn," says Phendukile, her cracked face contorted into a frown. When he was punished by Zinhle, the younger boy would run after her, looking for retribution.With the boys slowly becoming young men, the family's already meagre funds were no longer enough. One by one, over the course of four years, the boys were sent to join their mother in eGoli until all were crammed into a room at Madala Hostel in Alexandra.Yearly, the boys would visit.Three weeks before Good Friday this year, Mthintha Bhengu visited.full_story_image_hleft2"He had changed. He was smoking, drinking. He was just visiting with other friends from Joburg and would only come back to sleep here," says Phendukile.He had also brought a knife.On his body, Bhengu displayed fresh fighting scars. One under his arm, another on his chest and the other in the belly."He kept trying to stab people for no reason. We were even scared of him. I thought maybe he became mad there in Joburg," says Zinhle, who also spent time in Alexandra.One day the boyfriend of a niece visited the compound."Who are you?! Where are you from?!" Bhengu demanded. Then, his family allege, he stabbed the boy.story_article_right2That was April 4. The next day Bhengu fled back to Joburg.Three weeks later, on April 19, Bhengu appeared on the front page of Sunday Times, standing over Sithole, his Okapi held high, three fingers on the handle, pinky on the blade and the thumb on the back."He knew him. We both did. He used to greet everyone. 'How are you? How's your day?' Friendly with everyone," Zinhle says of Sithole.Phendukile and Zinhle search their memories for paths not taken, a way for Bhengu not to be accused of murder.Phendukile remembers that at Christmas last year, for the first time in nearly 13 years, Tshitshana came home. She never offered an explanation for her long absence. No one asked.Where Tshitshana's family's home once stood, only the outline of a building remains. A path runs through the middle."She said she wanted to build a house again and bring her family back," says Zinhle.But nothing came of it."Maybe if he didn't stab that boy he would have stayed. Maybe then...," says Phendukile.sub_head_start Ngulule in Msinga: facts sub_head_end• Population 9301• 56% of the population are under 18• 71% of households are headed by women• Median annual household income is R14 600• 10.6% of homes get serviced water• 1.5% have electricity• 3.6% have access to flush or chemical toilets• 64% have no toilet• 6.4% are employed• 7.7% have internet access, largely through cellphones• 17.7% have completed matric or higher• 89% of children under 18 attend school- Source: Wazimap

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