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Heroes and Villains

The world needs a few more heroes and a lot less villains, if you ask me. But sadly even in the world of comic books, the superheroes are usually outnumbered. Batman has numerous enemies, Superman fights evil in various forms, Wolverine, Spiderman, the Avengers… you name it. They may have one particularly famous ‘arch nemesis’ but essentially, they are pitted against numerous foes and need to show their superior strength and ability in defeating these foes.

Our world lost a superhero last week. And not a single newspaper (that I could find,) reported on it.
For a couple of months now, I've been working on getting my husband’s company a little more socially responsible, at his request. Hubby is a generous person, but he doesn’t believe in throwing money at a problem or into a black hole with out accountability. He wants to physically see improvements and where the money is going. Hence the fact that their social responsibility takes a lot of finessing, as so many of the organisations helping those in need seem to help themselves first.

Then we became acquainted with Estezi Community Organisation (ECO) and found Thabisile at the helm. When I arrived to meet her on an investigative journey almost an hour from home, she was quite excited to hear who my husband was; she remembered him from when he was a lowly employee in a company he now runs. He had asked her to come and chat to the labour force for their timber plants about HIV and AIDs prevention. Immediately we struck up a good working relationship.
Thabisile, on the left, with the ECO cook. 

Her presence was one that instilled hope in you. She was calm and gentle and motherly. Her role at the ECO was to run the child care which involves a feeding scheme for children who are not necessarily orphans, but who won’t otherwise receive three meals a day. This scheme feeds up to two hundred children for less than fifty-six cents per meal. That’s roughly twenty kids fed for one USD. 

They don’t have running water, they have limited educational resources, they are trying to grow vegetables but baboons keep getting them as they ripen and of course the winter was dry. But Thabisile kept her hopes up and her hands open and really trusted that all would be provided in the end. She hadn’t earned a salary in over a year, due to international funding being pulled. So, she and the cook were volunteering to provide a place of safety for children outside of school hours, and meals for children who would otherwise be hungry. In the afternoons and over holidays, Thabisile provided a place of safety for the children to gather. Township life can be tough, but they were offered three meals and protection within the walls of her ark.  

It was a good project to get involved in and the fact that she was the person in charge, instilled faith in us that it was time and money well spent. She just had that 'You can trust me' aura about her. One of the reasons the feeding scheme is important is because children who eat well, are able to perform better at school and this hopefully means better long term outcomes for them. Ultimately, a little bit of food in the belly may open a whole new world for them. Children who may never have gone to highschool, may be there now. Children who have never believed they can, might believe now. Thabisile was at the forefront of delivering hope of a better life to these children.   

I didn’t know much else about Thabisile, I'm sad to report. Like I mentioned, we had a good working relationship. She knew the area well, which meant that she knew my husband’s family well, as they have all lived there for a hundred and fifty odd years. She was a person who had swallowed her pride a long time ago and was unashamedly concerned about the needs of the children she cared for and far less worried about the fact that she didn’t have in income than I was. She always looked lovely and was practical to the nth degree. She had a son who looked after her, she told us the last time we spoke. It was that same son who murdered her last week.
He strangled her. With his bare hands.

I am so angry and sad and frustrated and hurt by this tragedy. It’s not fair. She was a volunteer who worked with children and taught her peers about HIV/AIDs prevention. But this isn’t actually about me and my Ancient-Greek style mourning. This is a tragic loss to the children she cared for, for her community and for South Africa as a whole.

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t know her outside of that world, because even if she went home and, I don’t know, barked orders at her son from the couch while eating his Phutu and drinking his beer, she didn’t deserve to lose her life that way. I can't think of anything that would actually make me believe she got what was coming to her. I’ve written before about the fact that as South Africans we have become numb to crime and violence but this crime has ripped at my soul.

Last night I dreamt I went to interview her son, simply to ask him why. Why on earth would he do something so cruel and brutal to a woman who, from the outside, seemed to do nothing but good in the community? And again, even if she was a mother from hell behind closed doors, she still didn’t deserve to die at the hands of her own child. No one does.

And of course, I have to ask, what could we have done to prevent it? Or foresee it? Was it because she was leeching off him and he was tired of supporting her? Would it have made any difference if she had started earning a salary again, which is what we were working on right up until this moment? Is it ever as simple as that? There's a good chance Thabisile wasn't perfect. But I do kind of wish that if her son was going to murder someone, he had chosen more of a villain and less of a hero. 

Will we hear later that her son was a drug addict, who killed his mom in a state if inebriation? Does he regret what he’s done? If it were anything like the movies, I think I would like to go and speak to him. But South African jails are quite different to what is seen on movies, so I don’t think I will be going anywhere near. 

We heard about Thabisile’s death via the local grapevine, after her funeral had already taken place. At first,  I couldn’t believe it and tried to call her, sure that the story had been confused along the way, but her phone was off. I felt a sickening ball in the pit of my stomach and asked my husband to dial the number I had for the school. He spoke with the headmaster, who confirmed the story to be true.

I still can’t find any trace of the story anywhere online. Thabisile, a local hero, (certainly a hero to me,) died and went to her grave completely unnoticed by any form of social media or press. I find that sad in an age when twerking can set the world's media abuzz for weeks. Her tragic murder probably went down in the books as ‘one of those things,’ because sadly, we live in a country where you're seventy five percent more likely to be killed by someone you know and domestic violence is a way of life to far too many. It should have been posted and reposted and shared everywhere. 

Oh how I wish it were different. I wish I knew that her son would get what he deserves and be sent to jail for the rest of his life. I wish that this type of thing would never happen again. I wish we, as South Africans would learn to respect human life and not take it so for granted. I wish that the children at the school were all spared from being exposed to this violent culture and lack of basic respect and care for our fellow man and that they all went home to happy, safe environments.

I wish I was sure that one day, in South Africa, superheroes will get their due and villains will be outnumbered.  

Having been a teacher for a while, I know that some children would have deified Thabisile. I wonder how they are dealing with her loss? Consistency, in a community that is almost certainly more violent and unpredictable than mine, is important for a sense of security and happiness in children. They've had that rocked. I recently watched a documentary about the first graduating class from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Soweto, South Africa.  One of the matriculants came from an absolutely poverty stricken background, like many who are under Thabisile's care, but she was so proud of her home and of her mother who provided the tin walls she lived in. She didn’t want to go overseas to attend university because she didn’t want to leave that behind; she said her home was a happy one. I remember thinking at the time, Huh? That’s all a kid wants, not plush surroundings, just happy ones. It’s a point we so often miss and one that ECO was all about. 

So, what happens to ECO now? The headmaster and the organisation members can and will find a replacement. Guaranteed she won’t have the same nature and presence Thabisile had, but we can pray that someone equally selfless is willing to fill in her shoes. And while we’re praying, we should remember Thabisile too, and pray that her selflessness and faith here has found her a good spot in the heavenlies.

* As a correction to this, we have found out since Thabisile's death that it was her nephew, and not her son who murdered her. Not that it makes the situation any better. 


  1. So sad. What will the kids do without her? What makes me so sad too is that a thousand and one white South Africans only notice white people who die and report on this as if there is a racial genocide here and do not report on the really horrific murders of our differently pigmented brothers and sisters.

  2. It is incredibly sad that her death seems to have gone by unnoticed by the journos out there. If it had been a farmer, or a racially charged murder, I'm sure more people would have heard about it. But the real tragedy is not who hasheard about Thabisile, but the void she has left. I really pray the person found to replace her is able to do as wonderful a job as she has.

  3. For the past 3 years or so a good friend of mine has rallied together support ( financial and other) and we have been supporting Thabisile and her children with food money etc. Needless to say we are devastated at her demise. We are even currently in the process of collecting love boxes from the Epworth school community, as we have done for the past 3 years, for Vuka Ark as we know Thabisiles 'home'. Questions abound in my head as to what could have happened and what role we could have played to avoid this. I find it strange and hurtful that the Vuka Ark communtiy never saw fit to let us know about this and allow us to pay our respects.

    The loss of Thabisile may not have made the papers but I can assure you there are a group of her supporters who miss and mourn this wonderful lady. RIP Thabisile x


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