Vusi Mhlangu was drunk. He staggered out of the township bar into the dark of the night to take a piss against the boundary fence. There was one other man there also relieving himself and Vusi steadied himself a few paces to the man’s left and began to open his flies. With his jeans, his boxers and underpants this was a challenge for a drunk man. He swore loudly in frustration. The man next to him looked over to him and smiled understandingly. Vusi finally got it right. His jeans were open his boxers pulled down and his cock flopped out over the band of his underpants. He exhaled slowly and deeply as he released a powerful stream of urine against the fence. He steadied himself, his eyes closed, his head upright.
Vusi Mhlangu’s head exploded. There was no sound. Pieces of brain, skin, hair and bone splattered over the man on his right. The man took a moment to register then screamed. He ran back into the bar. Soon they were spilling out of the bar into the dark. A mass of bar patrons milled around the prostrate body of Vusi Mhlangu which was missing the top half of its head.
23h00 on a Saturday night in the KwaMashu township, especially the one following month end pay day, is a busy time for the local South African Police Service. SAPS, as they are called, suffers from under manning, a shortage of serviceable vehicles and above all a lack of motivation. Not surprising then that it took two hours before the first police patrol vehicle arrived at the scene. By that time the man who had been splashed with Vusi Mhlangu’s brains was gone and no one knew his full name. A sometime patron the bar girls remembered who was seen there some month ends and who always wanted to pay less than the going rate for sex.
An ambulance arrived around 04h00 and the body was loaded and taken away before any detective or CSI had made an appearance. The owner of the shebeen had a worker hose down the area and remove the police crime scene tape so as to be able to open as usual on Sunday morning without any disruption to his business. When the local SAPS Station Commander arrived to inspect the crime scene at 10h00 on Sunday morning there was no evidence left nor any indication of anything untoward ever having happened. The Station Commander left shaking his head.
The event received some prominence in the local daily newspaper on Tuesday when it was announced that, LOCAL GANGSTER KILLED IN SHEBEEN. The story was simple and it linked his killing to a gang matter probably related to drugs. Another unsolved township killing it seemed.
By the Friday the report landed on the desk of Major Frans Nel head of Crime Intelligence for the greater Durban area. From a very wealthy family he had entered the police force under the direction of his father to help straighten him out was he had experienced a troubled youth. At 35 he had settled down and was starting to make progress in his police career. There was little to the report itself, which was not unusual, in the new South African Police service where standards continued to decline, but the name rang a bell. He racked his memory for the answer. Recalling nothing he checked the computer database. Still nothing. Not prepared to let it go he walked down the passage to his friend, Abram Coetzee’s office.
They put their heads together on the issue. Still nothing concrete but for Abram, head of the sex crimes division, the name also rang a bell but he couldn’t place it. Picking up the telephone Coetzee dialled his sergeant’s extension and asked him to step inside for a minute. Sgt Kumhalo entered after knocking and greeted the officers present. Frans returned Sgt Kumhalo’s greeting with sincerity as they had shared a patrol car some ten or so years prior. They had been a team for more than a year. After hearing the name Vusi Mhlangu he indicated he recalled the name and excused himself to fetch the file. While he was away the two officers made small talk.
Sgt Kumhalo returned after ten minutes. He handed the file to Major Coetzee. While the major flicked through the file he explained that the deceased Vusi Mhlangu had been arrested in connection with the corrective rape and subsequent murder of a young lesbian woman, Bongi Ngema, a year before but all charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. The lights went on in Frans Nel’s head. He wrote down the file number, thanked the two and departed back to his office asking them to return the file to the registry so he could draw it himself.
Back in his office things were starting to fall into place in his mind. This was the eleventh violent death of a person connected in some way to the assault, corrective rape or murder of a lesbian over the past year. He called his sergeant in, gave him the file number and asked him to draw the file, read it then come and discuss it with him. He made himself a cup of coffee while waiting for Sgt Gumede’s return. All eleven had been arrested and then released for the lack of evidence. “Someone is doing our work for us,” he thought to himself.
A knock on the door and Sgt Gumede entered. Without any formality he asked, “He’s dead isn’t he?”
“Yes,” answered the major.
“That makes it twelve then?”
“Ah yes, I was thinking of the one who killed the two gays as number twelve.”
“There must be a connection.”
“But what major? The methods are so different.”
“That’s the point sergeant. They are so different that it indicates that there is something very professional and organised about these incidents.”
“Or no connection at all.”
“Yes or no connection at all,” agreed Frans Nel, “OK, sergeant leave the file with me and we can think about it over the weekend and see if we have any bright ideas.”
Frans made himself another cup of coffee to help him think. Frans’ elder sister Marie was a lesbian and while in conservative South Africa it remained a source of deep family embarrassment he loved her dearly and would not tolerate a bad word said about her let alone any violence against her. But then she was white and from a wealthy white family therefore was much less exposed to violence, corrective rape and murder than her black lesbian sisters living in the townships. He remembered taking her aside at a recent family get-together and asking her what the feeling within the lesbian community would be if it turned out there was a vigilante out there responsible for the killings.
He had no reason to doubt her when she said that there was no discussion in the lesbian community of a connection between the deaths but assured him that if there were any connection it would be viewed as a form of justice. She had gone so far as to suggest to him that as far as she was personally concerned if it were a vigilante the police should see him succeeding where they had failed and accept that he was ‘doing God’s work.’ At the time he had been shocked by this but as time passed be began to understand the simple logic.
Mama Buthelezi is a large, ample woman in the classic African style. A widow at 56 she drew a small pension as a result of the death at work of her husband who had worked in construction. She had the small township matchbox house which she had bought with the proceeds of the lump-sum payout upon her husband’s death and was able to live off the pension as her two daughters were now married and her son had died. She lived with her female lover as her financial independence, for what it was worth allowed her to finally live her life as she really was. Maggie had worked as a domestic for two generations of a well to do Afrikaans family for almost 30 years and as such was able to contribute to the household budget.
Over time she and Auntie Maggie had taken in young lesbians who had been disowned by their families or worse, suffered assault or other violence. Over the years a number of these unfortunate young girls had passed through the care of Mama and Auntie Maggie. Mama had become the undisputed matriarch of the lesbian community in KwaMashu where like a mother hen she protected the young and vulnerable girls and also but to a lesser extent the more effeminate and young of the township gay community.
When Tumi was summonsed by Mama she came without question and ready and willing to do her bidding without question. Tumi Cele was 30 and had been taken in by Mama and Auntie Maggie after being seriously assaulted and thrown out by her husband who had found her naked in bed with another woman. She had found no recourse through the law and once her body had healed Auntie Maggie had found work for her as a part-time domestic at the neighbours of her long-time employer. The pay was poor but it allowed her to pay her share of the rented room she shared with two other girls.
Mama had explained that there was a very important job to be done and she, Tumi, was the only one who could be trusted to do it and keep her mouth shut. Tumi was all ears. It was explained that there was a certain white man who was to do important work for the township lesbian community about which nobody was to know, especially the police. Mama had told Tumi that she was to discuss the matter with no one, ever. Tumi had been intrigued. Mama had asked her if the name Musa Zondi meant anything to her. She had spat out that he was the leader of the group that had raped then stoned their lesbian sister, Nombasa Dube, to death. Never formally charged but known to brag about dealing with the ‘lesbian bitch’ after he had been drinking.
Musa Zondi was to meet with a fatal accident Tumi heard. The white man would see to it but Tumi had work to do before and after. The white man she was told had a weakness and that was alcohol. She would stay with him for a week before Zondi’s accident and also for a week after to make sure he kept away from drink. “You are to drain him and keep his mind off everything accept you and Zondi’s accident and afterwards keep him drained until all is quiet again,” were Mama’s instructions. “If necessary I will give you some powders to put in his food if he proves too much for you,” she had cackled.
Tumi had asked Mama why she had been chosen. “Because you know white people, you have had a white boy friend so you will not be afraid to do what you need to keep this white man away from alcohol. And because your body is slim and your breasts are small so you are like the boys he wants but we have none we can trust like we can trust you. And because you have been with a man so many times you will be able to keep him under your control by draining him quickly each time,” Mama had explained. Mama had added, “Tumi girl, we do not ask this of you lightly but we know you are the right one and the one we can trust. We know you will be able to take him in the backdoor if he insists. Please do this for us. We have a long list of accidents which must happen to make our sisters safe and this white man will be the tool to make it all happen.”
Tumi would hardly call that white man who had screwed her, her boyfriend. In fact she hated him. At 18 she had been arrested for shop lifting and the white policeman had promised to make the problem go away if she was willing to become his whore. This had gone on for at least six months and only stopped when the policeman got married. It had happened every Thursday night when the police vehicle would come to her house and the black police constable would fetch her and they would drive out to a secluded spot where the constable would ‘go for a walk’ while the white policeman fucked her while she lay back across the vehicle’s hood.
How could Tumi not accept Mama’s request? She agreed. Sworn to secrecy she quietly prepared herself mentally and went on the pill to ensure she would not have a period at an inopportune time. While the thought of Musa Zondi meeting with a fatal accident was exciting she felt somewhat apprehensive about her lesser role. While waiting to be called she kept working and visiting Mama and Auntie Maggie for advice and to draw strength from them.
Menzi was seventeen going on eighteen. He lived with his mother and two other small children of his mother’s through a different father. His mother Thule had been seeing this white man for some time now. It had started when she, selling sandwiches and canned drinks from a coolbox on a shoulder strap had bumped into the white man coming out of the same bottle store a number of times. Each time he had stopped, looked her up and down and asked, “Do you want a fuck?” The first five or so times she had turned away in disgust but finally responded, “Show me your money.”
He had taken her to the secluded cottage he stayed in on a large property via a separate driveway. At first the sex was purely transactional then it got better as they got used to each other and trust started to build. She found she could make more through him than walking the streets selling sandwiches so she settled on a deal with the white man where she cleaned, washed, ironed and fucked for an agreed amount per month. She also made a little extra working in the main house on an ad hoc basis.
When she couldn’t make it to work because she had to take the small children to the hospital for instance she kept Menzi out of school that day and sent him along to clean up and buy the white man his booze. Little did she realise that on these days Menzi filled in for her in all respects. The secluded location of the cottage allowed the comings and goings to go largely unnoticed by the occupants of the main house. So it developed that over weekends Menzi would bring a young girlfriend around and spend the day in the white man’s bed while the white man watched TV or slept off the booze in the living room, depending on what phase he was in. Menzi would then walk the girl to the bus stage and then return to keep his part of the fuck-for-a-fuck arraignment he had with the white man by which he submitted to the white man after being allowed to entertain his girlfriend there. This happened every weekend and the white man evolved into a strange type of surrogate father to the boy.
The large house was owned and occupied by the 87 year old mother of a pillar in the local legal fraternity and also the gay community. Justin Green, an anti-apartheid activist since his university days, his gayness was tolerated by the new regime as a returned favour for his contribution to the struggle. He continued his successful career as the top criminal council in the province if not the country. The connection to the white man was that Green’s live-in lover, Jimmy Lawrence, had served under the white man as an army conscript some years ago.
It was when Lawrence had been discovered being fucked in the showers that he and the other party had ended up before he white man who was the senior officer on station up on the Angolan border. The white man had delayed the investigation pending the completion of the operations into Angola and just never got round to taking any action later. He did call Jan Coetzee and Lawrence in and admonish them for the stupidity of indulging in such activities in such an obvious and exposed place. He dismissed Coetzee saving the last word for Jimmy, “I don’t blame him because you are the cutest thing within 150 miles, but I am a little pissed that you didn’t flutter your eyelashes at me.”
“Sir, I didn’t know you were gay,” muttered Jimmy.
“I’m not but for you I’d make an exception… now fuck off and be careful where you drop your pants in future.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir.”
They never did get down and dirty with each other but Jimmy managed to get an honourable discharge, get into law school, qualify, meet Justin and as they say the rest is history. It was not until much later that Jimmy heard of the white man when the law firm’s services were required to defend him on a DUI charge. Jimmy prevailed on Justin to take the case for free to return the earlier favour and the charge was thrown out due to procedural issues relating to the blood test. It was obvious that the white man had a drinking problem and despite his small medical pension from the army was close to being down and out.
Justin arranged for the white man to stay in the little cottage on his mother’s property at no cost. Apart from Jimmy popping in from time to time the white man was left to his own devices. Justin and Jimmy had offered to pay for the medical costs to deal with the demons which tormented the white man periodically. The offer had been politely declined as the white man said he knew how to deal with them and that was to drown them with alcohol. It was these sporadic drinking binges that had led to the white man being medically boarded from the army and now made it impossible to hold down any job of consequence.
The white man knew that once he had drowned the demons in his head, as he called it, he had ten days to two weeks to earn a little money from doing whatever was going to supplement his meagre pension before they returned to haunt him.
It was during one of his dry spells that he heard that the grave of one of his black soldiers who had been killed in action had been desecrated and daubed with the slogan, WHITE MANS DOG, that he felt he needed to pay his respects to the mother. It was this that brought him to KwaMashu and the little house of Mama Buthelezi
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