Belinda Windvogel stands at the gate of her house, calling out to her 17-year-old son: “Jason, come eat!” Usually, the youngster would be home for lunch. Windvogel waits. Her eyes search the streets around the house.
In the small town of Caledon, at the heart of Santa township where she lives, the roads are quiet. When Windvogel turns her head left, she sees a vacant field where residents plan to occupy land. On her right, there are more government-built houses, where families like hers struggle to make ends meet.
Two weeks ago, the roads were buzzing. In the early hours of Thursday, 4 April, residents streamed onto the streets to demand land and to protest against the lack of electricity and housing.Jason could barely contain his excitement. He had woken up at 6am, bouncing and whooping. It was his first protest. It was also his last.
A few days later, as Belinda calls for her boy, reality hits her. Jason is dead. He was shot with live ammunition when police officers, law enforcement and private security guards from Agri Protection clashed with peaceful protesters.
Less than a kilometre away from Belinda, Lesedi Seleke sits in his cousin Teboho Motselebane’s shack in a settlement called Riemvasmaak. He watches farm workers in the distance, walking from the bus stop into the township as they return home. Momentarily, he looks for Teboho, expecting to see him.
But the 24-year-old is not there. A bullet fired into Teboho’s right temple during the protest killed him instantly. Police watchdog the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) is investigating a case of murder. The South African Police Service (SAPS) has not responded to a request for comment, but the Caledon station commander told local newspaper The Theewaterskloof Gazette that police intervened because they thought protesters would burn down a funeral parlour.
The boys had wanted a house of their own and electricity.
Memories of Jason
Four days after Jason was killed, the electricity came back on in his house. It had been out for a year and the family had been making do with candles and a fire to cook food. No one knew why it was off.
Belinda stands in front of the stove in the house where she stays with her sister. She is a small woman with eyes that sparkle. She barely speaks, leaving the talking to her eldest son, Fabian Booysen.
“We made peace with the fact that it was his time, and neither of us knew it was his time, but God knew. We must accept that,” the 27-year-old says, as he sits near his mother.
There are memories of Jason in every room of the house. They are not all good memories, but the grief-stricken family laughs at them now. In the fridge, there is the memory of a lightbulb he stole. At the back of the stove, he had cut the plug off its lead to sell it. And only a few days ago, Fabian had opened his cupboard to look for his own plug lead, only to find — in one last bout of troublemaking by his deceased brother – it was gone. “I knew who did it,” he laughs.
The money Jason got from his stolen household goods would be spent on his friends or on dagga. The trouble was his way of dealing with what he lacked at home. At Christmas, he would watch other kids receive new clothes as gifts, knowing his family could never afford the same. The house where his family lives is not theirs. The government gave it to Belinda’s mentally ill sister and her son. The family has no security of tenure.
“He lived in conditions of poverty, struggling, all of that and that created his mindset. As he grew up and started to think more, he started to see the world as the enemy,” Fabian says.
Despite stealing from his family, neighbours in the community trusted him. They gave him money to keep for others, or allowed him to stay alone at their houses. Outside his home, he could be on his best behaviour.
Jason at the protest
Fabian says the protest delivered an opportunity for change for his younger brother. Jason was right at the front when things broke down. The tension rose at a bridge that separates township residents from those who live in the town. Protesters had demanded to be allowed to march to the municipality as lines of police and law enforcement officers and private security guards blocked their way.
Jason was nearby as protest leaders negotiated with the police for the marchers to deliver a memorandum. At the top of the memorandum, the first demand was Grond (Land).
Five eyewitnesses spoke about the protest. Three of them, including a community leader who organised the march, Richard “Timo” Douglas, say a police officer was cocking his gun moments before the violence unfolded. As he cocked his gun, he accidentally fired a shot, they say, and mayhem broke loose. It remains unclear which institution – police, law enforcement or private security – shot the deadly rounds that killed the two boys.
When Jason’s family realised he was missing, they called every nearby hospital. A photo had circulated of two bodies in yellow body bags on the bridge. The bodies had been moved from where they fell. But no one would tell the families who they were or why they had been moved.
Jason had been shot in the stomach. The police would only let his body be identified in the late afternoon, hours after he had been killed.
Fabian remembers the last time he saw his brother, a youngster full of life and purpose.
“Something told me to go to the protest, walk with them and see what happens. Jason was at the front already and I was at the back.
“As he was coming toward the back and I walked straight, our eyes locked and we were just smiling at each other. That was the last time I saw him.”
Jason was buried in Caledon on Thursday 11 April. His mother has been on the housing waiting list for more than 20 years.
The afternoon light pierces Teboho’s shack. Through the holes in the roof and walls, sunlight shoots into the dark room. His shack floods easily when it rains.
Just above the bed, “Tebza”, Teboho’s nickname, is written on the wall in green writing. On the outside of that wall, a big red X has been painted on the shack. It’s the municipality’s way of telling Tebza that his shack is about to be demolished.
Residents from the Riemvasmaak area drove the protest in which the young man was killed. Most of the community has electricity and water, but Teboho was one of the unlucky few who lived in the wetlands of the area, where electricity could not be installed.
A candle is lit in the corner of his shack. Outside, farm workers return home from work. That was his routine, too. He’d wake up at 6am, hop on the bus to the farm where he picked apples from 7am and return home with his colleagues at 6pm.
Teboho’s family in the Eastern Cape was able to live on his meagre wages. He sent money to his pensioner grandmother, who cannot work anymore. She lives in Matatiele near the Eastern Cape border with KwaZulu-Natal.
His baby sister, 15, had her eyes on high school next year. Her brother had paid her school fees. With each apple he picked, Teboho’s dream was that his little sister would complete her education and surpass him in every way. He dropped out of school in grade 10, under pressure to find a job.
“His dream was his sister must be educated, as he was not educated,” says Seleke.
But Seleke says Teboho also came to the realisation, as he laboured on the farm, that black people had been dealt a particularly harsh blow when it came to poverty in Caledon.
“Every day he was complaining about ‘this place is not alright, I can’t live without electricity, but when it comes [to] vote, I am voting. Just to jump the road, there is electricity, but this side there is no electricity.’ That was the point that Tebza didn’t like,” says Seleke.
While the money he sent to his family could have been used to rent a better shack, Teboho was the breadwinner of his family. Both his parents had died.
Neglect and grief in the wetlands
In the wetlands, the need for serviced housing is dire. The running water in Riemvasmaak sometimes runs out. The toilets are blocked, so residents are forced to use bushes instead of the communal toilets.
It’s what drove activists to push poles for their shacks into a vacant field a few metres from Jason’s house, to demand that houses be built for the unserviced shack dwellers of Riemvasmaak.
Teboho understood the need for land, but he was also an intelligent young man who tried to avoid conflict at all costs. When municipal workers came to destroy shacks bearing the red X that had been marked on the zinc walls, he would take the lead in negotiating for the shacks to remain.
“The time the municipality says we must move, he was the one also in front of them saying we can’t move, the municipality must give us the land,” Seleke says.
Inside the shack, Teboho’s older sister, Moleboheng, is grieving. Her eyes are downcast and she looks lost. He had been the backbone of the family because everyone had relied on him for support. His death was unexpected and now they don’t know what to do.
“It’s like, I still think they are eating in Eastern Cape,” she says, revealing her anxiety over who will support her family at home.
Teboho’s family had gone to the police station four times to ask for help, only to be shown a picture of his face, the right temple bloodied by a bullet. His cousin, Wilfred Moholetesa, in anger and grief, swore at the cops until they forced the family out of the police station.
Teboho’s absence is widely felt in the area. His smiling face zooming around on his bicycle will no longer be seen. At the taverns where he drank, he will be missed when no one else steps up to stop a drunken fistfight. In the Eastern Cape, his grandmother will struggle to buy groceries and his sister will fear for her future. Now, as they mourn, it has taken more than a week for the family to find a funeral plan so Teboho’s body can be taken home to the Eastern Cape.
In the houses where these boys struggled to live, their families sit in grief. For one day, the boys decided to be part of a mass action for change, but they were killed. As the families try to find closure, their friends and neighbours remain the same: waiting for things to change.
This is part one of a two-part series on Caledon.