Thobile Mseleku received a call on 12 July with news that every parent dreads. The person on the other end of the line told her that her son Cebo Mseleku, 25, had been shot dead outside Pakistani refugee Archam Khan’s tuck shop.
Cebo and other local residents had been protecting the shop, housed in a cargo container, against looting in Adams, south of Durban.
“My brother called me and first said my son was injured because he couldn’t bring himself to say that his life ended right on the spot. I have no words to explain what I felt at the time and I couldn’t even get to him because there were no taxis and people were scared to drive around at night because of the riots and shootings,” said Mseleku.
Cebo, his friends and the Msane family from whom Khan rents the space where the container stands, were aware that it might be targeted because a Shoprite Usave down the road had been looted and burnt. Several other small shops around Adams had also been looted, so in an attempt to protect the tuck shop, they helped move stock and goods into the house owned by the Msanes, which is behind the container. They then decided to relax on the veranda at the front of the house, partly to keep watch but also because they hung around there all the time.
‘We ducked for safety’
A witness and friend of Cebo said, “A car drove down the road and we thought it would pass like the others but gunshots came from it. We ducked for safety, everyone was shocked. The car drove in, men pointed guns at us and they told us to lay on our stomachs and beat us up, they didn’t even take anything because they tried to open the container but decided it wasn’t worth it as it got too hard and just left.”
When everyone got up they realised that Cebo had been shot twice in the chest and that he was dead.
“I was only able to get there in the morning, the police came but didn’t even take the shell cases from the gun that are still in the yard. I don’t see progress in finding my son’s killers and getting justice for him so far,” said Mseleku.
Preparing for the funeral during and after the unrest was difficult because grocery shops were closed. Some mortuaries and burial society offices were looted, burnt or closed as well. The unrest caused congestion at police stations and hospitals too. The Mseleku family waited for two weeks to have Cebo’s body released to them as there was only one doctor processing autopsy reports at Park Rynie Mortuary.
“It was hard waiting not knowing when he would come home and everything being so upside down was really stressful but we had to make it work,” Mseleku said.
There have been reports that there were sinister forces acting within the general unrest. According to sociologist Pragna Rugunanan, South Africa right now is fertile soil for conflict. “In the time of a pandemic, vulnerabilities are heightened, putting already vulnerable communities on a knife edge of discord.”
Despite the attempts to economically sabotage and tear at the social fabric of South Africa, there have been many instances of communities resisting and pulling together. How Cebo and his friends came together to protect Khan’s tuck shop is one example of that solidarity.
“Being a refugee in South Africa, we are usually hurt first when things like this happen,” said Khan. “The community stood up for me and my business this time in a way you cannot imagine. I feel very sad that Cebo lost his life like that, he was always here, making jokes and being kind to everyone.”
Cebo was a father to two young children. When asked how the family was coping with his death, Mseleku said, “We are not okay, his kids are so young, the seven-year-old doesn’t really know what is going on. It’s worse with the six-month-old cause he will only see pictures of him when she grows up.”
Those who knew Cebo described him as a kind and caring person, who treasured his children and family.
“He wanted only the best for his family,” said Mseleku. “I remember he would always promise his grandmother that he would build her a double-storey house and demolish the small one mom lives in now.”