Durban - Clinton de Menezes’s wife, Nicola, has told how she made the brave decision to allow their seven-year-old daughter, Eva, to hug the still warm body of her father and to say goodbye.
Little Eva kissed her father and told him: “Goodbye Daddy. Sleep tight.”
It is a decision she is sure she will not regret.
“We are a family who loved each other, and we needed to be together even at that terrible moment,” she said.
De Menezes was at the height of his career with exhibitions in London and New York, when he was killed by intruders at the home of friends in Westville.
Nicola, 45, said she had recently started a job as an oil company executive in Kenya and her husband and child came with her from England. Clinton had commissions for several major artworks. “We had been talking about how wonderful everything had turned out for us,” she said. “Life could not have been better. Then it all ended in a flash. I feel robbed of everything.”
She described how she had taken Eva to bed earlier that night and dozed off herself, leaving Clinton and her friends talking and listening to music. She was woken by a violent commotion.
“It was about 1am,” she recalled. “I heard the crashing of doors and shouting and screaming. Our friend, Simon, was yelling and I could hear strangers’ voices. Clinton was in the bathroom and Amanda was pounding on the door for him to let her in. I picked up Eva and got to the bathroom as quickly as I could.
“I put her into the laundry basket and told her to stay there, that everything would be all right. It was just instinctive, I didn’t want her to see or hear anything bad.
“Clinton said he was going to help. There was no stopping him. His friend was being attacked and Clinton would never stand by and let that happen.”
Malpas had been trying to close the patio doors against the two intruders, but they forced their way in. As Clinton hurried into the sitting-room, he came face-to-face with one of the burglars. He was shot through the heart. It all happened in a split-second, Nicola said.
She knew her husband was dead before she even rushed out of the bathroom.
“I had been shaking with fear, with Amanda and I clinging to each other, when we heard the shot.
“We just prayed, ‘Please God, let our boys be okay’, but then I heard a sound, one loud groan that was also a sigh, and I just knew it was Clinton’s last breath.
“I got down beside him on the floor and held him. I talked to him and sobbed my heart out. I just talked to him quietly for about five minutes, waiting for the police to arrive. I thanked him for being a wonderful father and husband to us and told him that I loved him.
“He was still warm, lying there, and I decided to let Eva see him. He meant everything to her. He looked peaceful and she came straight over and lay down next to him. She kept asking me why his eyes were open so I closed them gently and then she kissed him and told him to sleep tight.”
Nicola also asked Amanda to get Clinton’s wedding ring for her before his body was removed.
“I want to keep it with me always,” she said. She made the same decision about her husband’s ashes after his cremation.
“We are not scattering his ashes anywhere. I’ll keep them for the rest of my life.”
Nicola has no bitterness, she said, just deep pity for the victims of violent crime in a country she once loved.
“This is the loveliest place in the world but people are now trapped, fearful in their own homes, and I feel sorry for them,” she said.
“Clinton and I came here on holiday each year. It’s where his career started, he got his fine art degree at the city’s Institute of Technology. He always hoped after its cruel history it would become a better place.”
Nicola said she and her husband had been reluctant to leave South Africa in 2007, but he wanted to achieve a wider market for his art.
Clinton quickly gained recognition, exhibiting works at the Bicha Gallery in London. He sent a huge piece of art on long-term loan to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and his giant World Map is at the London headquarters of auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers.
He also began to teach his daughter painting and sculpting techniques.
“Clinton adored her, and they did everything together,” she said. “I would be at work and he did the child care during the day. They played together, worked in the studio together, and he took her to school and fetched her.”
Two days after his death, Eva wanted to know when her father would be back. Nicola said: “We told her Daddy wasn’t coming back. We wanted her to know the truth.
“She was very upset and asked who would be taking her to school now he was gone.
“I’m only managing to keep my belief in humanity through friends and family. Without them, I would be in despair. We knew about rising crime, here but I didn’t know it could be so sinister and uncaring.” - Independent on Saturday