Grief-stricken Siyanda Buthelezi, 13, will forever remember the gruesome sight of his older brother Mxolisi’s lifeless body.
The 14-year-old victim was shot from behind earlier this week when residents of Folweni took to the streets of the township south of Durban in protest over an expected hike in taxi fares.
Mxolisi, an onlooker, was caught in the crossfire when police fired shots at more than 1 500 protesters, whom police accused of shooting first.
However, Mxolisi’s family has blamed police for his death, saying he was shot in the back while running.
“I am still in shock and cannot believe that it was my brother,” Siyanda said on Tuesday.
Describing the event that led up to the shooting, he said they had become aware of the protest after hearing gunshots.
“We went up the main road to have a look. Police sprayed tear gas towards the protesters. I told Mxolisi that we should go back home, but he decided to stay with his friends. After another round of gunshots, I ran into a nearby house as protesters ran in different directions,” Siyanda said.
Still puzzled by the chaos, he heard protesters talking about a boy who had suffered a gunshot wound and was lying in the road.
“I did not think that it was my brother until I saw his lifeless body covered up. Residents kept me away from him for a while, but, minutes later, I was told to identify him. The cover was lifted and I stared in shock as his upper body was covered with blood,” said Siyanda.
One of Mxolisi’s friends told the family of the shooting.
He was a Grade 9 pupil at Siphephelo High School in the area.
Dumazile Buthelezi described her grandson as the family comedian and a boy who loved soccer.
“He always told me that he wanted to be a social worker after completing his studies. He was very gifted in fixing cellphones. He will be deeply missed and he has left a hole in my heart that no one will ever fill,” she said.
The poverty-stricken family is struggling to organise a funeral for Mxolisi.
Yesterday protesters continued to blockade roads with burning tyres, rocks, trees and bricks. Public transport was halted after stoning.
Residents gathered at a sports ground in the area to negotiate a taxi fare increase with Folweni Taxi Association officials who did not arrive.
According to a notice, the fare for a Folweni taxi to the Durban CBD would increase from R12 to R15, and the journey from Folweni to Isipingo would go up from R7.50 to R9.
A resident, who wished not to be named, said she had not been to work since the protest had begun.
The mother of two said if the fare hike was implemented, it would take a toll on the family.
With her two children travelling to school in Durban, plus fares for her and her husband, the family would need to budget R600 a week.
“Why are taxi fares going up while petrol is going down? The association should have communicated with the community on the suitable amount of fare increase,” she said.
“There is a high unemployment rate with many families surviving on social grants and pensions for the elderly.”
Folweni Taxi Association spokesman Wilson Sabela said the taxi fare hike was not related to changes in the petrol price.
“Maintenance of a taxi is very expensive like tyres, seats and other parts. Petrol is just the tip of the iceberg, but we have decided to suspend the taxi fare hikes until we get feedback from community structures,” Sabela said.
He said it was not clear when taxis would resume operating in the area.
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said Mxolisi was hit by a stray bullet, making it unclear whether it was fired by a police or a protester. “They cannot say it was a police officer. No one saw a police officer go up to the boy and shoot him. The cartridges have been taken to the forensic science lab to establish which gun fired. A post-mortem is due to be conducted,” he said.
On Tuesday, six protesters were arrested for public violence and were expected to appear in the Umbumbulu Magistrate’s Court today.
Mdunge said police would continue to monitor the area.