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Tears, anger as SA’s Kenya victim buried

Published Oct 3, 2013

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Cape Town -

It was a moment to remember and to grieve, but for James Thomas’s widow it was also a chance to embrace her anger.

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The domed interior of Bishops Diocesan College memorial chapel echoed with her anguished cries.

“The murder of James has rocked my entire world,” shouted Colleen Thomas, widow of the South African man who was killed in the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall last month.

She choked back tears as she stood in front of the 900 people who had crammed into the chapel to pay their last respects.

Her husband was one of 67 people who were gunned down in the attack.

James, 57, had been in Kenya conducting a training exercise, equipping young people with the skills to become entrepreneurs.

On the day of the attack Colleen was in her Mowbray home with her daughter Julie and foster son Sipho, waiting for the phone to ring and hear his voice reassuring them that all was well.

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But James had been killed, shot three times by the Islamic militants who seized the mall. He was one of the first victims of the attack.

On Wednesday, thousands of kilometres from where he was killed, people trickled into the chapel on the manicured lawns of Bishops College.

Hymns filtered through the spring air, while flower arrangements provided bursts of colour among the black-clad mourners.

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Pictures of James grinning with his wife and daughters on his arms, flickered on a screen at the front of the chapel next to his simple pine coffin.

James was the oldest of five children, born just a kilometre away from the chapel, and a former pupil at the college, where he played a central role in the school’s choir.

Friends and family described how he overcame his attention deficit disorder to become a successful software developer, trainer and a doting dad.

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Speaking on behalf of his daughters Sarah and Julie, and foster son Sipho, son-in-law Scott Lee-Jones described how James would drop everything to help his family.

From fixing a leak in Sarah’s home with tape and a plastic cup, to building a model bridge with Sipho hours before it was due – James was always enthusiastic about his children, even if his methods were often unconventional.

His older sister, Mary Jean Thomas-Johnson, said James had been a vocal critic of apartheid and a conscientious objector who would rather carry a “trumpet than a rifle”.

His widow told the congregation it was important for his friends and family to hold on to the anger at his senseless death.

“We need to be angry… We cannot lose touch with this anger we are feeling,” said Colleen, describing the massacre as an evil act.

Between eulogies and prayers, the Cape Town Youth Choir sang songs, including the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili.

It was the same song the choir, of which James,was the chairman, performed for his wife of 33 years at her home when she found out about his death.

At around 6.30pm, mourners filed from the chapel and watched as James’s coffin – with smiley face stickers on either side – was loaded into the hearse.

As the car drove away to have his body cremated, his family broke down, hugging each other as his old choir sang a quiet hymn.

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