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a widow's lot

By unknown | Apr 21, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

A smile comes easily to Nonhlanhla Nkabinde's bright, youthful face. It's a beautiful face that belies her 50 years.

Maybe it's a good thing - the propensity to smile - because she was unable to do so for a long while during the 1990s. She woke up one Saturday morning to find her husband dead by the side of the road with no less than 80 bullets pumped into his body.

This was at the height of madness, the scourge called political violence, that ripped Richmond, a small KwaZulu-Natal Midlands town, in two.

Sifiso Nkabinde, the man Nonhlanhla married in 1984 was mowed down in a hail of bullets on January 23 1999 as he left a main street supermarket, headed for his car.

From Magoda, where he was hailed as a hero, Sifiso Nkabinde's name had assumed the status of a swear-word to the people of Ndaleni and Phatheni, ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party strongholds that lie cheek by jowl with his own base.

A teacher by profession, he'd taught at Ndala High in the Ndaleni section of the picturesque town. Nonhlanhla Nkabinde is a qualified nursing sister.

Before his death in 1999, Nkabinde was a member of the ANC, with a seat in the legislature. He was at the helm of the ANC forces in the area that found themselves pitted in fierce battles against the IFP from the early 1990s until peace returned for a while in 1994.

In April 1997 he was expelled from the ANC for reasons his widow still hasn't fathomed. Violence returned, and as Nkabinde found a new political home in the United Democratic Movement, a new kid on the block at the time, the new players in the senseless killings were, identifiably, the ANC and the United Democratic Front.

Says one of the news reports at the time: "Five months after his expulsion, Nkabinde was arrested. His trial on 16 counts of murder and two of incitement to murder began in the Pietermaritzburg high court on February 9 1998. The murder counts included killings that were committed in 1993 and 1997. Nkabinde was not charged with personally carrying out the attacks, but he was alleged by the state to have been the mastermind behind them. These were allegations that the prosecution could not prove and on April 30 1998 after spending eight months in prison, Nkabinde was acquitted."

The same report draws a chilling conclusion: "But in the eyes of many Richmond residents, Nkabinde was still regarded as the man behind the violence."

But if indeed "one man's meat is another man's poison", nowhere is the hackneyed phrase more evident than in the Nkabinde lounge, where a commendation, giving him the freedom of the town of Richmond, hangs on the wall.

Next to it is another keepsake, cast in stone memories of the opening of a United Democratic Movement branch in Tongaat, made out to Mrs Nonhlanhla Nkabinde.

Nonhlanhla Claribel Nkabinde is now a UDM member of parliament, active in the portfolio committees on health, home affairs and transport.

She's back home for the recess.

She comes out with a hand outstretched in greeting, her trademark smile making the handshake even warmer.

The man whose pictures line every available space in their home was her darling, the father of their six children. She makes no attempt to reconcile this memory with the picture of the ogre painted by many who say he had a hand in the infamous killings that made Richmond into a hellhole of no-go areas.

"People were sentenced to life imprisonment," she says about her husband's killers. "Two others turned state witnesses."

Nine years after she was widowed, she's made peace with her past.

"I've dealt with it. I'm at peace. I'm a Christian and believe that God has helped me a lot. I pray. Those with whom I worship helped me through the pain. Life must go on."

About her children, she says: "We are a happy family."

Raising the children without their father has been a challenge luckily eased by the fact that "the two others are now grown-up" - Thembeka, 26, Thando and Siphumelele 22, Sinqobile, 18, Nana 17, and the baby of the family, Zanele, who is 16.

When they married, the pair each had three children of their own from previous relationships.

In 2003 the Richmond inmates from opposing political camps came together in prison to begin talks towards healing.

"They initiated it," she says.

People from outside were invited to jail to see the inmates, in five-aside peace talks "and I was one of them".

After hearing them out, the 10-member delegation was asked to make contact with families of the victims, to seek their forgiveness. Whole families, related to the victims, were bused to New Prison in Pietermaritzburg, where the Richmond gang had been transferred from Westville in Durban. After a tear-jerker session, the last of which was aired live on Ukhozi FM, the former enemies decided to bury the hatchet.

What worked, says madam Nkabinde, is that the prisoners apologised publicly, unreservedly.

This process has led to the present-day Richmond where, according to former mayor Andrew Ragavaloo, people meet and laugh about how they had once planned to kill one another.

Ever the pacifier, Ragavaloo's name will go down in the history of the town as having been among the loudest voices calling for peace. An earlier report had this to say about his efforts: "After the first convictions were handed down, Ragavaloo called for a special amnesty for the five men found guilty. He said that the community of Richmond had been rid of the senseless killings and the initiator of the violence in the area.

"What is needed now is an urgent special amnesty hearing in view of the extraordinary circumstances. Martyrs they are and because of them we live on."

The Nkabinde children go to Richmond Combined, the school headed by Ragavaloo, who is now speaker in the local metro.

Both Ragavaloo and the Nkabinde widow speak well of each other, embodying the reconciliatory spirit of the greater Richmond, where erstwhile foes are now friends.

When her husband was killed, the housewife went back to her job as a nurse at Ndaleni clinic, the station she was deployed to from Edendale hospital.

On May 6 2002, she says, she was elected to the National Assembly to add to the voices of the UDM in the house. "I can't live in the shadow of my husband for ever. Nonhlanhla has proved that she is a person in her own right."


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