'I thank my lucky stars I am alive'

Vusi Ndlovu

Vusi Ndlovu

I was scared witless and thought I was going to die most of Saturday afternoon.

It was the type of event when you think of nothing but your family and what will happen to your children.

Jackey Maarohanye and her gang of supposedly abused children had gotten the best of me on Saturday.

I arrived at the Ithuteng Trust, a school where the disgraced Soweto "Angel", commonly known as Mama Jackey, conducts Saturday classes. It was about noon.

My mission was to have a one-on-one interview with Maarohanye.

I alighted from our car at the half-open gate to the school. I introduced myself to three women I met in the yard and told them I wanted to see Mama Jackey.

One of the women called a man to take me to the school hall where a meeting was taking place.

I took a seat at the back of the hall while the man went to alert Maarohanye that Vusi from the Sowetan wanted to speak to her.

Her facial expression changed immediately.

She said: "Sis Utlanyela", which means he is going to shit himself.

There was about three seconds of dead silence.

Maarohanye rose from her chair and said: "Vusi from the Sowetan is here".

The man who had led me in pointed me out and everyone craned to see me.

Maarohanye pointed me out and all hell broke loose.

The mob pounced on me. I tried to run to the kitchen, where a door leads outside. But someone in the kitchen shouted that the door should be closed.

I was manhandled, beaten and searched. My bank card and press card, cellphone, notebook and pen were taken from me.

They returned my bank card, but kept the press card, cellphone, notebook and pen.

Maarohanye entered the kitchen and ordered her thugs to take me to the stage where I would explain my presence to the packed hall.

A woman named Thembi and her cohorts had been reading my notebook, where I had scribbled questions such as "Where are the millions [she had collected from donors]?", "How many children enrolled this year?", "Has the school resumed classes this year?".

As Thembi read the questions out loud, Maarohanye jumped from her chair where she was presiding over my assault and interrogation, grabbed me by my shirt and demanded to know what millions I was referring to.

"I'm going to beat you up myself," she yelled, but did not call off my other attackers.

As blows rained down from all directions, I saw Thembi landing a kick in my groin.

I was dragged to a little room next to the hall where I was interrogated and accused of trespassing because I had not made an appointment.

Thembi slapped me as my tormentors demanded to see my news editor, Willie Bokala. They brought my cellphone back and demanded that I summon him.

They carried on beating me. Thembi called Bokala and told him I would be dead meat if he did not arrive soon.

Some time during the hours of my beating, my colleague, Mabu Nkadimeng, who had parked outside the gate, was brought in, forced to explain his presence and released.

They pummelled me throughout the afternoon. I was returned to the stage, where I was forced to explain each question in my notes.

Ronnie, an excitable ringleader, delivered a sucker punch to my left eye that would have done credit to a professional boxer. But I was not fighting, just held captive alone by a crowd of thugs baying for my blood.

Once, when I was hauled outside, Maarohanye threw water on my face.

I was taken to the gate where I saw Bokala and a contingent of police.

Then my father, not a regular caller, phoned while I was being dragged to the gate. One of the hostage takers, Patricia, let him know I had been captured.

My spirits plummeted when I realised the police were not going to rescue me and I was yanked back to the hall.

Later in the afternoon Ronnie came up and threatened me.

"We also have our intelligence. We have spoken to other reporters. We now know where you stay and how many kids you have. If you go ahead with this matter, something will happen to you or one of your family."

He said I should never forget that he would come after me with a plastic bag full of petrol for my private parts.

My seven hours of hell and torture only ended at about 7pm, after lengthy negotiations between my hostage takers and the police.

My face is battered. I have a blue eye and fuzzy vision. My arm is bruised and painful, and my neck strained.

But I thank my lucky stars that I am still alive, because often during the afternoon I was convinced I would never write this report.