my father was 'hero of heroes'

Riot Hlatshwayo

Tshepiso Mohlala is in pain. And it's not just the pain from a bullet wound. It's deeper and it hurts.

The 19-year-old son of slain Mbombela municipality speaker Jimmy Mohlala witnessed his father being gunned down on January 4.

The gunmen had shot him first, before they murdered his father who was running to fetch his gun so he could defend his family.

While Tshepiso feels lucky that his life was spared, he is grieving for his father, whom most people saw as a decent man who died in a province that has become notorious for the assassination of high-profile members who try to do good.

Jimmy Mohlala was not an ordinary member of the ANC.

He was the speaker of Mbombela municipality. When he spotted corruption in the 2010 World Cup Mbombela Stadium project he blew the whistle. He said he had no regrets for taking on those he thought were corrupting the system.

Once he had done that he probably knew that he was living on borrowed time. And his life ended in a hail of bullets, leaving his widow to fend for his four children and a grandson.

Tshepiso said it was tough just thinking about what happened to his father. It was even tougher because he had witnessed it.

"What I know is that he was and will always be my hero. My father was a hero among heroes," he said this week.

Tshepiso was shot in the left leg just before the three gunmen shot dead Mohlala at their home in KaNyamazane outside Nelspruit. He is now at home recuperating.

A first-year student at the Nelspruit campus of Tshwane University of Technology, he says his father's tragic death will motivate him to pass his law degree so he can help his mother, Bonny, raise his siblings.

He says when the attackers shot him he offered them the keys to the car, because he thought they were robbers. He soon realised they were there to kill.

"I fell down and they walked over me to shoot my father, who tried to protect everybody in the house by dashing for his gun."

His father had taught them to be security conscious because politics "is a dirty game".

"When people came home looking for my father, we would tell them he was overseas, in Joburg or Cape Town. Now we will just tell them he is in our hearts," Tshepiso said.

His sister Tshidiso, 25, was doing second-year marketing at the same campus but might now have to drop out.

"I have to look for a job because mama obviously can't afford to educate us all on her own. I don't know if I will get a job but I believe God will answer my prayers one day," she said.

Tshidiso believes her father was destined for greatness, if only thugs had not killed him.

"My dad was going to change the environment of Mpumalanga.

"He was going to become the greatest premier of this province," said Tshidiso.

Mohlala is also survived by his other children - Tshegofatso, 6, and Tsholofelo, 12.