The TAC has MaMatwa’s back
was about 11 pm on a Sunday night when MaMatwa heard a knock on her door. She asked who it was and the person responded by saying they had come to buy sheep’s heads. ‘I was surprised, because everybody knows that I only sell the heads during the week. So I asked myself who would come on a Sunday,’ says MaMatwa.
A few hours later, she was a woken by a big bang and within seconds the bed she was sharing with her daughter and granddaughter was engulfed in flames. There was smoke everywhere and her bedroom was burning. MaMatwa managed to get off the bed, she tried to reach her for her granddaughter but she was severely burned, her skin was falling off and MaMatwa could not get a firm hold of her. She ran towards the door, but struggled to unlock it. She turned to the window next to the door and shouted for help. Her neighbour’s children stood staring at her, doing nothing, while MaMatwa pleaded for help from inside the burning house.
Eventually, people in the neighbourhood heard the screams and came to help. They also were unable to unlock the door and ended up breaking it down. MaMatwa and her two other children, who slept in a different room, managed to survive. But her daughter and the granddaughter who were severely burned, succumbed to their injuries in hospital.
Khwezi, her neighbour’s child and a friend had thrown a petrol bomb into MaMatwa’s house, accusing her of being a witch. They believed MaMatwa had bewitched their mother and killed her.
‘When my neighbour died, they didn’t even tell me. The sent word to all the other neighbours in the street, but never said a word to me,’ says MaMatwa.
MaMatwa had always had a good relationship with her neighbour – she even had a spare key to her house in case the children came home from school before their mom. When Khwezi came to stay though, that all changed. Khwezi would never greet MaMatwa or ask for the key if he came home early. Soon the rest of the family followed suit. MaMatwa doesn’t know what changed, but she would often overhear the children saying that she had better leave since she killed their mom. ‘They never said these things to me directly, so I could not confront them,’ she says.
After the attack, MaMatwa first sought help from her community. She tried to speak to various people in her community committee, but each person had an excuse. ‘They would say they are no longer on the committee,’ she recalls. It seemed as though everybody was starting to believe she was involved in her neighbour’s death.
MaMatwa received no support from the police throughout her case. She believes the investigating officer was sympathetic to the accused and his family, even though she had been wronged. When everybody turned their backs on her, TAC members were the only people who extended a helping hand. ‘I knew the TAC existed, but I thought they only focused on health issues,’ says MaMatwa.
By definition, health is more than just a state of physical well-being, it is a combination of physical, mental and social well-being.
Over the years, the TAC has moved from focusing strictly on health issues to taking up socio-economic issues that the community of Khayelitsha is faced with. This is why TAC is a familiar name in every household and why anybody in need, like MaMatwa, can turn to the TAC for assistance.
There is a picture of MaMatwa’s daughter on the wall. It is the only picture in the lounge. Although it’s been years since the fire, the house is still empty. It is very much ‘in-between’, one cannot tell if MaMatwa is moving in or moving out. ‘It’s not easy,’ says MaMatwa.
She is still living next to the neighbours who accused her of killing their mother and her friend. They do not speak to one another, despite seeing each other every day. It was a decision of bravery that led her back to her damaged house.
‘My kids were refusing to come back,’ she says. MaMatwa’s surviving children were afraid that they would be attacked again and lose their lives.
Despite her own fears, she reassured her children and convinced them to come back to the house with her. ‘I told them, it doesn’t matter where we are, if we are to die, we will die,’ she told them. After four months of living with relatives, MaMatwa and her children returned to the house.
For months, nothing was said. The community largely ignored what happened to MaMatwa. But one day, one of the children that was involved in the attack confessed that he and Khwezi had had petrol bombs that they wanted to throw into the house. He admitted that the one he threw towards the kitchen did not go off, but Khwezi’s had landed on the bed started the blaze. Despite this confession, the prosecutor still tried to find a way for the two to be granted bail. When she heard this, MaMatwa was devastated. How could her pain, and the loss of her children go unnoticed? It seemed as though poor people could never be afforded justice. I asked them, ‘You want to give these kids bail, but will my children get bail from their graves?’
‘If it wasn’t for TAC, this case would never have gone forward, and these kids would never have been put in jail,’ says MaMatwa. After months of back and forth, Khwezi and his accomplice were sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. Throughout the trial, MaMatwa received support from the TAC. They accompanied her to every court appearance, and made sure all the volunteers who attended the trial were fed.
‘I am not afraid of anything anymore. Because I know that whatever comes, I will turn to the TAC and they will never turn their backs on me,’ says MaMatwa.