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A moment of madness

13 Jun 2012 at 05:30hrs | Views
This short story was shortlisted  for the 2011 Intwasa Arts Festival's Yvonne Vera Award.

Unity Square lay directly below him, in its entire splendor; brightly coloured pennants of red and green and yellow, flowing and fluttering in the wind. It was an hour before the beginning of the proceedings, and already the square was packed to its capacity; the Party faithful working their magic on the small crowd; fists clenched, punching the air and shouting all the obligatory bullshit. The Women's Leaguers sang and ululated; and as he looked down at them, the man felt a tight clinch in his heart. His mother and Grand mother had been forced to do this; down on their knees, singing songs of praise to a man who was hell bent on decimating all trace of the people from this side of the country….

 Joseph Mbonambi had been only about twenty years of age when the news of the "red berets" had come from all around his little village of Mgulatshani, just outside the picturesque Matopos National Park, about 50 kilometres south of Bulawayo. The "red berets", it was said, had the primary objective of obliterating all trace of the "Ndebele dissidents" from around the countryside, especially in the mostly Ndebele areas of Matabeleland North and South. The dissidents were a small group of people who had left the new army because of various reasons, and as they grew in popularity, some young people from the region, dissatisfied with their lot, had joined them. The government had not been entirely pleased with this, and they had sought the help of the South Koreans in training what became known as "Gukurahundi-the rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains came"; officially known as the 5 Brigade of the new Army.

Joseph had heard of the news of the group one day at the local dip, from Mandla, the local gossip monger;

"They are burning down whole villages up north, eGulati and Cyrene. And people are disappearing during the night;" Themba had started, to much ridicule from the young men gathered at the dip.

"And where are you getting this gossip from wena Themba;" he was teased left, right and centre.

"Okay, don't say you were not warned. Me, I am leaving for Bulawayo on Sunday;" an exasperated Themba concluded, as the boys gathered their heads and headed to their homesteads.

And then;  that very night, as he slept in his hut, Joseph's door was kicked down, a gun pointed at his head, as he was told, in deep Shona; to "join the rest of the dissidents outside; NOW!", with a gun-barrel encouragement to his ribs that left him wincing in pain.

Outside, standing in the light of an Army Jeep stood the rest of his family, in various stages of nakedness;

His two sisters, Thembi and Busi, in their night dresses, hands clamped protectively over their upper bodies;

His mother, a blanket wrapped around her, holding onto Granny Moyo, the maternal matriarch of the Mbonambi home, who had been the rock of this home since the father of the home had passed away several years ago.

Uncles Matt and Luke stood, also frozen in the glare of the lights of the van.

There was no sign of his elder cousin, Lindani, and his wife, usis' Lizzie; and Joseph knew there was going to be trouble. Lindani was a gentle, timid man and generally did all he could to stay from trouble. Joseph knew that there was a huge possibility that Lindani would be hiding somewhere in his hut, probably under the bed or something.

"Right, Vabereki;" the apparent Commander began; "Ma-dissidents ari kupi; are you hiding any of them around here;" he started, and as he spoke, Joseph heard the sharp scream coming from Lindani's hut, and his worst fears were confirmed.

Out of the darkness, away from the light, one of the soldiers emerged, gun slung across his back, dragging both Lindani and his wife by the ear on each arm.

"Found them under the bed, Comrade; don't know if they want to show us what they were doing;" the young soldier said, to much approval from his ten or so Comrades.

So, Lindani and his wife were dragged to the centre of the lighted area, and ordered to take off their clothes.

"Now, show us what you were doing under the bed, whilst some of us are busy defending this country from ma-dissidents"; the Commander said, and as Lindani started to protest, he was kicked right in the stomach, and Granny screamed.

"Come on, show us," two of the soldiers now rushed to Sis' Lizzie, and yanked off her clothes, leaving her totally exposed. Lindani was then prodded with a gun, and the two were shoved about, in an effort to get them to begin to be intimate with each other, as it was assumed they were doing...

Uncle Matt began to move forward to try and assist, and he was thumped with the barrel of a gun by one of the soldiers. He fell down, blood oozing out of a wound somewhere on his head.

Then the true horror of the night began; as two of the soldiers began to take their trousers off as they moved towards Sis'Lizzie. Mother and Granny let out screams of utmost pain and buried their faces in their hands; not wanting to believe the gruesome scene unraveling in front of their eyes.

 Lizzie was hastily turned around; pushed to her knees and violently penetrated from behind. She let out a blood curdling scream, and Lindani tried to move to protect his wife. He was held back and whipped with the barrel of the gun.

As Lindani tried to come loose from the grip of the soldier that was holding him, the next soldier was starting his gruesome conquest upon Lizzie. Granny and Mother were sobbing, hands still over their eyes in disbelief. As Joseph shifted his glance momentarily from Sis' Lizzie, he heard the gun going off, and Lindani fell onto the ground, right in front of his wife's face. It looked like they exchanged a last, desperate glance before the soldier shot Lindani again, right at the back of the head. Sis Lizzie escaped her rapist, leaving his manhood grotesquely hanging in front of his trousers. He stood up, adjusted his trousers, righted his gun, pointed it at Lizzie and pulled the trigger, and Mother collapsed at the other end, dragging Granny to the ground with her.

Joseph feared the worst, but, just as soon as she had fallen, Mother sat up, and upon her knees, head held to her face; she began to scream. Joseph tried to move towards her, and he got rewarded with another violent thud of the gun barrel, as his uncles also got severely assaulted by the rest of the soldiers.

'Now, vasara vacho, pick up these two dissidents, bury them far away in the hillside, and tomorrow, we will be back to collect some food, and hopefully, by then, you will know where we can find the dissidents" The Commander said.

"Vasikana ava, we take them with us; " the Commander continued, pointing at  Joseph's  sisters , who were then  violently grabbed by the soldiers, and pushed into the van; screaming and trying to break free. They were hastily beaten to submission, and as Joseph's mother tried to reach out to her daughters, she was kicked on the side of the head, and crumpled in a heap on the dusty ground.

"Let them all sing;" shouted one of the soldiers; as he started a Shona song, which none of the victims of this macabre scene knew;

"Amai va Dikindo…Dikondo di….Dikondo di…"

"Sing, you bloody dissidents; sing;' they said as each of the people around got one final kick and gun barrel smack  and  the soldiers piled into their  van, and with a screech of tyres upon the dusty surface of the yard, they were on their way, driving right  through the neat perimeter of the homestead√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ǭ¶.

 As the memory train came to a screeching halt, Joseph looked down at the square, and noted the heightened activity at the far right corner of the square. The President was on his way√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ǭ¶

 Joseph had been in this office since yesterday evening, having coming in to 'see' the Clerk of Parliament about the proposal from his own party's Central Committee. These days, they were willing to meet every one, seeing as the so-called Government of National Unity- the GNU, was crumbling all around them, and the people of this country, encouraged by the uprisings taking place up in the north of Africa, were beginning to demand answers. The Clerk of Parliament now lay dead inside one of the cabinets, having "phoned" his wife and a few comrades to inform them that he would not make it to the celebrations as he had an errand to run for the Minister in the Presidency, to whom he reported directly. Of course the "phone calls" had been made with a little bit of "encouragement" from the man now sitting at his vantage point at the office window, gazing directly at the Square below; taking the difficult journey back to where all of this had started√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ǭ¶

By the time the sun came up the following day, the Mbonambi homestead was abandoned. Joseph, his ailing Granny, his Mother, and  his  Uncle Matt were more than ten kilometres away, heading up north to Bulawayo, more than fifty kilometres away. Uncle Luke had volunteered to remain behind; to try and "find my nieces" he had said as they left, with bags of some food and very little luggage. They kept to the rocky routes parallel to the main road, as according to Themba at the dip the previous day, the soldiers were mounting roadblocks every so often, blocking the road, taking away any food that the people might be bringing from the city. Women were being abducted, and raped in front of their men and several Pelandaba buses had been burnt.

By the time the sun came down, they had only done an extra five or so kilometres, as Granny Moyo was struggling to go on. Her asthma condition,  aggravated with the shock of yesterday night, was causing her enormous difficulties and she was wheezing with each step; and as the darkness enveloped the rocky forests, and the sun disappeared from view, Granny Moyo asked to sit down, and there on a flat rocky bed, far away from her home, she bade all of her children goodbye; and her soul left her body√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ǭ¶

After they had dug a shallow grave further up the hill, under the shade of a big 'xakuxaku" tree, they said some prayers, and laid Granny Moyo there, wrapped in her favourite blanket. It was the most difficult thing that Joseph had ever done. And his Mother never stopped crying, silently sobbing throughout the rest of the way.

They had eventually edged closer to the road, flagged down a postalservices vehicle, and riding with the mailbags at the back, had eventually arrived in Bulawayo. Joseph knew that if his Father' s passing away had left him as the man of the house then, this whole incident had even put all of that into higher prominence. So, with the help of relatives in Bulawayo, Joseph Mbonambi had begun to rebuild a life for him and his Mother. His sisters as well as his Uncle Luke had never been found, and as the political parties sought to bring all of the pain to an end, signing the ill-fated Unity Accord in December 1987; Joseph had slipped out of the country, and started to make a life for himself in the growing Zimbabwean community in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The pain and memory of Gukurahundi remained at the front of his mind each and every day; and as he lost his Mother to high blood pressure and stress a couple of years later, in his mind, she also was a victim of that fateful time in his life. The violence he had seen that night would stay with Joseph for a very long time. In Johannesburg; the more he tried to work and become a decent man, the more the trauma of Gukurahundi came back to haunt him. His relationships failed as he became a violent and uncaring partner. His wife left him, and his loneliness began to eat away at him.  Eventually, after getting fired from the high class security guard job that he was very good at, for hitting the supervisor; Joseph decided that it was time to confront this pain; and this was the only way he knew how√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ǭ¶.

He had spoken to his Security friends, who had connected him to a supplier of the weapon that now rested comfortable upon his laurels. Getting it in at Beitbridge was easy. With a couple of five US dollar notes, the Customs guy was convinced not to search his car; and he had driven to Bulawayo with no roadblocks along the way. Then in Bulawayo, he had used Uncle Matt's contacts (Uncle Matt was now one of the Members of Parliament in the new Government of National Unity- the funny arrangement that was keeping this country from exploding) to get information about the movement of his target. Uncle Matt had organized to get Joseph a pass into the Parliament precinct- no questions asked; no information volunteered; and for the past two weeks, Joseph had studied the whole set-up, selected the Clerk's office as the most suitable point for carrying out his macabre duty.

Any one seeing him coming into the building yesterday would have mistaken him for any of the hundreds of political figures who went in and out of this secure building. He had been dressed in a light grey suit when he had arrived for his "appointment" with the Clerk of Parliament. Now, he was wearing army green cargo pants and an olive sweatshirt. The olive sweatshirt as his personal favourite, a birthday gift from his ex-wife, given to him when things had been rosy between them; before she had started calling him all those ugly names; uneducated, useless…Those were painful words…but perhaps very true.

Joseph knew when the speech would start; when the security personnel surrounding his target, would leave it; and above all, he knew when and how he would squeeze the trigger of the highly sophisticated weapon that lay close to him, out of its bag, polished and ready to deliver the killer shot. After all, he had been one of Cohen Security's sharpest sharp shooter, foiling more than a dozen potential bank robberies by delivering the fatal shot to the heads of a couple of the scoundrels each time.

Below him, the swelling crowd in the sweltering heat of the day cheered on, waving their flags about, oblivious of the impending disaster a few floors up above their heads. As the President moved closer to the custom-made shiny mahogany podium; the Presidential coat of arms upon it, the cross hairs of his weapon touched briefly on the President, and Joseph winced…

It was at this man's command; under his guard, with his full consensus and knowledge,  that Lindani and Lizzie had died; it was his doing that Granny Moyo had walked more than fifteen kilometres in the middle of the night; running away from men young enough to be her grand children. It was because of this man that Granny Moyo had died, sitting on some rock in the middle of nowhere, instead of dying when the Lord called her, as she had wanted.  Though she had later been re-buried next to Grand Pa, this man; waving and cheering down there, had been the reason for all of this pain. Joseph thought of his sisters, of his Uncle Luke, and of the thousands that it had later emerged had died at the hands of the notorious 5 Brigade; some figures had put it at more than twenty thousand√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ǭ¶

His trigger finger tightened; and he took a deep breadth, and wiped a beard of sweat freely flowing upon his brow. The podium was no more than twenty-five metres away, and he had hit targets at almost double that distance in his brief but illustrious career at Cohen Security. And that was a long time away from this place he found himself at today; about to commit the biggest crime known to any sane democracy…

Again, he looked through the lens, his heart beating very fast now as the President approached the podium. He spotted part of the security detail; two men, in dark suits, all wearing glasses and ear pieces.  From the information he had got from Uncle Matt; he knew that there were about twenty such other men, all canvassing around, and scrutinizing every face in  the crowd. Some were amongst the crowd and others in less distinguishable areas, and wearing less distinguishable outfits.

And then, Joseph thought as the President arrived onto the podium, received with a hug by the Chairman of the Party;  this man, this monster of a man, when asked about the people that had died during Gukurahundi, had replied, nonchalantly;

"It was a moment of madness…."

A thin line of sweat streaked down the side of his face again and he let it go down this time, tasting the saltiness as it trailed down to the side of his mouth and down to the tip of his chin. Carefully, and for no reason, he took out the chewing gum from his mouth, and glued it onto the side of the concrete window. He took a deep breath, lifted the weapon slightly up, slowly shut his left eye, and moved his head closer, his right eye smugly against the telescopic sight…

A moment of madness…

Ropes of sweat now trailed down his hot face again. He ignored the body fluid, and scanned the podium with his telescopic sight, his trigger finger slightly brushing the hair trigger. Any slight pressure and the big machine would kick harshly against his shoulder and discharge its deadly cargo. For a few seconds, he let the view of his target disappear from his line of sight as the President completed greeting his inner circle on the podium and turned to begin his address. The Security detail scanned the crowd, one of them looking up momentarily as if he could see Joseph…

And then the President started to speak, his voice coming out with more power that his advanced years…

"… Comrades, our nation is facing one of its greatest challenges since its independence. We need to be vigilant, because today, some amongst us have chosen to go back to our oppressors; like dogs begging for a bone; they have forgotten…"

Joseph carefully lifted his weapon;

 Joseph had not forgotten; not about Granny Moyo, not about his sisters, not about Lindani and Lizzie, not about his mother√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ǭ¶

Eyes to the telescope; deep breadth; slight brush of the trigger; deep breath…;

 He started counting backwards, from ten; as he had always done in moments like this;

10…9…8...

The people cheered on, but for Joseph, everything had stopped moving, the cross hairs of his telescope rested upon the President's chest, briefly obstructed by the constantly moving hands…

7…6…5…Joseph's finger mover slowly, caressing the claw-like trigger…

4….And then everything went quiet; blank and ethereal, as Joseph slowly continued his counting backwards…

3…2…He wondered if this is how it had felt for the man now caught in the cross hairs of this powerful weapon…

Is this how it felt…?

The moment of madness...

No feeling; no emotion; no compassion, no fear, no sensitivity, no empathy…

Was this it…?

His moment of madness?

1…

√É‚Äö√Ǭ© Thamsanqa Never Ncube  June 201.


Source - Thamsanqa Ncube
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