Out of South Africa: 'Beautness of leisure' in a life of peril
Saturday 18 July 1992
They were all 'homeboys' from Mahlabatini, next to Ulundi, the capital of Kwa-Zulu and seat of the Inkatha leader, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi - who is Bheki's uncle on his mother's side.
When politics split the Zulu nation in the mid-Eighties between those backing Inkatha and those the ANC, the 'Black Heroes' faded as a footballing force. They kept playing, but political tensions off the pitch tore the team apart.
Today Bheki, who is 39, has switched his soccer allegiances. His hero is Gary Lineker. His team, Tottenham. Why, I haven't been able to fathom. But it turns out there are a whole lot of people in Soweto crazy about Spurs.
Bheki was in London earlier this month on a week's holiday. I managed to get a free plane ticket through the kindness of a British friend and gave it to Bheki, who works as a security guard, earns about pounds 200 a month and - more than most people I know - needed a break. While in London he saw all the usual sights, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London.
He also made three pilgrimages to White Hart Lane, where people from the supporters' club took him in to see the players and watch the grass grow.
They also gave him the necessary paper work to start a supporters' branch in Soweto. 'We could get hundreds,' he told me yesterday. 'But the nation is bleeding. It's not the time for pleasure, my friend.'
Besides, these days Bheki cannot go to Soweto, where his home is and where three of his nine children live with his cousin Bongy. For Bheki lives in constant fear of his life. He knows with as much certainty as Dirk Coetzee, the South African police defector hiding in London, that there are hit squads out to get him. The difference is that while Mr Coetzee - 6,000 miles away - enjoys round-the-clock protection from Scotland Yard, Bheki - in the belly of the beast - has only his wits and his friends as allies.
Bheki moved out of his home on 20 February after surviving the fifth attempt on his life in two years. It was lucky he did, because on 4 March two men with guns - one white, one black - turned up at his front door at five in the afternoon and told Bongy they had come to kill her cousin. 'Why?' Bongy asked the white man. 'Because he's in the way of the people who've sent us here.'
The most recent episode, on 9 June, involved Bheki's eight-year-old son, Kingdom. 'He went down the road to buy bread, and when he came out of the shop a man grabbed him, put a gun to his head and told him: 'Tell your father that if we are unable to kill him, we'll kill you. We know where you're schooling'.'
Since then, Bheki said, his son has not been 'normal'. 'He's traumatised. He's always been such a sweet, smiling boy. Now he's so frightened. He's so worried about his father.'
It is not too difficult to see who the people are in whose way Bheki is standing. First, he is one of the millions of Zulus who do not support Inkatha. Secondly, he is a prominent activist in Cosatu, the ANC-aligned union federation and, as such, outspoken in his condemnation of what he calls Inkatha's 'brutality'. ('My uncle, the chief, doesn't want the eyes of the people to be opened to democracy. He wants all to be Inkatha.') Thirdly, having lived 12 of the last 20 years in the hostels, now Inkatha strongholds in the township violence, he retains contacts there and possesses detailed information on those leaders responsible for stirring up the Zulu inmates, as he puts it, 'to war'.
Those same leaders, Bheki's tribal sources have told him, have a hit-list with his name on it. 'The last thing I heard was that they have given instructions not to kill me now, after Boipatong, but to wait until things have settled.'
But Bheki is never settled. I would be shattered, but hardly surprised, if I were to receive a call one day saying he was dead. I have never met anyone more street-wise, more sharp-witted, more hardened by experience who is at the same time so simple, sweet-natured and generous-hearted. He is one of those unselfconscious people who engage complete strangers in cheerful conversation. As he did in a bus in London with an old lady who, on the way to Tottenham, steered him to Wood Green. Strolling there, he told me in his over-excited way, he delighted in what he called 'the beautness of leisure'.
'I walked and walked in London and I felt free and safe, totally safe, my friend. I was in heaven. I saw things that will change my life for ever.
'I tell you: One morning I was in Buckingham Palace, enjoying the soldiers with the big black hats and the red coats, and I met a policeman and we started discussing. My friend, I couldn't believe it] God, I really couldn't believe it] Policemen in London are normal, friendly human beings]'
Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
Robin Thicke named sexist of the year 2013
Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
Paul Walker death caused by speed alone
Apollo Theatre collapse: Scores injured after ceiling collapses in London's West End
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 North Koreans are gasping for the truth: Let's give it to them
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 4 Burglar steals video tapes of child abuse, hands them into police
- 5 Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
- < Previous
- Next >
£17985 - £19104 per annum: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Bishop ...
£85 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Southampton: Randstad Education Plymout...
Negotiable: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Why not teach in Kent?...
£1 per day + Daily rate to be agreed: Randstad Education Reading: Qualified Fo...