When I was a little girl, the thing I was most afraid of, more than anything, was something bad happening to my mother. Once, I answered the phone and heard a voice I thought was my mother shrieking “He’s hurting me! He’s hurting me!” It turned out that it was not her, it was a prank call, but the fear it triggered swelled in my chest and hovered for a long time afterward.
Another time, when I was six or seven years old and home sick from school, my mother started choking after an infection triggered a laryngospasm. She came to me gasping, panic in her eyes, and I banged and banged on her back to get her to breathe again. I knew that she might die, and that I was the only one there to save her, and I will never forget the terror that transfixed me.
So if I try, I can start to imagine what six year old Kutlwano Garesape must have felt last Friday morning when he saw a man attack his mother.
“Kutlwano slapped the man across the face and told him to let go of me. He kept on screaming . . . ‘Let go of my mommy, it is my mommy’ while slapping and kicking the man.
He paid for his bravery with his life, strangled and stabbed and then dumped on a railway track, where he died in his mother’s arms.
There are so many stories like this, in shitty dorps where no one has any real hope of a better life, and where there are a probably a thousand explanations for the casual savagery of a man walking past a mother taking her children to school. But this story has cut through the fog of distraction. In amidst the relentless muck of cruelty and cynicism that scrolls down our screens, this story is somehow worse.
I can’t read this without weeping:
“I picked Kutlwano up and held him to my chest. He was full of blood and his hands were cut as he tried to defend himself. He told me to hold him and I sat down on the railway line and held him to my chest.
“He asked me to kiss him and I did. He then stretched out his hand to his brother.”
Whenever something in the news really gets to me, I find it easier to paint. Initially I imagined Kutlwano as a sun in the sky, smiling his dimpled smile forever, even though his life was stolen from him by some common or garden species of evil that felt entitled to take what it wanted. But I am not very good at painting faces, and lipstick is imprecise, so I destroyed the portrait in frustration and depicted a lion cub instead.
You were strong and you fought like a lion, Kutlwano, and you saved your mother. I hope you knew that before the last of your life seeped into the gravel and dust of that railway track in the middle of nowhere. You asked her to kiss you, so you must have known.
I wish you could hug your mommy again, and hear her tell you that she loves you. Your spirit will live on, you brave, brave little boy. At least, this is what we tell ourselves while we rage at the terrible wrongness of your death, and hope against hope (though we know better) that there will be no more like it, please, no more.
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