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By Brendan Seery

Deputy Editor

Amid the Mahikeng flames, the spirit of ubuntu is still alive

Imagine being a parent and hearing your daughter was caught up in the fiery protest...

It was not the kind of phone call a father wants to get. It was my daughter, terrified and in tears.

She was heading home on Thursday morning for her graduation at Tukkies the following day and had left Mahikeng – where she is doing her compulsory community service year as a vet – early. Hearing that there had been roadblocks put up by protesters, she decided to try to find another way out.

Soon, though, she found herself in an area she didn’t know and then, ahead of her, groups of people putting up barricades and setting tyres alight. She turned her car around and headed back the way she had come – only to face another crowd, which had suddenly sprung up after she went through initially.

She then turned around again and parked underneath a tree, in a place where it seemed calmer (for the moment, anyway). She didn’t know where she was. I told her to go to the cops and ask for protection and an escort. There weren’t any cops around.

I had the uncomfortable chill of déjà vu sweep over me. Almost 24 years to the month, I had been caught up in similar violence in the same place, in what was then Mmabatho, capital of the Bophuthatswana homeland, as people took to the streets in their thousands to try to oust then president Lucas Mangope. I saw looting, and heard gunshots uncomfortably close.

I had also seen bodies on that trip – including three white khaki-clad rightwingers, who were gunned down by soldiers – and I heard more stories of black people being randomly shot on the streets by rightwingers as they left the town.

I was there as a journalist and it was my job – but I was terrified. Eventually I left, telling the boss he could fire me if he wanted but I knew I would die if I stayed. Erin was then not even two.

Now, I imagined the worst: a young white girl in a black township; protesters high on booze and nyaope, stoked on racial hatred to boot.

I told her to approach anybody in the area and ask if they could give her shelter in their house. When I worked in Bop, I found that ordinary black people were welcoming to strangers. What happened next has given me hope for this country.

A man drove up, told her she wasn’t safe where she was and took her to his house. His wife greeted her with “my baby!”, sat her down and began making her breakfast. The woman said people were angry, that they wanted Premier Supra Mahumapelo to go.

An hour or two later, Erin’s friends from town found her and escorted her away from trouble.

When my wife phoned to say thank you – on Erin’s phone – she was greeted with a yell of “Erin, my baby! How are you?”

It should have been one thankful mother to another – but some habits die hard and the woman kept calling my wife m’am…

I won’t name you because I don’t want you targeted by any of the uncontrolled roaming mobs. You know who you are. I will thank you properly in person one day.

You remind me that ubuntu still lives in many of us. Outside the poison and bile of Twitter, of Julius Malema and Vicki Momberg, there are still decent human beings who will come to the aid of others, because, under the skin we’re all the same, aren’t we?

Brendan Seery.

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Columns Mahikeng North West

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