Often the true extent of poverty and injustice is hidden behind the euphemism of impassive figures and statistics. Such a generalized picture can easily be misleading and desensitizing, however, if it is not qualified by concrete and personal accounts that reveal the true and emotive extent of poverty and injustice in the world.
The story of a young man, Thembinkosi Ngcamphalala, whom I met briefly in rural Swaziland last October is such an account. A bright and spirited young man who had done well in school and had a promising future, who suffered a cruel and ultimately fatal injustice at the hands of a repressive and inhumane regime.
Thembinkosi was unfortunate enough to have lived in a village right next to one of Swaziland’s national parks, where game rangers can shoot supposed poachers with impunity according to Swazilands Game Act – an act that Amnesty International says condones “unlawful killings” and “brutality towards suspect poachers”.
He was shot in the face by such a ranger outside the national park – according to his family he had not been poaching. The shot blasted his one eyeball and severely damaged the other, leaving him blind.
On Sunday, he died from these wounds, as his single-parent mother (whose husband had tragically died years earlier) and family were too poor to be able to afford proper treatment for him. The ranger has not been charged and there are several other examples of similar cases in Swaziland.
Thembinkosi’s family is, understandably, shocked, angry and distraught by the killing of their son. They are struggling to pay for the funeral service and bidding him farewell in a dignified manner at a time when their minds should be on their tragic loss.
This story shows only too clearly the despair and grief that lie behind the figures and general statements about poverty in countries such as Swaziland. It also reveals that Swaziland is a brutal absolute monarchy that keeps its national parks, with its zebras and lions in pristine condition, allows its game rangers to shoot and kill the poor neighbours of the parks with impunity, and totally disregards the plight of the two-thirds of the population who are virtually starving.
But Thembinkosi should have the last word here. Because after he had been shot he urged his family to still believe in him and that he felt stronger and more focused now that he was blind. He wanted to continue with his life instead of being confined to his bed, feeling sorry for himself. He himself wanted to fight, and kept urging others to fight, for what he referred to as the downtrodden and the oppressed in Swaziland.
The funeral of Thembinkosi Ngcamphalala is on Saturday morning [18th of January] after a night vigil. The night vigil will be preceded by a memorial service Friday [17th of January] at 2 pm at Sgcaweni High School.
By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
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