In Memoriam

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The light slants through the windows above. Their arches are tell-tale clues that this was once a church. Now it is an art gallery, but sacred once again. I leave my sisters at the door and walk forward, suddenly frantic to find him among all the others.

I scan along the walls and spot him against the front wall. It is a close-up of his face, but it does not quite look like him, which, in a way, is almost a relief. I can’t place my finger on what exactly it is that the artist did not nail. Is his nose too crooked? The shape of his eyes a little off? Yet, with a few violent brush strokes, she had skilfully managed to capture enough of his essence to create a recognisable likeness of my late brother-in-law. It is an impressive achievement, considering that she never met him in person and only had a photograph to work from. There is no denying that she is extremely gifted.

Later, during the exhibition’s opening address, we learn that these fifty individual portraits of my brother-in-law and others form part of one work. Fifty; because that, according to officials, is the amount of people that are murdered in South Africa on a daily basis. However, some say that 150 murder victims a day is a far more accurate figure.

On February 18, 2011, my vibrant, jovial and strong brother-in-law became part of those statistics when he was shot to death at his farmhouse in the middle of the night while trying to stave off a gang of intruders. My sister and then 7-year old nephew witnessed the entire horror.

A year and a week later, I still cannot grasp – and don’t think I ever will – why this awful thing had to happen to my beautiful, kind sister; my sweet nephew and my darling little niece. I don’t know why a decent, honest, hard-working man, who meant so much to so many people, had to die at just 44 years old. Why he won’t get to see my nephew and niece grow up; grow old with my sister...

He will forever have the dubious honour of being the first farmer to be murdered in this area. Thankfully, his memory has not been eclipsed by his headline-grabbing death. The way in which he lived his too short life was so much bigger that the horrible way in which he died. It speaks volumes about his character that many of his friends – large, burly men – are still unable to refer to him without breaking down and unabashedly sobbing like babies. He was not famous, yet he has had a street named after him in a new development here in town. (To be more precise, it’s a ‘Way’, which is hilariously appropriate, because – as I joked to my sister – he always got his way. Adding “Street”, “Lane”, or “Boulevard” after his name simply would not have had the same ring to it.)

However, he would have loathed all of this attention. He was a man of deeds, not words. We always knew he was generous, but not even my sister was aware of how often he helped others, because he never boasted about it. It was only after his death that we began learning how often and how much he had done for scores of people.

Less than eight weeks before his death, and just a few days before Christmas ’10, he was held up at gunpoint at a friend’s restaurant while making a delivery. Luckily he and all the other victims emerged from the experience physically unarmed. Two days after that, he gave me a ride to his beach house where we were going to celebrate and spend Christmas weekend. In the car, he told me some of what happened. I told him how glad I was that he was okay, and he laughingly patted my arm and said: “So you’ll miss me if I’m no longer around?” I pulled a face at him and said: “Maybe. Just a teeny tiny bit.”

Now I can assure him that all of us miss him desperately, every single day.

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7 Comments

Po said:

This is such powerful writing Redsaid and just terrible that it has to be written about.

Deeleea Author Profile Page said:

I'm sure it's felt at least that long, if not longer for you that he's been gone. The year has flown by here. I am no less sympathetic now than then, it strikes me as just amazing that a country can be living with that much danger so close to everyone.

Sending thoughts and prayers, as always xx

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Thank you, dearest Po. I wish I could do more than merely write about it. I wish I could somehow alleviate the pain my sister, niece and nephew is going through. My niece was only two years and four months old when it happened, but she hero-worshipped her dad, and so she STILL asks about him, cries for him, etc. It is heartbreaking to see how forlorn the kiddos look when we're out somewhere and other children run up to their dads. They have had SO much stolen from them.

Dee: Thanks, darling friend. Some days, it feels as if it happened aeons ago already, yes; other times, it feels as raw and fresh as it did just hours after. I suppose there is no statute of limitation on mourning. Look, not to say that we all walk around the house moping and crying all day. My sister is not the type to wallow - even though she has every right to! But the light in her eyes has been snuffed out and I don't know if she will ever get it back.

Nafisa said:

What an honour. Although I never knew your brother in law, the fact that they are naming a road after him and all the good he did which you found out much later speaks volumes about him.

You've been nothing but a pillar of strength to your sister and her kids, so big up to you Ragel for being there for them, at whatever time of day and night.

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Nafisa: Funny that you wrote "time of night"! I have to admit, it's not QUITE as flattering as one might think when one's niece requests... nay, DEMANDS... the pleasure of one's (and no one else's, according to her mama) company at 3am - as she did again just now. Which is why I'm sitting here next to her bed, writing this reply to you at almost 3:30! It's okay, though... it's not as if I have anything better to do right now! Sleep is soooo overrated.

About my brother-in-law's Way: Yes, it is a tremendous honour and such a touching gesture. I'm wondering though if the Garmin lady is going to exact revenge, because he NEVER listened to her directions. So perhaps she will refuse to acknowledge his namesake street for all those times that he forced her to frantically say: "Recalculating"!

terrashield said:

So very heartfelt. Lovely post.

I guess if people have really had a very big impact on your life, it's really difficult to forget them.

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Thank you so much, Terra. Yes, my brother-in-law certainly falls into that 'impossible to forget' category! He was an incredible guy.

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
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comments
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Thank you so much, Terra. Yes, my brother-in-law certainly falls into that 'impossible to forget' ca... [go]
  • terrashield : So very heartfelt. Lovely post. I guess if people have really had a very big impact on your life, ... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Nafisa: Funny that you wrote "time of night"! I have to admit, it's not QUITE as flattering as one m... [go]
  • Nafisa : What an honour. Although I never knew your brother in law, the fact that they are naming a road afte... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Thank you, dearest Po. I wish I could do more than merely write about it. I wish I could somehow all... [go]
  • Deeleea Author Profile Page: I'm sure it's felt at least that long, if not longer for you that he's been gone. The year has flow... [go]
  • Po : This is such powerful writing Redsaid and just terrible that it has to be written about.... [go]
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