Thursday, June 5, 2008

They called him Mugza - more about Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave

They called him Mugza", he was the faceless subject of the horrific image which will be seared into our memories and the global perception of our country alongside those of Nelson Mandela leaving prison or people queuing to vote.

Reporter Beauregard Tromp found out a few details about this man and the misfortunes that led him to become the world's most famous victim that day and wrote about it movingly. "Mugza" only had a nickname and was heading for a pauper's funeral, this report said, but at least he was being humanised.

The Sunday Times' Victor Khupiso gave us his name and spoke to a brother-in-law who said he would bury the body.

At the Germiston City Hall, two nondescript Mozambican men bedded down among their compatriots. Unlike the hundreds of weary bodies forced from their homes in Ramaphosa and Meyerton, the two brothers were there on Monday night to be close to their brother.

Fifty metres down the road, in a cold, steel, refrigerated hole, lay Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave.

For almost a week, the public knew him only as the flaming man. In Ramaphosa township, he was known simply as Mugza.

For Jose and Severiano he was a brother, a husband and a father who sought a better life in South Africa less than three months ago. Jose, a miner at South Deep Mine for 11 years, returned home regularly with money and gifts for the family. Severiano joined him four months ago.

Ernesto was struggling to make ends meet. As a security guard in Maputo, the money just wasn't enough to provide for his family of five.

A running joke in Maputo is that people would rather employ a security guard than install an alarm system because it's cheaper.

On Thursday, Jose and Severiano got a call from their brother-in-law, Francisco Kanze. Stabbed, beaten and with a cement block thrown on his head, Kanze would survive the attack on him and Ernesto in Ramaphosa on May 18.

The image of Ernesto burning to death would bring the reality of the xenophobic horror home to people around the world.

Although Jose and Severiano are strictly speaking cousins of Ernesto, the three grew up metres from each other near Inhambane, the tourism area 550km north of Maputo where hundreds of South Africans flock annually on holiday. Early on Monday morning, the pair were at Germiston mortuary to identify Ernesto's body.

Jose held no hope that it was all a mistake. All he wanted now was to take his brother home. The body was sent to Germiston mortuary, hospital officials assured. Body number 1247 was pulled out. This time the entire body was burnt. The face was unrecognisable. Only part of a leg and a foot had escaped relatively unharmed.

"I knew it was Ernesto because of his toes. He has a birth defect on his middle toe," said Jose.

At the Germiston Community Hall, Mozambican official Edmundo Matenja has a ledger that is nearly full. Most of the names recorded in them are people looking for family members lost when they fled. At the back of the ledger is a list of six names, their fate known.

Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave would be number seven.

Excerpt by Beauregard Tromp
May 27 2008 The Star

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