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Mothotlung Three: Involuntary martyrs

Zain Ebrahim

The three young men who died in Mothotlung during protests for access to water have left a community in mourning.

Lerato Seema is one of the three young men killed in Mothotlung.

The deaths of three Mothotlung residents during protests demanding water to the area are cloaked in sadness, anger, confusion and mystery. A community that simply wanted running water were left with running rivers of crimson instead. The impact of their deaths is felt throughout the community of Mothotlung and Damonsville as residents grieve. The Mothotlung Three have become involuntary martyrs defending a basic human right, water.

Questions of how Michael Tshele died has troubled the community for almost a week. "Bra Mike",  as he was known, was a freelance photographer who was killed during the protests in Mothotlung. Bra Mike's family has refused to speak out about his death, who he was, his involvement politically or otherwise.

On an oppressively hot and dry day, funeral arrangements for Mike and Osia Rahube, another victim, took place at Mothotlung's community hall. Unkempt grass, wild weeds and dusty roads surrounds the hall. The heat is relentless. The service carried on for hours, with people coming and going as they felt, all the while remaining suspicious of outsiders. A local resident and neighbour of Mike shared very vague descriptions of who "Bra Mike" was. According to a neighbour, Mike was a friendly man who kept to himself and was shy. He lived in a roughcast plastered house with his mother - both of them surviving on her pension fund. To help the community, he would take pictures for churches and graduations. Mike attended the local Dutch Reformed Church and struggled to make a living.

Two years ago, Mike became involved in politics and ran for ward councillor of Mothotlung. An informed man, according to residents, he was believed to be a valuable source of information. Another neighbour of Mike's, drinking at a local tavern, said the family urged them [the neighbours and friends] to keep any information regarding Mike to themselves and not to share anything with the media due to a "mandate". Some community members speculated that Mike had taken pictures of the broken pumps which led to the water shortages in Mothotlung and that local officials did not want Mike to share this information. After Mike was shot, his camera went missing.

Brother
In another part of Mothotlung, a brother has been lost. Not only a brother to a family, but to a community. 

"He was my life analyst. He was always directing [me]," said Joconie Rahube, who lost his brother Osia during the protest. Ribs Street, an untarred stretch of houses almost covered in darkness with visibility at a minimum. The surrounding streets are eerily quiet with slight disturbances from passing vehicles. The road is dusty and rocks and bricks litter it from the week's protests. Joconie leans on the boot of a white Toyota Corolla. He reminisces about his brother's life lessons and explains why he thinks his brother was set up by a police officer, who is known to them, and local politicians who didn't want his brother around.

Joconie says his brother may have been the target of corrupt local politicians. According to Joconie, Osia became involved in politics by joining the ANC Youth League and was outspoken about corruption. A bakkie approaches carrying litres of bottled water. Joconie offers to help carry them. Joconie begins to explain, like a lecturer would, the story of his older brother.

Later, Osia landed a job as a mineworker under MCC Contractors and then distanced himself from politics. "My brother told me these people didn't want him around, so I should distance myself from them because if they don't like him, they don't like me," said Joconie.

Osia also become involved in the Zion Christian Church and became a youth leader in the church. "He was into his Christian activities. He would go pray, drink tea and guide children. He was responsible for the youth [in the church]." Joconie says Osia distanced himself yet knew very well what was going on and that he was targeted.  

A large, green gazebo stands slightly slanted next to a rectangular, peach-coloured house that looks like something from a child's drawing book: two windows on either side and a door in the centre with an obscurely placed light bulb above it. A congregation was gathered, listening to a charismatic pastor preach, calling out "Amen!" at the end of every praise to God. On the left side of the house, in the darkness and away from the packed congregation, people are seated in a circle, softly conversing.

Reluctant to say anything at first, the intimate circle of family and close friends, begin explaining in intricate detail, their son, close friend and hero's life. The 27-year-old Lerato "Waap" Seema is the third casualty of the protests. Seems was the oldest of six siblings, he matriculated from Malatse Motsepe High School in Ga-Rankuwa with distinctions in Physics, Maths and Vernacular. This year would have been his final year of electrical engineering at Tshwane University of Technology. Lerato was given a scholarship by Eskom to study and would have been able to put his siblings through school if he had finished and began working.

"He gets his brains from his mother" says his stepfather Prince Mpaane, a docile yet charismatic man.

His stepfather and a close family friend, Wonder Thipe, jokingly mock Seema's love for Anthony Hamilton's music. Wonder and Prince both have a chuckle and remember his guitar playing, which Lerato was self-taught in and meticulously practised for hours on end.

Tshediso Mokonoto, a close childhood friend of Seema, dressed in a reflective blue overall, picks up a plastic chair and seats himself inside the circle and begins to speak about his friend with no hesitation. He met Seema on the soccer field at school when they were nine years old. "It was soccer that made us friends" says Mokonoto. Seema played chess and soccer; he was an outgoing person although he never had many friends. “He was not a guy of many friends. He loved reading novels and biblical books", says Thipe. Seema did not divulge much about his girlfriend; he would just chuckle and brush it off, says Mpaane. Thipe and Mpaane argue whether he was secretive about his love life or just private. 

A man dedicated to the church, Seema became solidified in his faith while at university, his friends and family say. He made sure he was at church every Sunday and even during weekdays. "I thought he was living in the church," Mpaane says jokingly. "He was a born-again Christian. When we were together, it was all about God. When we wake up, the first thing that we do is talk to God," says Mokonoto.  

According to his family and friends, Seema was very aware and involved in politics within the community, with his interest beginning in school. Seema was involved in the ANC Youth League in his district, absorbing all the knowledge he could so he could help his community and family. "He knew everything about the ANC: the news, the mandate, everything" says Thipe.

"Intelligent, humble and the man. If anything beats him, he'll start again, focus, come back and beat it," Mpaane said. 

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