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Strange things happen in life

Before he went to join the ANC in exile in 1963, Samuel Dabulamanzi Zwane had one piece of advice for his four children — “get as much education as you can, it is the way to liberation”.

Old man Dabulamanzi’s son, Harry Dumakude Zwane, wanted to follow his father’s wise words. But strange things happen in life….

Duma did get an education — but not the kind his father had in mind. At the age of twenty-six, he found himself in jail, becoming a “prison graduate”. When he came out three-and-a-half years later, he told himself: “Never again! From now on, I am going to start my life over, avoid temptation and look after my family.”

It takes a lot of guts to stick to a decision like Duma’s. But that is what Duma has done since the day he was released, nine years ago.


After sailing through his primary education, the young Duma was sent to a high school in Umkomaas near Durban. Duma got good marks and impressed the teachers. But not all the teachers took a liking to this tiny, baby- faced student.

One teacher, especially, disliked him. This was the tough-looking Mr. Maselela. One day, he called Duma to the front of the class. Without saying a word, he gave the youngster ten lashes with a cane. After the tenth lash, he stopped and asked: “Why aren’t you crying out like other children?”

Without replying, Duma, who was less than five feet tall, hit the surprised teacher with a combination of left and right hooks. Then he packed his books and walked the six kilometres home where he lived with his uncle. Only his aunt was there. He told her he needed money to go and see a doctor. But instead of going to the clinic, Duma spent the money on a taxi-ride to the local railway station. So began the young boy’s life of crime…


At the station, Duma stole R2 from a newspaper seller and bought himself a half-white, a packet of cherrols and a packet of ten “85” cigarettes. When the Durban- Johannesburg train came, he threw away his bread and jumped on. He spent most of the journey hiding under the seats, away from the watchful eyes of the ticket-examiners.

At home, Duma’s mother wanted to know why he was back. “Mama,” he told her, “You know I don’t eat chillies!” Meanwhile, having learnt of Duma disappearance, his uncle, who was a policeman, phoned his colleagues at Orlando Police Station. They came looking for the tiny runaway. Duma personally attended to them at the door. He told them that there was no runaway by the name of Harry Duma Zwane.

Soon afterwards, Duma was sent to Nelspruit to continue his education. He had hardly been there a week when he saw a teacher hitting a boy with his fists. Duma remembered Umkomaas and walked out.

When Duma’s mother saw him walking in, she asked no questions. She wanted to hear no lies. She simply wrote to old man Dabulamanzi, who was living in Maputo, and told him Duma’s story. They decided to send him to Maputo with an ANC “contact”. On the way, Duma managed to run away again. The call of Soweto was once more too strong.


Duma was getting away with small lies. This was building in him a false picture of himself and his ability to lie his way out of any situation. It was a matter of time before he was to go after bigger things, hoping to talk his way out of trouble.

He got his first job at the age of 15 — and his first taste of big trouble. The company was called Coupon Consumer Promotions. “I did a lot of travelling with the company. We went to places like Bloemfontein and Kimberley”. One day, in Kimberley, Duma and some friends from Soweto were walking with their newly-found “cherries”. They came across some “delela spies”. “The spies said to us ‘You think Kimberley is fxxxxfontein’!”.

A fight broke out. Duma remembers, “One guy came for me. I took out my “seven stars” and stabbed him. My “seven” drew a lot of blood. We left in a hurry for Johannesburg.”

At work Duma’s foreman told Duma that the “gatas” (cops) were looking for him. Duma stopped going to work on that day.


A friendly neighbour found Duma his next job as a messenger at Rowan Prins and Co. The boss immediately took a liking to the youngster. Duma enjoyed the job, but the pay — R10 a week — was not good.

One day, temptation called and Duma could not resist. He decided to steal some money. At lunch time, the staff left the office as usual. Duma told his boss that he was also going out. Then he sneaked into Mr Prins’ office and stole R127 from the petty cash box.

“I found Mr Prins’s cheque book on the table. I tore out a page and wrote out a cheque for R3 500. I forged the ‘R. Prins’ signature which I had practised. But as I sat there I decided the amount was not enough. I wrote out three more cheques which totalled R10 000. When pay-time arrived I did not forget to go to the boss for the usual R10,” says Duma.

Now came the big problem. The cheques had to be cashed. But the little guy did not want to take the risk of going to the bank himself. Duma remembers: “I “clocked” a friend who worked in a jewellery shop in Eloff Street. I told him I had many “spins” to do around town. Could he please go to the bank for me?

“I watched him from a safe corner as he went into the bank. My heart was thumping as he seemed to take forever. Then he came out. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw all that cash.”

That day Duma bought himself a tape recorder, a pair of Curtolo shoes and a pair of Dobbshire trousers. To crown it all, he bought a bottle of Castle Brand and had his first taste of liquor. He gave his mother some money, and when she asked where it came from, he said he had won it in a dice game.

That weekend, the less than five feet tall guy walked six feet tall. He was the man of the moment among friends and relatives. The weekend passed by too soon. On Monday came the first hint of trouble…..


Duma, who had a terrible “babelaas”, was called to his boss’s office. There he was met by four “groot boere”. They took him to a car waiting outside and drove him to John Voster Square police station.

On the way Duma remembered that he had R80 cash on him. He also had receipts for the tape recorder and clothes he had bought. He had to get rid of the damning evidence. At the first opportunity, while the policemen were looking away, he quickly threw all the receipts and money into the dustbin.

Soon they were in an office on the 10th floor. The policemen told Duma: “You can either tell us the truth, or we’ll make you tell it.” Duma told them he knew nothing about the money. One of the cops tore out four pages from a book and handed them to Duma. He told him to write down “R1”, “R2”, “R3” and “R5” one hundred times.

After writing on all the four pages the “boere” came back. Duma again denied that he forged the cheques. “Then they dragged me to a window with no burglar proofing. ‘Look down at the street, and start praying,’ they said. ‘We are going to count to ten, dan gooi ons vir jou uit die venster.’ When the count reached ten I screamed.

“Then one of them suddenly hit me with an assortment of blows all over. When I got my breath back I yelled: ‘Let me tell you the truth. I did it. The money is at home.”‘

The cops immediately left to search his home, but they couldn’t find the money. Meanwhile Duma was thrown into a dirty cell. In the morning he was in court, pleading not guilty. The case was postponed. Once at home, Duma took out the money he had hidden and gave some to his mother. With the rest he bought a “kitchen scheme” and a new set of clothes for himself.


The trial date came. Duma maintained his innocence. Three bank tellers were called in as witnesses. When they were asked to describe the person who had cashed the cheques, they gave different descriptions, except for one who scared the young man for a moment when he began: “He was short…” Duma sighed with relief when he continued,…”fat and bearded”.

Then came Mr Prins. He described Duma in glowing terms. He said that there was no way Duma could get hold of the cheques because he, Prins, always had the keys with him at all times.

“Then Mr Prins called across to me: ‘Duma, I want you at work tomorrow’. I said I’d be there. Then he started walking out, but before he reached the door, he turned and called out again, ‘and be early!”‘

Duma was found not guilty, but he never returned to work. He explains, quoting a Xhosa proverb “Isiqhelo soyisa ingqondo” (habit dulls the mind). “I was afraid if I went back I would do the same thing again. I decided Mr. Prins had been good to me so it was better not to go back there at all.”


The following year, 1972, Duma got his dompas, but he couldn’t find a job. Then came June 1976. “I looked at what was happening. Bullets flying. People, especially children, dying. I thought of my father who had left his country of birth because of the same things I saw around me. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be a “ja- baas” worker ever again.”

In May 1977, Duma once again found himself in court. This time he was charged with more serious crimes — armed robbery, malicious damage to property and attempted murder. He spent three months in jail awaiting trial.

Duma felt certain he would be able to talk himself out of trouble, as he had done so often before. But on 26 August 1977, he could not believe his ears when he heard the judge sentencing him to jail — for seven years! He was taken to Groenpunt prison.

For the most part, Duma was a model prisoner. But once, he was sentenced to 30 days in the kulukuthu. A kulukuthu is a small dark place, “smaller than a toilet”, according to Duma, “where you are kept apart from the other prisoners. The first three days you only get rice water. the next three it’s phutu and the following three you only get half ration of what the other prisoners get. This is the repeated until the 30 days is over.”


It was during this period that Duma decided he was going to stay clear of trouble. He was going to prepare for his life after jail and try to get an early parole. He enrolled in a Standard 8 class and passed. He held classes for those who could not read and write. At weekends he sang in a choir and even became the manager of a soccer club. He also took up bricklaying, glazing and welding, trades that earn his living today.

Duma was eventually released on June 2 1981, three-and-a-half years early. Looking back he says, “It’s a life I wouldn’t wish on anyone. You can’t see your loved ones. You go to bed by the bell. You wake up by the bell. You can’t even grow a beard.

“I’ve been out 9 years now. And I intend to keep it that way. I have my children to think of. My first born is in Standard 9. I may not be getting much from the odd jobs I do. But I always manage to put aside something to help with their schooling.

“There’s only one thing I still regret — I should have listened to my father and got as much education as possible. I wouldn’t like my children to have the same regrets. Otherwise I’m spiritually happy. I believe my ancestors are with me”.


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