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With his face in the dust and a bullet in his back

On a cold winter evening nine years ago, the people of Jabulani in Soweto heard a loud bang. “I wonder what that was?” somebody maybe asked. “Sounds like a gun,” somebody maybe answered. And then a few seconds later, the people forgot all about it.

It was a gun. And a man lay with his face in the dust and a bullet in his back. His name was Friday Mavuso.

On that cold evening, Friday Mavuso began his long, brave fight. He fought for his health. He fought for his good name. And above all, he fought for the other crippled people of this world.

Friday Mavuso told us his story. He laughed a lot. And sometimes he looked a little sad. But he kept his head straight and high – all the time.

“I will start the story a few days before I was shot,” says Friday. “It was a Tuesday and I was on my way home from work. I then met a taxi driver friend of mine. His car was stuck. He said the battery was flat.

“I took him home with me and lent him my battery. He promised to bring back the battery the next day. But he didn’t. When I came home from work on the Thursday, I still did not find my battery. I was now very angry.

“I decided to wait outside my house for my friend. You see, I live on a main road and all the taxis pass my house. I waited and waited. My friend did not come.

“Then I saw his girlfriend. Her name was Lucy. She told me that my friend was coming to fetch her at a shebeen later on. ‘Come with me: she said. ‘We’ll go to the shebeen and wait together.”

And so Lucy and Friday went to the shebeen. And they waited together. The one waited for her love. And the other waited for his battery.

Friday Mavuso did not go to shebeens often. He was not a big “phuza”, but soon he was having good time. The beer was smooth and warm on that cold evening.

The people in the shebeen were very friendly. They all knew Friday Mavuso. He was a good sportsman. He kept goal for the Mbanya Swallows. And when he was not keeping goal, you could find him at a boxing or a karate club.

“I sat with Lucy and another woman:’ says Friday. “Next thing, Lucy and the other woman had an argument. Then Lucy threw her beer at the woman. But she got me instead. My shirt was wet with beer.

“I took Lucy and her friend to the kitchen. I wanted to make peace. Just then this other guy came into the kitchen. Before Lucy threw the beer, he was sitting with five other guys in the sitting room. I only knew one of them. He was a mechanic by the name of Tuli.

“So this guy came into the kitchen. He said the beer also wet his shirt. But he was talking nonsense. The beer did not wet his shirt. I tried to speak to him. But he did not listen. Then he threw a punch at me. I ducked and he missed. He tried again – and missed once more.

“Now it was my turn. I threw three quick punches – a left, a right and a left again. That guy didn’t even see my punches. It was lights out for him.

“Then his friends joined the fight ­ maybe because they felt an injury to one is an injury to all. They all rushed at me together. I fought back – and they dropped like flies.

“Now I decided to leave in a hurry. But some of the guys followed me. Just outside the gate one of the guys tripped me. I lost a shoe – but I didn’t stop. I ran down the road as fast as I could.

“I ran past a big white rock on the pavement. I decided to have a rest. So I sat on the rock. I looked down at my feet. ‘I must go back and find my shoe: I said to myself. And that was my big mistake. I should not have gone back for the shoe. That shoe cost me my legs. All for one stupid, damn shoe!

“I went back to the shebeen. But it was dark now. So I found a piece of newspaper and lit it; Then I heard this loud bang. And I felt this terrible pain in my back – just like a snakebite.

“I lay there on my stomach. I felt sick and weak. And then I saw all these legs standing around me. And then they started to kick me all over. I had a bullet in my back. But that wasn’t enough. They broke two of my ribs as well.

“I lifted my head. And I looked into the mouth of a gun. I knew the gun. It was a .38 special – just like the cops use. And then I knew the cops had shot me.

“I jumped up like a hurt animal. Then this big foot pushed my head down to the ground. And then I heard one of them shout, ‘Sebonego, Sebonego finish this dog.’

“So this cop pulled out his gun again and pointed it at me. ‘That’s it! I’m finished now: I remember saying to myself.

“I lay there waiting. And then I knew I had one small chance left; And I took that chance. I fell on my back and rolled my head – just like I was dead.

“I lay there. I didn’t say a word. I was scared to breathe. People came and went. I lay there for a long, long time.

“I was shot at about seven in the evening. And the ambulance only came at one in the morning. I lay on that dusty pavement for six hours with a bullet in my back.

“Can you believe it? The ambulance did not go straight to the hospital,” says Friday with a big laugh. “They first went to fetch a pregnant woman who was heavy with a child.

“And so there was. In the ambulance with a pregnant woman and a policeman. Then the woman started screaming. Her baby was coming. The policeman also started to scream. I laughed at him. ‘What are you scared of?’, I asked him. He looked at me in anger. He didn’t say anything.

“I woke up in hospital the next morning. And the first thing I saw was three policemen. They were guarding me – like I was a dangerous criminal. But I wasn’t going anywhere. I couldn’t walk.

“Then the police charged me. They said I was a thief. They said I robbed a man – that mechanic guy who was sitting in the shebeen that night. They said I was carrying a knife. Can you believe it? Me carrying a knife? I have never carried a knife in my life. I didn’t need to. I knew about boxing and I knew about karate. I knew how to look after myself.

“The police asked me to make a statement. I told them I must first see a lawyer. ‘You are a cheeky bastard: they said to me. I did not care. I went back to sleep.

“My family got a lawyer for me. I told the lawyer the full story. The lawyer said the magistrate was coming to the hospital. I shook my head. ‘No ways: I said. ‘I want a real case in a real court. I don’t want a cover up.’ I did not trust the police. When they frame you, it sticks.

“I did not change my mind. And so they took me to a real court in my wheelchair. But they took no chances. They took me In an ambulance with another ambulance and two police cars following behind.”.

“The magistrate found me not guilty. The mechanic Tuli said I was not the guy who robbed him. And the cops got their story mixed up. One cop said one thing. And the other cop said another thing.

“And so my name was clean again. I was not a thief. I did not go around stealing watches and jackets. I did not walk around with a knife in my pocket.

“Then I went back to the hospital. I stayed there for four years. I suffered a lot. But my wife Brenda and my two children Sibusiso and Nonhlanhla suffered even more. Nonhlanhla was born a week after I was shot. Brenda worked hard to feed the children. She stood by me all the way.

“While I was In hospital, I thought about two things. Firstly, I wanted the police to pay for what they did. And secondly, I thought about the people who were suffering with me in hospital.

“I saw these people leave hospital. And I saw them come back to hospital. You know, these people were happier in hospital. They felt bad when they went home. They came back to the hospital because they didn’t want to worry their families.

“I found a lawyer to help me with my case against the police. But four years passed and nothing happened. When my bank book was finished, the lawyer said I must drop the case.

“I was angry – really angry. That lawyer took my money and said goodbye. Then I heard about this organization that helps people with the law. It’s called the Legal Aid Bureau. I wrote to them and they got me another lawyer. We carried on with the case against the police.

“In the meantime, I was thinking of ways to help the crippled people with me in the hospital. When the nurses had a film show to make money, I said I also wanted a film show. The hospital people got angry with me. But I never gave up. I made a few rands whenever I could. It all helped.”

Nine years later, Friday Mavuso won his case against the police. They paid him 74 thousand rand. He bought a house and a special van for himself ­- a van that crippled people can drive. He put the rest of the money away for his children’s education. “I want them to be lawyers so they can help people,” says Friday with a proud smile.

And today Friday is president of an organization that helps crippled and disabled people. “The organization is called SHAP,” says Friday. “SHAP stands for Self Help Association for Paraplegics. We believe in helping ourselves. We have come together to work together. We are disabled ­ but we are still able.”

Friday outside the SHAP centre.

Friday outside the SHAP centre.

You can now find Friday Mavuso in the big new SHAP building in Mofolo Park. His dream to help crippled and disabled people has come true. They now have a building of their own. At this building disabled people can learn useful jobs and they can play all kinds of sport.

And it all started in a hospital bed – by a man who only nine years ago, was lying with his face in the dust and a bullet in his back.

If you would like to get in touch with SHAP, here is their address:

SHAP P.O. Box 303 ORLANDO 1804 Tel: (011) 949 – 1832

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