The week of WTF


This has been an utterly WTF week, even by South African standards of WTFness – which usually set the bar pretty high.

The week started with the news of the murder of Siyabonga Langelihle Ngcobo, a TUT student, who had recently started working as a Taxify driver to fund his studies. His remains were found, burnt, in the boot of his car.

By all accounts, Ngcobo was a lovely lad, dedicated to his studies and to doing whatever he could to better his life. He had also started an events company, that coordinated functions for the university.

It seems that he is yet another victim of the conflict between metered taxi drivers and the new generation of gig economy drivers who work on the Uber or Taxify platforms. But somehow, this murder was particularly brutal. Here was a young, shining, motivated student, doing what he could to make ends meet and create his own future, and now he’s been cut down before his adult life could really even begin.

The horror and agony of what happened to him is hard to imagine. It would be much easier to bear if he had been shot or even knifed. But this was how his life ended, and it’s a ghastly thing to comprehend. My heart breaks for his family. There is nothing I can think of to say to ease their anguish.

In South Africa, I often feel that it is important to see crime against the backdrop of our dreadful history and current economic circumstances. Theft, terrible taxi driving, even general aggression can all be not exactly justified but at least understood a bit better if you consider the broader social context of poverty, divided families and historical state aggression. But, forcing a young man into a boot and burning him to death is not explainable or forgivable or understandable, no matter how desperate your circumstances.

So that was WTF number 1. Then we move on to WTF number 2. Three men attacked Mhlengi Gwala, a star triathlete from Chesterville in KwaZulu-Natal, and ATTEMPTED TO SAW OFF HIS LEG with what was originally reported to be a chainsaw, but now seems to have been a handsaw. Fortunately, the attackers – who made good headway with sawing the leg off until they encountered bone (thank goodness for bone) – were frightened off by a security guard, and it seems that Gwala’s leg can be saved.

Again, WTF. Seriously. I think more will emerge about this story, if the police ever make any headway with solving the case. Surely three men did not just decide to saw off someone’s leg and not steal their iPhone? The family have suggested that there’s jealousy involved, which sounds likely, but that jealousy would bring a person to a point of actually hacking off someone’s leg? All I can say is WTF?

And then, finally (although it’s not really “final” because there’s all sorts of other crazy stuff going down, like, have you seen that video of the teacher getting hit by the student?), there were the women who were strip-searched at Topbet in Germiston because a smear of menstrual blood was found in the bathroom. This story, while it may not be the most gruesome or deadly of the stories, is particularly WTF because of the sheer gobsmacking impossibility that an employer could choose to dehumanise women like this. Without fear of being reported and penalised. 

In each of these cases, it is just astonishing that a living, breathing human being could have made the decisions that led to the final act. The solutions is… burning someone in their car, sawing someone’s legs off, or strip searching an office full of women employees to search for signs of menstruation.

It is scary to think that people who behave like this are out there. That we might encounter them as we go about our business, walking the streets, buying lunch, talking to our friends, doing our work. It’s fantastic that South Africans have banded together to raise R400,000 to support Gwala in his recovery, and we can celebrate the far greater numbers of wonderful individuals among us, but heck,

South Africa, three high-profile WTFs in one week – and not even from the political sphere. We must do better.



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