Dad’s anguish after shooting son
It’s a tragedy that’s gripped the country, but accidentally shooting his son will haunt Sibusiso Tshabalala for the rest of his life
IT HAD been a long, exhausting day. He’d spent hours helping workmen build a garage at his home and now, with the sun gone, his eyes grew heavy as he sat in his parked car. A sudden noise startled Sibusiso Tshabalala awake. Someone was pulling at the car’s door handle and pounding on the window. Fearing it was a hijacker, he pointed his gun and squeezed the trigger.
Crime is rife in Ennerdale, south of Johannesburg, where he lives and he carries his licensed firearm with him when he’s out on the streets at night. Then he heard the words that would haunt him for the rest of his life, “Daddy, it’s me!”
The “hijacker” was his 16-year-old son, Luyanda, and his father’s alleged terrible mistake stunned the country and touched a chord in the heart of parents everywhere.
Even the magistrate called it a tragedy when Sibusiso (51), sobbing inconsolably, appeared in court a day later on a charge of murder and begged to be allowed to attend his boy’s funeral.
Magistrate Maggie van der Merwe agreed. “I can only describe this incident as a tragedy and judging by the applicant’s display of emotions it’s an incident that will have an impact on the family for the rest of their lives,” she said.
Sibusiso, who has three younger children, was released on a warning and the final decision on whether to prosecute him rests with the director of public prosecutions.
SIBUSISO has barely been able to speak since the night his son died. At Luyanda’s funeral he broke down, first in the church and again at the cemetery. When he does speak, he’s filled with remorse and talks of taking his own life, says Luyanda’s mother, Siphiwe Khalishwayo.
Luyanda, a Grade 11 learner, had been attending evening classes at Fred Norman Secondary School in Ennerdale while his dad waited outside in the car in the dark. Sibusiso held his bleeding son in his arms before helping him into the car and rushing him to Lenasia Hospital. But it was too late and doctors pronounced him dead on arrival.
Siphiwe (42) doesn’t blame her ex-partner for allegedly taking her son’s life. “I had to plead with him not to commit suicide because he has other children. If he died, who would fend for them?”
Sibusiso’s wife and Luyanda’s stepmother, Sibongile (47), comforted her husband when he broke down in court and says the bullet that pierced the boy’s heart has ripped a hole in the lives of the entire family. “Sibusiso loved his son and Luyanda loved his father,” she says, speaking to us at the family home in Lawley, south of Johannesburg. “I can’t believe this has happened.”
Sibusiso is elsewhere in the house, too distraught to meet us. Through his wife he relays a brief message: “I can’t talk to you.”
Luyanda was a sweet and sociable young man, Sibongile says, and his family had high hopes of a bright future for him.
Although the learner had yet to decide which career to pursue, he was a strong student, regularly getting top marks in maths, accounting and science.
“He would’ve been successful no matter what he did,” Sibongile adds. “Maybe he’d have become a chartered accountant, a commercial lawyer or maybe a medical doctor.
“He was also popular with the other kids and was deputy chairperson of the learners’ representative council.”
Sibongile looks at a display cabinet filled with trophies Luyanda had won for academic achievements. “Everyone had high hopes for him – his family, the school principal and his teachers.”
At home he was always willing to help around the house and loved participating in family conversations around the dinner table about life’s big questions and issues. He also wanted to make something of his life so he could help his father, a security guard, and his unemployed stepmom.
Luyanda had a good relationship with his parents, Sibongile adds, and they were so proud of him. His death, she says, “is a great loss but we hope we’ll see him someday. I know he’s with God”.
At his funeral Luyanda’s mother was too heartbroken to deliver her eulogy so her son’s friend Lesego Mohape (16) gave it on her behalf.
Siphiwe described her son as a soft-spoken, even-tempered young man with a solid work ethic. “I don’t remember you raising your voice. I’ve never seen you angry. I’ll always remember the time you brought me breakfast in bed. You were always a hard worker and ambitious.
“You told me one day you were going to be famous. Did you mean this? That many people would cry about you when you’re dead – your family, teachers, friends, schoolmates and even strangers?
“Remember how we planned for the party when you passed matric next year? But God had other plans for you. He took you away and we’re here today to celebrate your life, not your achievement of passing matric.
“I’m hurt but I don’t blame anyone for this. God knows why it happened. My boy, why? My boy, why did you leave me?”
Luyanda’s sister, Bonisiwe Khalishwayo (15), told mourners her brother was “a bright, shining star who lit up the way for his family and his schoolmates. He’ll be sorely missed but never forgotten.”
Sibusiso, supported by relatives, wept as he tried to throw a handful of soil into his son’s grave at Olifantsvlei Cemetery.
In his affidavit to the court he said, “It takes a split second for something to go wrong.”
For Sibusiso, it’s a split second that changed his life forever.
DESPITE the Tshabalala tragedy many people in Lawley and nearby Ennerdale haven’t changed their views on gun ownership. They keep firearms in their homes and cars to protect their families and for selfdefence, they say – crime is so bad around here they feel they have little choice.
But Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies says the risks involved with owning a firearm can’t be highlighted enough.
“Firearms are designed to shoot and kill and chances are your own gun might be used to shoot and kill you or a member of your family. If you want to own a gun you must first consider the risks of ownership.”
Last year about 9 000 licensed firearms were reported stolen, Newham adds – 760 from the police and more than 8 000 from private owners.
“Research shows in crime situations such as hijackings you’re likely to lose the firearm you bought for protection and could also be shot by your attackers.
“There’s the perception that in South Africa you’re going to be safer if you have a gun but it’s often not the case. You’re often more at risk of harming yourself or your loved ones.”
A neighbour of Sibusiso’s sums the situation up.
“He’s going to feel terrible for the rest of his life.
“How do you live with yourself after something like this? No loving father in the world would want to be in his shoes now.” S Sibusiso Tshabalala is due back in Lenasia magistrate’s court on 24 July.
ABOVE: Siphiwe Khalishwayo at the funeral of her son Luyanda Tshabalala (RIGHT). The learner was allegedly shot by accident when his father mistook him for a hijacker. FAR RIGHT: Luyanda’s coffin.
ABOVE: Luyanda’s father, Sibusiso. ABOVE RIGHT: His wife, Sibongile, comforts him during his bail hearing. RIGHT: Sibusiso was asleep in his car when Luyanda knocked on the window.
ABOVE LEFT: A distraught Sibusiso at his son’s grave. ABOVE RIGHT and RIGHT: Luyanda’s shocked schoolmates and friends console one another at his graveside.