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.

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