Lightning Struck Twice
Story told by Effa Kwendo
Translated by: Lena Grace Anyuolo
Photographer: Ibrahim Rashid Otieno
Why was he killed? If a person is suspected of an offense the procedures to follow are clear. The offending party is arrested, evidence is gathered and presented to court where their case is heard – Effa Kwendo from Soweto, Kayole – Mama Robert and MaximOn 12th February 2018, my life changed. It began like any other day. My husband was away on a trip. I spent the day active, busying myself with what needed to be done.
At about 6:30 pm I received a phone call from my son’s neighbor. He told me that he had some news to share but he wouldn’t relay the news over the phone because I was at home alone. I gave him my other son’s number. At 8 pm, I followed up on the matter. He was also tight-lipped. He told me to be patient.
I found out the following day that my last born son, Robert was dead. I struggled to believe the news. To me, it wasn’t possible that he could have passed away. Had I not spoken to him just a few hours earlier?
Robert was 26 years old and training to be a driver and a mechanic. On that day, he didn’t go to work. I was told that Robert, whom we called Boss, had received multiple phone calls from his ex-girlfriend asking them to meet and talk. They had ended their relationship three years ago so it seemed odd that she wanted to meet. She had something urgent that was bothering her and wanted to share with him.
My son left the house in the evening even before he could finish his meal. According to his neighbor, he was dressed in a pair of shorts, a vest, and flip-flops and so he assumed that he wouldn’t be gone for long. He didn’t even carry his phone.
His neighbor received a call through Boss’s phone from one of their friends. He said that Boss had been killed by the police at Bee Center. When his neighbor rushed to the scene, he confirmed that it was indeed Boss who was lying dead from gunshot wounds engulfed by a large crowd of people.
Robert is survived by his wife and two children. We started the court process soon after his burial. The process reached court but was thrown out because of lack of witnesses. The case was referred back to IPOA to carry out investigations and find witnesses. I found it unbelievable because no official approached me to ask whether or not there were witnesses to the killing.
In December 2021, I was called back by IPOA. I was told that they would be reopening my case. This time IPOA asked me if I had any witnesses who would be willing to come forward. The case is now in court.
Two of my children have been victims of police execution. The second one, Maxim, was a minor. He was my grandson. He was killed by the police in April 2018. He had completed his primary school education and was waiting to begin his first year of high school. At 6 pm, I sent him to go and collect his cousin so that I could send both of them to Masimba to deliver my chama contributions. It didn’t take long before the sound of gunshots ripped the air. I went outside to find a crowd of people gathering. I saw Maxim’s cousin running very fast towards me. Panic-stricken, I stopped him and asked what had happened to cause the commotion. He told me that he’d just seen Maxim being shot dead by police.
I am constantly facing threats and intimidation from the police who even have the audacity to show up at my house. They regularly arrest my other living sons and bundle them into unmarked vehicles, drive them around the neighborhood while asking them endless irrelevant questions.
During the launch of the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network’s book, They Were Us, I gave a presentation on the panel. Three days later, the police raided my house. In another incident, the police came to my shop and ransacked it. Afterwards they forced us to give them money. I am not at peace because I am afraid of what the police might do to me. I know what they are capable of.
The community stood with me in my quest for justice for Boss. I have never heard them speak ill of my son. I’m financially stretched beyond my limit, charged with the responsibility of my son’s widow and my grandchildren. On top of that, I have to seek funds to attend court proceedings, or make trips to IPOA when I am needed there. I cannot choose one obligation over the other. Both of them require my attention.
Psychologically, I am in so much pain because we have faced an irreplaceable loss. Robert’s death is something that we cannot change. I will be at ease when we get justice for Robert’s death. He was innocent. That is certain. Why was he killed? If a person is suspected of an offence the procedures to follow are clear. The offending party is arrested; evidence is gathered and presented to court where their case is heard.
The police who killed Robert and Maxim are still in the community harassing me and other residents.
What we want as families of the bereaved who have lost our sons to police bullets is justice, and for the law to be enforced. If a person has committed an offence, they should be arrested not killed. Additionally, for the youth and police to enter into a dialogue so that both sides can communicate their expectations in order to live in harmony with one another because these killings by the police have to stop.