Sunday, March 6, 2011

justice

The LORD says, "I love justice and I hate oppression and crime. I will faithfully reward my people And make an eternal covenant with them. They will be famous among the nations; Everyone who sees them will know That they are a people whom I have blessed."   (Isaiah 61:8-9)

Lourens, Chris and Lele, taken on a trip in 2007

Last Tuesday night, one of my best friends here, Portia, had a murder/robbery occur next door to her.

A gang of robbers, armed with guns and knives, broke into a dwelling that was attached to a "spaza shop"(a small market in a township neighborhood).  After taking money and everything of value, the gang began to leave, until one of them tried to rape the 14 year old daughter.  One of the robbers yelled "Get off of her!  That's not what we came here to do!"  In the argument, the would-be rapist was shot by his fellow thief, and killed.  The rest made off, and came back with a stolen truck to collect the valuables they left behind.  Instead of meeting the awaiting victims, they met a band of police, who quickly arrested them.  

The story is unusual.  I heard it the next day (Wednesday) at my ladies' prayer meeting.  One of the members, Trish, told the story as I listened.  Apparently she heard from her employee (and my friend) Lele.  I marveled at the story, but wondered why I hadn't heard before Trish (kind of a 12 year-old reaction).  I left prayer and called Portia who told me the same story.  I asked if she was okay.  She said that God had not only protected them, but He had "kept the boys asleep" during the shooting and later commotion with the police.  I asked her if she wanted to stay the night.  She politely refused, and said she'd call me later.  

The next day (Thursday) the school where she works was robbed by two armed gunmen.  They made off with a great deal of cash, but were apprehended on the highway going to Soweto.  Again, a traumatic event, but again, God's intervention.   I asked her if she wanted to stay the night; this time she said  "Maybe tomorrow." 

The next day (Friday) Portia's private transport to work was shot at and a window was broken.  Again, no one was hurt.  She didn't want to come over that night, but asked if I could pick her up the following day.  I agreed.  

On Saturday, after a meeting with Dumisani and Monica, then another with the City Ministry Group leaders in Diepsloot, I took Portia and the boys home and made dinner.  Our meal nearly ready, Mario answered a phone call and went outside.  

We were nearly ready to eat, but could see that the phone call was important.  Mario came in from the patio and said, "Lele, Lourens and Chris have been arrested." I thought I heard wrong.  Our golden boys, our adopted "sons" here in South Africa, the church leaders who spoke several different languages and all worked in well-paying professions....could not possibly have been arrested.  

I choked on my drink.  "WHAT??!!" I asked, almost at the same time Portia rang out the same question.  

"That was Chris, and there's a bunch of racket in the background and he says he's being beaten by the police." I couldn't believe it.  Questions flooded my head, and made their way quickly out of my mouth: "Where are they?" "What do you mean, beaten by the police?" "What are we going to do?"  Mario was getting his shoes on.  He answered one by one.

Chris, Lele and Lourens, all under 30, were travelling in a car together and were stopped by the police.  They were being searched and one of them asked why they were stopped, or what they were being searched for.  The policemen said "That's it..." and arrested them.  They took them to the Florida Police station (well known for corruption and misdeeds) and beat them, either on the way, or while they were there.  Mario, fueled and ready to go, kissed me on the way out the door, leaving me with meat still frying on the stove.  He was going to pick up Dumisani and would come home with the boys.  
Mario and I hosting our first Christmas in South Africa (2008)
 with Lourens in blue, Chris in white and Lele in black.
It was 2006 when we made a trial move to Johannesburg.  Among the many people we had a connection with were the three amazing guys about the same age as our own sons, all from Diepsloot: Lele Radebe, Lourens Malatjie, and Chris Malanthwa.  They were "brothers from another mother", or covenant friends, and they fit into our hearts quickly.  

They loved us, quickly warming to us enough to call me "mom".  Equally, they respected Mario as a leader and trusted him as a friend.  Before long I referred to them as "the boys" like I used to our own sons... until someone corrected me. 

 "You shouldn't call them 'the boys', since it's a derogatory term here for a man-servant that belongs to you." The country's climate, still recovering from Apartheid, didn't make allowances for ignorant American party-crashers.  I was horrified and quickly apologized to them.  They all laughed, saying that  I was exempt from this, since they well knew my heart.  "We are your boys, mom," Lourens said, "and you are our mother."

So, fast forward four years...and it's yesterday.  I stood, frozen in my own kitchen, with Portia beside me in the same state.  It didn't take long for me to see that Mario was on a mission and Portia and I would be on another: to pray!  We began, praying right through dinner, after singing and praying, then later, after a movie, praying some more.  

Mario sent word from the police station that our friends had indeed been detained and it looked hopeless to bring them home that night.  There was no way to arrange bail, no way to get a straight answer, no way to see them, since it was after dark.  What was wonderful, however, was that everyone else close to them was on the case like we were.  Joanna, Lourens' employer, had arranged for our mutual friend (and member of Parliament), Greg to meet them there at the jail.  He brought along a ward councilman, and both worked with the police to find a resolve that would satisfy us all.  

To get answers was the most challenging.  No one seemed to know why they were arrested, other than the charge of "interference with duties of a police officer".  No one could tell them if they were okay, until the team of guys there  made it clear that the boys had been beaten .... and by the police.  As this was investigated, the captain came out, asking questions of Mario, Dumi, Greg, and the councilor.  They asked again to see the boys, but clearly understood that this would not happen.  The captain offered to go see them, and make sure "they were okay".

Mario said she came back later, saying that she had seen them and they were alright (they didn't or couldn't know how accurate this was).  She also said that one of them said they were beaten by the police and that she would launch an official investigation in the morning.  She was adamant; telling them to come back then.  

The Junction eldership has been a part of a movement in South Africa called "Nation Building".  It works by partnering with those in Justice, education and government to build a social responsibility network among the most influential in our country.  The team strives to further the justice and freedoms and rights of every individual in South Africa, specifically for the poor and unrepresented.  

Craig, our lead elder, the founder of Nation Building, South Africa, was keenly aware and interested in the progress of the fate of the boys, and as Mario and Dumi and Greg left the station, he asked to be further updated in the morning,as they went back.  

Church in the morning.  Portia and I made preparations to go to the service with Darrel and Eby as Mario prepared to go to the jail.  His car had a pesky service light blinking, but he decided to take it anyway.  

It died in our driveway. 

So, he left with my Volvo and I made arrangements for Kim (our neighbor) to take us to church.  

The first service began with prayer for the guys, led by Jim, a leader in the Justice Department.  Lots of questions about the guys came our way, and we scthced the story as well as we could.  People didn't seem surprised.  Corruption in the Police Department was part of South Africa.  

Soon Mario messaged me to tell me he would see me soon, at the second service, the one translated into Zulu.  I asked him if he was coming with the guys.  His answer was no, but before my heart could sink, I read the encouraging message: "I got to see them, to touch them.  I couldn't hug them, but they're okay."  Tears came into my eyes.   He said a lot had happened, and Jo and Gladys were going to take over the vigil at the jail.  

Before long, Mario came into church and began to jump in as if the events of the last week were normal.  We were updating the congregation about the guys, but also made room for Portia's testimonies of faith, of protection.  Cynthia and Michael testified of healings. Bessie testified of prosperity and change.  I could feel the encouragement we all needed...and then Mario preached.  It was amazing.  It fired the whole church to believe for the incredible, the unexpected.  

We came home and ate.  Soon, an sms from Jo: "The boys are about to be released." came through.  

Then another: "There has been trouble getting case numbers."  "There has been theft of some of their property".  There were, Jo relayed, issues of the police using condescending and manipulative tactics to get the boys scared of laying a case against the arresting officers.  All for the sake of "justice"...a corrupt department trying to cover its own tail.  

BUT...the boys were being released.  Jim insisted they be examined by a private doctor.  He offered to cover the cost.  Jo sms'ed that we should meet all of them at Life 4-ways hospital...the same hospital that Mario had his stones removed...kidney stones, that is.  

We drove to the hospital, first picking up the church 4x4 to fill in for our car, still lame and defunct in our driveway.  We made our way there, and came in, seeing a table filled with friends:  Lele, Lourens, Chris, Jo, Gladys, Jim and another young man, Sipho (the fourth man in the arrest).  They were diligently retelling their story to Jim, where details unfolded of abuse of power, of friendship and of injuries they had sustained.  Upon seeing us, the boys, tired but relieved, smiled and hugged us. 

I expected to cry, to fall apart.  Instead, I was so happy to see them as themselves that I just returned their smiles.  Chris and Lele, the ones who had reported being beaten, were making preparations to have an examination.  Lorens and his friend, Sipho, continued to sit with us and tell us the whole story.  

Tomorrow is the court arraignment.  Instead of leaving early for our scheduled vacation, Mario will take the boys to court in Roodeport, a local court in Northern Joburg.  

Tonight, my blog is long and disjointed, but I type as a woman satisfied.  Not with the injustice of attacks on my friends, but in the justice of our mutual Father, who will be the boys chief defender and chief cornerstone.  He saw them through the fiery furnace of the jail, He can see them through the days ahead...and this case against them will fall, crashing with the usual sound that justice makes: 

A whisper of satisfaction.


Breakfast before World Cup - 2010.   Eby and Darrel in yellow,
Portia in Orange, Chris in blue jersey with stripes.