The Sunday Mail
TRAGIC accounts of people being attacked and burnt to death in South Africa’s ongoing xenophobic attacks are mind boggling.
Images of burning bodies, people being mutilated using all sorts of weapons, as well as properties going up in smoke, will remain engraved in the minds of many, particularly survivors and witnesses.
But of all the tales about the recent xenophobic violence, which has claimed 12 people of different nationalities, that of Isaac Sithole is heart-breaking.
Sithole, 35, is the Zimbabwean father-of-three who died a painful death after being set on fire and left to die from the extreme heat and inhalation of carbon monoxide from his own burning body.
Sithole comes from Chipinge and had been living in South Africa since 2015.
He was a resident of Mandela Section, Katlehong Zone One, a hotspot of the attacks.
He is one of the two locals that were found in the zone, although some reports claim that only one Zimbabwean died while others have suggested that it is all fake news.
However, Government has confirmed the deaths.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ambassador James Manzou confirmed that two Zimbabweans were killed during the attacks, with Isaac Sithole being one of the casualties.
Ambassador Manzou said the Government is currently working on assisting both families to repatriate the bodies.
The Sunday Mail Society tracked down Sithole’s family, and managed to speak to his wife, now a widow, 24-year-old Lydia Chimbirimbiri.
She is traumatised.
Chimbirimbiri narrated what transpired prior to her husband’s inhumane execution at the hands of an angry mob of South Africans that was protesting the influx of migrant labour into their country.
She said after some South Africans went on a rampage, burning down foreigners’ homes, businesses and properties, Sithole left home to seek help at the nearest police station.
Along the way, an angry mob confronted him.
From the reports Chimbirimbiri received, her husband tried to run for dear life but failed to outpace the horde. They caught him, beat him up and poured petrol all over his body before setting him ablaze.
Despite hearing that a foreign man had been burnt alive, Chimbirimbiri said she never imagined that the victim could be her husband. To her, he had gone to the police station for help and would soon return home.
As the violent mob continued to destroy households, she and several neighbours sought refuge from sympathetic South Africans.
For hours that night, she waited for her husband’s return, only to receive messengers who were carrying the terrible news of his death.
In a telephone interview with The Sunday Mail Society, Chimbirimbiri revealed how she could not sleep for days following Sithole’s awful demise.
From the other end of the line, this writer struggled to keep the conversation going as Lydia sounded broken and devastated while her voice was shaky. The line would sometimes go silent for lengthy moments as she tried to pull herself together and recount her experiences.
She narrated: “Every time I close my eyes to sleep, images of my husband’s lifeless body in the mortuary, covered in burns, keep flashing in my mind. It is painful to think how he left home promising to return in no time, how I waited in vain for him to come back, only to be called to identify his body at the mortuary.
“Images of his lifeless burnt body are horrifying, I do not want to imagine what his body looked like. I felt the world crumbling around me.”
Despite having seen the dead body and repatriating the body back to Chipinge on Thursday last week, Chimbirimbiri is still in denial. To her, Sithole is still hiding somewhere, away from the angry mob waiting to return home.
But apart from being brutally burnt to death, Sithole’s home and property were also reduced to ashes.
His wife and their six weeks old baby, Fortunate, were among those housed at Tsolo Hall, together with several other families who lost their homes and properties during the attacks. During the whole ordeal, the most difficult part for Chimbirimbiri was calling the family back in Chipinge to break the news.
“I did not have the answers to their questions and even up to now, I do not have them. Everything just happened in a flash and I do not even know how I am going to face the family and relatives,” revealed Lydia.
As the videos and pictures of her husband’s brutal killing circulated on social media platforms, Chimbirimbiri wished that this was just a bad dream that she would wake up from.
“I wish he had just given me a hint. I got married straight from school and I have no idea how to survive and provide for the family without him,” she lamented.
The lovebirds met in 2014 in Chipinge. They got married later that same year.
Every year after the harvesting season, Chimbirimbiri would visit her husband in South Africa, only to return home towards the next planting season. She remembers how after every two months he would send home some groceries for her and the in-laws.
“I am stranded, I have nowhere to start and so is the family back in Chipinge, he was the breadwinner. At least he should have said something to me,” she said, sobbing.
Sithole survived on piece jobs and from those earnings, he took care of his extended family. Although neither Chimbirimbiri nor the family back home have the resources for a decent burial, her immediate wish is to give her husband a decent burial.
“Currently we are facing a hopeless situation as a family. We are relying on Government assistance. I have to give my husband a decent burial and I do not even care if his murderers were arrested or not, justice will soon catch up with them,” she declared.
Being a firm believer of African Traditional Religion, Chimbirimbiri believes that her husband’s killers will soon suffer immeasurably from Sithole’s avenging spirit.
To her, South Africa now carries painful memories and she fears for her own safety.
“l don’t see myself ever going back to South Africa. In fact l couldn’t wait to get my husband out of that country.”
Zororo Funerals ferried Sithole’s body back home.