Tsotsi Kingby Lindokuhle Nkosi / Illustration by Trevor Paul / 15.12.2011
A sinewy mahogany arm is folded on the facebrick wall dividing the two houses. At the end of the arm, in his hand, a cylinder of light-grey, whitish ash piles on the end of the cigarette. The skinny, muscular arm propped on the bricks holds up the body of Muzi, a fifty-something year old man, paralysed from the waist down for more than thirty years now. His muscles are visibly tense, carrying the weight that should be shared with his dead legs, now a strange kind of limb origami twisted below his waist.
His induction into crime came early. A restless, unhinged teenager who often straddled the line between right and wrong, he was stabbed in his spinal chord with his own homemade shank whilst trying to run from the 5am train with the profits of his morning muggings. The wallets, passbooks and handbags of domestic workers and gardeners. Security guards and neighbours. Paralysed and too ill to be kept in prison, he was released to further expand his street empire from a rickety wheelchair throne.
“I’ve got the only machine that can change VIN numbers, I can make everything clean.” He boasts, “I can get any car you want. What car do you want? Or are you going to pray to God for a car.” His laugh breaks in his throat, escapes as a cough shaking through his body.
The wheelchair bound thug, the notorious neighbour, is a mystery to me. Feared hijacker, infamous in the whole of Deep Soweto. Friend of metro cops and Policemen. High-school drop-out. Skinny philosopher with the strength of an ox (in his arms). Five years ago, my aunt banned us from visiting him for our weekly gossip sessions.
“He’s got a rape case pending,” she whispered. The walls in Jabulani are thin, word spreads fast. A few days prior, Muzi was questioned by a Warrant-Officer in blue and taken to the holding cells adjacent to the hostel. Apparently, he shat in his pants non-stop until they released him on “medical parole”. That’s his thing. It’s gotten him out of jail many times before. He shits and shits and shits and shits until the grey of the cells is painted in shades of brown excrement. Until the wardens can’t smell anything but the contents of his corrupted bowels. Until they let him go. This man, who has no control of his body from the waist-down, who shits himself out of shitty situations, is apparently a rapist, well-known hijacker and a connected man, and it doesn’t make sense.
I’ve only ever seen him standing, or leaning rather, against a wall. Now, our conversations only ever take place over that wall. I ask him how come he never got arrested for the rape, I ask how it’s even physically possible. How does he even stand if he doesn’t have functional legs?
At first, he laughs off my questions, handing me a brown bottle of beer to open for him. He smiles for the camera, posing with his crutches, holding them up as if they were AK-47s.
“That girl is lying, she kept coming back because she likes what I give her.”
A limp dick, I assume. Did she keep coming back for a flaccid phallus? I don’t ask, I know he won’t respond.
“And the cars,” I quip instead. “How do you steal cars if you can’t walk?”
Again, a throaty gutteral laugh racks his frail frame. He’s weaker these days, he wears the virus on his face, in the eyes sunk deep into their sockets. “CEO’s don’t type their own letters. I can get any car I want from the comfort of my lounge. I get a call, make an order, and then the car will be here in less than two days. It’s quick this business, it has to be, otherwise they’ll just go to someone else.” He claims he’s rich, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him.
The four-room house he lives in is shared with his two sisters, their children, and countless, scrawny dogs. No gate, he doesn’t need one. A pale-blue matchbox Mazda with white doors sits in the front of the yard, occasionally perched on bricks. The house has not seen a new coat of paint since the 1980’s when his mother died. No flashy jewellery, no new clothes, no indication of where the money goes, if there is any money. Every other Sunday he funds a booze-up with the local cops, and randomly hands cash to kids to buy themselves a “rack of ribs”, but what about the rest of it? Is car-jacking not lucrative?
“You know all those fat policemen with gold teeth? That’s where my money is; it’s in their mouths, in their stomachs, but what can we do?” He laughs.
I joke about an off-shore bank account with millions in it.
“When you live this life, there’s no point in saving. What are you saving for? You must spend when you can, live it up when you can. You never know when it’s going end.”
I don’t ask about the people he steals from, about the lengths he goes to to get what he wants. His moral fibre is as weak his legs. Hood myth has it that his stabbing was karma. A curse spoken by his father from a hospital bed, after his only son had beaten him to a pulp.
“You must delete those pictures.” He’s stopped laughing now. Observing him, it’s not clear what makes people fear him, but I delete the pictures anyway, not willing to find out. When my car got broken into, parked outside the Rosebank Mall, he located the robbers for me in a matter of hours and made them call me to apologise, they also offered to kit my car out with new sound and rims.
“People respect me. It’s not fear, it’s respect. So many people want to be like me.” Stuck. Paralysed. Piss-poor with empty respect, I think. “Connected. Pushing their own hustle, making their own money. Their own boss. Their own gods. I answer to no-one.”
*On Sunday, the 11th of December, three weeks after agreeing to this interview, Muzi was found lifeless on his bed, seemingly bludgeoned to death by an unidentified blunt object.
**Illustration © Trevor Paul.