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Transformative journey – Soweto tavern massacre survivor tells of gun attack that ‘took my legs, my fingers, almost my life’

Transformative journey – Soweto tavern massacre survivor tells of gun attack that ‘took my legs, my fingers, almost my life’
Gardening has become Inga Mkoko’s therapy since he’s moved to Cape Town. (Photo: Supplied)

Inga ‘Sir Vva’ Mkoko, survivor of the Mdlalose Tavern Massacre in Nomzamo Park, Soweto, spoke to Daily Maverick about his transformative journey. Despite losing both legs, four fingers on his left hand, and almost his life, Mkoko embraces life as a testament to resilience and the power of second chances.

Before the life-altering events of the Mdlalose Tavern Massacre in Nomzamo Park, Soweto, where 16 lives were tragically lost in July 2022, Inga “Sir Vva” Mkoko led a vastly different existence. At just 27, he was a street vendor operating out of Mayibuye garage in Pimville.

Each day began at 5am for Mkoko, as he diligently set up his spot to sell goods for survival. His journey to street vending stemmed from a move from Cape Town to Johannesburg in pursuit of better opportunities. Finding only sporadic work, such as lawn mowing, Mkoko decided to invest his earnings in his vending business, stocking cigarettes, sweets, energy drinks and other items.

On the tragic day of 9 July 2022, Mkoko returned from his vending duties and had a nap until about 9pm. He said the bustling atmosphere of the Mdlalose Tavern, with its loud music, prompted him to visit and ask to charge his phone. This need was especially pressing in Nomzamo, where electricity shortages were common, and many residents relied on illegal connections. He then engaged in a game of eight-ball pool, unwittingly setting the stage for a harrowing ordeal.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nomzamo: A ‘cursed’ Soweto community where campaign promises offer little hope

“When I was left with the blackball there were suddenly gunshots outside and it seemed whoever was shooting was moving towards the tavern as I saw some bullets from across the pool table. I saw one man coming in carrying a huge gun. I started running away and tried to exit the gate but realised it had been locked, so I decided to lay on my back as a way of surrender and showing I was not armed or retaliating. In my head, I thought it was a robbery. The man with the gun stood at the entrance of the tavern while everyone lay on the ground. He was just shooting at everyone on the ground, but it seemed he had accomplices as the gun sounds were very different. 

Losing body parts is nothing compared to losing your life.

“It seemed I was the only one who had lay on the ground facing up, while everyone was laying on their stomach… I could see as he moved around, shooting people, as he came towards me. 

“He shot at an old man who had been drunk and sleeping, and [he] fell. Reality sank in for me when he shot at my friend and neighbour, Menzi, who lay in front of me. I was certain I was dying, so I did a small prayer when he was meant to fire shots at me… it seemed he ran out of bullets so he had to reload the gun.

Mdlalose

Inga Mkoko worked as a street vendor in Soweto, but after the massacre it was too difficult to get around. (Photo: Supplied)

“I was facing him directly as he shot at me a couple of times, particularly my legs. He waited then again for some minutes when he directed the gun at me again and I placed my hands to cover my face so I wouldn’t see him again as he shot at me.

“After shooting at my hands a couple of times I had to pretend like I was dead and so he moved over to other people towards the exit and then left the scene. I was left in pain all over my body as it seemed I was shot all over. We stayed there with no help whatsoever.”

After an hour Mkoko said residents came to help, checking the pulse of everyone lying on the ground so those who were alive could be rushed to a medical facility. A minibus soon arrived, charging R600 to be immediately paid to be taken to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. 

Instead of crying about it and treating it as a tragedy that took my legs and my fingers and almost my life, this was a chance for me to change my life

Only three people made it onto the minibus car. A fourth died while he was being helped in, so he had to be left on the scene for police. 

Another bakkie took Mkoko and the rest of the wounded to hospital. Two more people died en route.

On his seventh day in hospital, doctors removed all the bullets in Mkoko’s body and he was put in intensive care for three weeks since he couldn’t breathe on his own. 

Mdlalose Tarven

Inga Mkoko before his legs were amputated. (Photo: Supplied)

When he woke the decision had already been made to switch off life support, but his mother had not signed the consent form. He also had gangrene in both legs and fingers which later resulted in amputation.

Reflecting on the incident, Mkoko said:

“I have grown so much from the incident that, instead of crying about it and treating it as a tragedy that took my legs and my fingers and almost my life, this was a chance for me to change my life… From the incident, I learnt that the most important thing in life is to stay positive and be grateful I am alive now and today. Losing body parts is nothing compared to losing your life.”

Mdlalose Tavern Inga Mkoko

Gardening has become Inga Mkoko’s therapy since he moved to Cape Town. (Photo: Supplied)

Disability, not an inability

Mkoko said he continued life as a vendor but it wasn’t the same because he had to rely on people to help him get around. He did not have family in Johannesburg. In April 2023 he relocated back to Cape Town to be closer to his mother, where he continues to thrive as a backyard farmer. He grows vegetables in rotation, and has made it a priority to eat healthy organic food all the time and cut spending on food he can produce himself.

“Gardening is my therapy,” he says, adding that he refused counselling because he was counselling himself in his mind.

“I believe in myself. God gave me the most powerful weapon in the world – that’s the mind, it can do wonders.” 

And while at first he says he did not feel safe anywhere, he is slowly but surely adjusting well in Cape Town. 

The latest on the case

As July approaches, it’s a stark reminder that two years have passed since the tragic Mdlalose Tavern shooting. Yet, justice and closure still elude the affected families, as charges including 19 counts of murder, attempted murder, robbery and illegal firearm possession against all six accused were provisionally dropped in 2023. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

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