A Damascus encounter
“No one recognized my face. Luckily I was the only guy who had a unique Adidas sneaker. One of the guys who saw the sneakers said ‘this is Hunny’, and called my older brother. They came and took me to the hospital.” - Hunny
Mvuyisi Kilimani, known as Hunny, is a resident of Khayelitsha Township, the second largest township in South Africa, and the largest in the Western Cape. Khayelitsha means ‘new home’ in Xhosa. For many residents, Khayelitsha is a new home, but also the host to many criminals, gangsters, and violent offenders.
For Hunny, these criminals became his role models, and in many cases his friends. His hope or vision to pursue a successful career, which did not include crime, was overshadowed by the ever-present culture of crime, gangs, and illegal drugs.
One day, someone who would later play a decisive role in his life asked him: “Hunny, did you know that if you change your life, your community can change?”
Hunny just laughed and said: “I will never change my life.”
“I was a smart kid. I received good passing rates. I wanted to be a doctor,” says Hunny, who grew up with both his parents and older brother. His father had a good job and was able to provide for their family.
“In grade 10 my life started to change because I didn’t have any positive role model in my life and the community I grew up in was well-known for crime and drugs. My role models were all involved in crime.”
Hunny started to smoke cigarettes, and soon thereafter, weed and mandrax. In order to feed his addiction to mandrax he started to steal and consequently dropped out of school at the age of 15.
He was arrested.
Sentenced for a few months in prison Hunny developed new ideas in participating in criminal activities, especially armed robberies.
He was arrested again.
This time he was sentenced for five years in prison, where he joined a number gang; the 28’s.
“When you are in prison you always wear a mask; you don’t want anyone to know your feelings. At night I would take off my mask and think about my family, and my future.”
Hunny explains: “After five years in prison I really wanted to change my life, but I didn’t know how; from the age of 15 years I committed crimes. I couldn’t see myself living like the positive guys in our community.”
He was arrested, again.
During his third time in prison his father passed away, and he couldn’t attend the funeral. After being released, Hunny started to sell drugs, Tik (methamphetamine) and mandrax, to make a living.
Mob justice is a well-known term, and phenomenon, in Khayelitsha. Many incidents of mob justice lead to severely injured victims, and in some cases even to death. Hunny explains when addicts are under the influence of drugs they commit various crimes in their own community. In reaction, residents would take justice in their own hands. In his case, the community shifted the blame to the merchants; those providing the drugs.
One of the merchants whose name was mentioned at community meetings was Hunny’s.
He recounts: “One day I was very drunk when four guys came and caught me. They stabbed me near to death and gouged out one of my eyes. No one recognized me. Luckily I was the only guy who had a unique Adidas sneaker. One of the guys who saw the sneakers said ‘this is Hunny’, and called my older brother. They came and took me to the hospital.”
Hunny at City Mission, Salt River, Cape Town
After being discharged from the hospital in late 2014, Hunny went back to what he was doing: selling drugs.
“The reality is, you still have drugs at home and it isn’t easy to just quit selling drugs, and you are also in that mindset to take revenge on who attacked you.”
Looking at the mirror to his disfigured face, brought anger and hatred in his heart.
“I told myself from now on I will be a criminal till the end of my life because no one will have an interest in my life.”
Sibo and Hunny at City Mission, Salt River, Cape Town
Sibo, an ex-convict and one of the most notorious criminals in the Western Cape, was one of Hunny’s negative role models.
“I didn’t know what he was doing after he came back from prison. But I could see he was no longer the same guy. We met at the right moment. He just spoke life and positive things into my life. He told me I can change my life.”
“Your face is just a mask, what is important is your soul” - Sibo
Sibo encouraged Hunny to complete computer development courses at Cape Town Society for the Blind in Salt River, Cape Town. Although he completed all the courses he went back to his community to continue selling drugs.
One day Sibo asked him: “Hunny, did you know that if you change your life, your community can change?”
Hunny replied laughing: “No I will never change my life.”
It started with simple conversations. Guided by Sibo, Hunny, and some of his friends would sit together at the house from where they sold drugs and talk.
These conversations lead to an invitation to City Mission.
City Mission is a non-profit organization in Salt River in Cape Town whose aim is to transform lives through, among others, biblically-based training and development, community aid and relief, as well as re-integration programs for previously imprisoned individuals.
“The thing that caught my heart at City Mission was the love I received, and I never had that from my own community. They saw someone who would one day become a positive leader, a positive role model, and change our country, and even change our world. This experience gave me that hope that I can live differently.”
Sibo, who was once Hunny’s negative role model became his compass towards the Light.
“I don’t really know what happened but, I just noticed that my heart just became so soft, because my heart was so stubborn and heavy-hearted.”
His life started to transform.
Hunny now sees himself as a positive role model in his community. The very people who turned against him more than five years ago now talks to him about their own children.
“I don’t hold any grudges against anyone. It is God who really helped me. I have to forgive, for myself, because now I’m free. I have peace in my heart.”
Today, Hunny works fulltime at City Mission.
“The only thing that can motivate the guys who are still in prison or involve in crime is to see one of their own changes their life. Because they can relate. That is why I’m still standing today, on behalf of others who are still in crime, so that when they see my life; they can see hope.”