A Gunman in The Streets of Melville

Often the physical scars of war heal, but do the mental scars ever go away? This ex-MK soldier, Nisbert “Gunman” Parella shares his story with Parable Magazine.

In the words of Martin Luther king, “a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”Nisbert Parella who is also known as “Gunman” lives by such principles. Having risked everything for his country from the age of 19, Gunman is now a retired Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) soldier.Umkhonto We Sizwe was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) which fought against the South African apartheid government and assumed power in 1994.

[callout title=Gunman]We were so hungry that we sometimes ate toilet paper-it was not easy.[/callout]

One of the first things you notice about Gunman-apart from his toothless smile-is his military uniform, which offers a glimpse into his attachment to his past life as a soldier. Standing only five foot and six inches, Gunman is a charismatic figure with a commanding presence. His gait is reminiscent of marching soldiers in a boot camp.The movement of his arms and feet exudes a hardness that has seemingly become the core of his being. These mannerisms prove the substantial truth in Gunman’s words,” once a soldier, always a soldier”.

In recent years, the remains of thousands of former MK soldiers have been brought back to South Africa. Several special memorial services have taken place to honour the deceased Umkhonto We Sizwe soldiers. Remains are carried by former MK soldiers, and the coffins are symbolically covered with ANC colours. As one of the Umkhonto combatants at the forefront of the liberation struggle, Gunman’s facial wrinkles is a reflection of how hard life was in the training camps. According to Gunman, life in the training camps was dangerous and challenging. MK soldiers were forced to endure rigorous training whilst sleeping and eating very little. At times, they were deprived of water in the camps. In the process, some soldiers lost their lives. “We were so hungry that we sometimes ate toilet paper-it was not easy,” he recounts

Gunman recounts his experiences as he puffs on a cigarette

Gunman has four children with four different women. He blamed his history with women on the stressful demands of his military commitments.”I can’t live with a woman, not even my mother,” he offers as an explanation to Parable Magazine.

His hardened perspective has been shaped by his cold experiences of being part of the MK. Since his retirement in 1992 an unsuccessful search for a job influenced his decision to make the transition from soldier to armed car guard patrolling the lively streets of Melville; a Bohemian suburb of Johannesburg. A lack of education has meant a difficult reintegration into civilian society. These days, Gunman is a ready reckoner in tackling crimes such as pick-pocketing, car-jacking and mugging.

He protects the populace of 7th street with his well trusted “soul mate” of 16 years-his beloved revolver. This has made him well known and trusted by even local police. They seemingly trust him because he assists them in fighting crime in the area. At the age of 48, Gunman lives exclusively off tips from owners of cars parked on 7th street. As a result he faces a financial crisis that could potentially stretch well into his old age.

Since the suspension of the armed struggle, the South African government has explored the possibility of creating a special pension fund for the families of the freedom fighters who died in the armed struggle against apartheid. Ex-soldiers will be given the opportunity to benefit from the special pension Act (No.69), which provides monetary compensations for ex-soldiers-people like Gunman, who are still fighting the daily war of survival, long after the struggle ended.

Writer: Adelani Ogunrinade

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