“Salaam, koerantman.”

“Salaam, boeta Bassa.”

That was more or less always the start of the conversation between brother Ismail Bassa and me in his broken Afrikaans. He was always at the mosque, or the masjiet, as we here in Malmesbury know it. His yard was always full of cars.

I saw him countless times on my drive to work in the afternoon. We would wave to each other. The man with the distinctive black fez and I.

Now Ismail Bassa has suffered a cruel death. Stabbed to death inside the sanctuary of the Almighty. Murdered by a stranger who was given shelter in the mosque.

When my cellphone softly went brrrr-brrrr early yesterday morning I was, unlike as usual, slightly scared to look at the incoming message. When a short while later it brrr-brrr’d a second time, it was from my cousin. There had been an attack at the mosque, said the message.

Which mosque? The one two street blocks from me? The one where I struggle to get past the cars in the road on Friday afternoons when my Muslim brothers from Malmesbury have come to pray?

It can’t be.

Not in our mosque here in Vaaldorp, as my neighbourhood is called? Not in the neighbourhood where everyone still calls each other by their names? And everyone knows whose child or great grandchild you are? Not the neighbourhood where people have been bound to each other for generations? A neighbourhood existing of the old Groenpunters of Malmesbury. Groenpunt was the neighbourhood in town before an entire community was uprooted by the Group Areas Act and moved to Vaaldorp. Or the official name: Wesbank.

Groenpunters have always been bound together by an umbilical cord of sorts. It was a neighbourhood where Muslims and Christians lived side by side. Where they borrowed sugar from each other and shared in each other’s joys and sorrows. That charitable spirit and kindness could never be broken – not even by the Group Areas Act.

My first call was to my eldest brother who is a Muslim and lives across the road from the mosque. I couldn’t reach him. I was worried, because Abduraagman (my brother) has always been a restless soul.

Then the messages started coming in one after the other. Three people had been stabbed by a stranger with a knife in the mosque. Who could it have been? Was my brother one of those who was stabbed? Murder in the mosque? Just before the end of Ramadan?

At the mosque people seemed dumbfounded. Moelana Abdul Khaliq Allie from the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and a son of our Vaaldorp community started to cry. I’ve never seen Abdul so broken. He has always been the clever and strong one, keeping the community together, although he now holds a high position in the MJC. A child of Groenpunt or Vaaldorp who is broken. Before I can stop myself, the tears start trickling from my eyes as well. Shared grief.

You look at Bassa’s sons. Faizel, the one who was stabbed in the face, and you listen to Saud, the other brother, who carries no revenge in his heart, but the pain in his voice is clear.

Further up the street lies the body of the murderer. Between two churches, of all places. With a police dog sniffing around his body.

Outside, the wind is blowing from every quarter. It etches into your body. And all you can think about is: Ismail Bassa, the man with the black fez.

And never again will I hear in broken Afrikaans, “Salaam, koerantman” from his mouth.

– Maarman is deputy editor of Die Burger. This column first appeared on Netwerk24. Read the original column in Afrikaans, here.

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