Hamba Kahle, Phakama Ndlovu

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In the photographs that were posted to the social networks, as the news crested and broke and shattered into pieces, he wears a grin as wide as the world.

In one of them, he is standing with his arms folded and his head thrown back a little, a gesture that evokes just the right combination of swagger and self-conscious formality. He is a young man, a teenager, a cheerleader and a basketball player, at ease with himself and on top of the world.

His smile is warm, natural, open. You can almost hear the laughter, the ribbing, the raucous banter between friends.

Phaks, they called him. The Iceman. Shakes. Or just: brother. In the stream of tweets and Facebook updates, they told him to fight on, be strong, hang in there, don’t give up.

But this Monday, at 3.15pm, Phakama Ndlovu, who took three bullets in a shooting that also killed his mother, Cindy, died in a hospital in Johannesburg. He was on life support. He had fallen into a coma from which he would never wake up.

The shooting happened on Friday, and the networks began buzzing, the BBMs and the SMSes and the Whatsapps, until the word came formally from the school, the day before it re-opened for the new term.

What can you say about a life that is torn from this world? A young life, rich with promise and hope and potential. So much of it fulfilled, the rest of it suddenly, senselessly gone.

You can’t say much; you stumble into platitudes, because these events leave you feeling empty and drained and numb. You find yourself wanting to know more, but at the same time, not wanting.

You can learn the what and the how and the where. But you can never understand the why. There is no hierarchy to tragedy. In the grand scheme of things, the death of a common man means just as much as the death of a king.

And yet there is something especially wrenching about the thought of a young life, gone forever into shadow. And leaving behind, in the photographs and memories, the dazzling, radiant light of a smile.

Rest in Peace, Phakama Ndlovu, and Hamba Kahle.