Around 2006 a young man walked into the Times of eSwatini offices weary and enfeebled by a combination of exhaustion and fear.

 It was Saturday evening, a time when deadlines are calling and the Times SUNDAY team is making final touches and concluding stories that will dominate national discourse in the next week.

We often joked that any story brought in at 5 pm on Saturday better be as significant as Mandela's passing; otherwise, it wasn't worth our attention. Mbongeni Mbingo, our boss then, ushered in the young man to bemused journalists and demanded that his story be heard, a complete departure from the newsroom norm.

Rugged and broken in both spirit and physically, this young man introduced himself as Sicelo Vilane. Sicelo had just escaped from police interrogation room and had been in hiding for a few days before deciding to come to the Times to tell his story. He genuinely feared for his life.

He told us horrifying details of the Gestapo style interrogation of the police who were attempting to coerce him into being a state witness in the 2006 high treason case involving several SWAYOCO members. Police claimed to have evidence he was involved in the 2005 petrol bombings of Tinkhundla centres but were willing to not charge him as long as he sold out his comrades and turned into a state witness.

A petrified Vilane showed fresh wounds from police beatings and claimed he had escaped through a window and gone into hiding before deciding to tell the world his story. At the time police had just killed a lady called LaFakudze, wife to Mduduzi Mamba, who already was in jail for the same case Sicelo was meant to testify. His fears were thus genuine.

So emotionally compelling was Sicelo´s story that Bingo, as Mbongeni is affectionately called, created space in his paper for the young man´s story to be told. That is how I got introduced to Sicelo for the first time. From this experience, I was to learn that Sicelo was a community activist and an organiser for the people of Vuvulane and surrounding areas who were victims of land evictions.

He became the go-to person for stories or issues involving land in the Vuvulane sugar belt. Sicelo suffered for his activism and was a regular at police stations for defending people in Vuvulane who are historic enemies of the government over land disputes spanning decades now. Oftentimes his arrests, torture, and persecution never made it to the national newspaper.

He suffered in silence together with many of his comrades who remain unsung heroes of the national consciousness of the last three years. To his community, Sicelo was their shield against the state and police, often writing letters to the editor telling stories of evictions and inviting foreign press to cover land stories.

He was a pivotal figure in the Swaziland Justice Forum campaign that forced Tibiyo and the government to consider the plight of Vuvulane farmers. In fact, Sicelo was once suspected of instigating the burning of sugar cane fields after a protest in Vuvulane.

He escaped to South Africa and was exiled for a while before returning to the country a few years later. He faced the harsh life of exile and returned home ready to die in the land of his forefathers. But coming home also meant facing the grinding poverty that has become a defining feature of life in far flung rural areas.

He started a journalism training course at Oxford College in Manzini just as a means to earn a living as he had an innate love for journalism and media in general. One time he was once arrested and spent days in prison charged with Terrorism after police caught him with a SWAYOCO membership card in Manzini.

He went under the radar for a while before emerging as a journalist for the Swazi Observer where he later became a unionist of the newly established Media Workers Union. But his time there was not for long and again he went under the radar for a while. I lost contact with him when I went to live in South Africa for a while and later in Europe.

We reconnected when I saw a few of his Facebook posts that were indicative of a deeply troubled man who was at battle with his political party last year. I quietly initiated contact and engaged him on why he was full of anger against not just his political party but also certain leaders he claimed were of no good.

I sympathised and agreed with his concerns and grievances but didn't support some of his public posturing believing that some of his concerns could alienate him politically yet he was a good man and activist. We kept in contact in the last few months until one day I decided to drive down to Vuvulane to meet him after I heard he was joining the elections.

This was around August. Joining the elections was so untypical of Sicelo so I knew something was amiss. I knew something was troubling the man. By this time I had also been alerted of the many of the things that had made him despondent about his party and certain leaders. I went to Sicelo to listen and not judge. He poured his heart out.

He told me of how his party had treated him, how he had been ostracized for daring to challenge the things that have only just now emerged as a part of "bobhabuli" narratives. He spoke of a lot of things many of which have come to pass through social media. I kept advising him to not flare things on social media and project himself as bitter to his comrades and to trust time to vindicate him.

After all, the arc of time in the universe will always bend toward justice and the truth no matter how long it takes. I seemed to have won him over as he toned down his social media rants. It was ironic to me that over a decade later I was meeting an emotionally drained, angry and disappointed Sicelo, exactly how I first saw him walking into the Times offices so many moons ago.

He was a defeated man. His comrades had turned against him. His party had turned him into a pariah comrade and fodder for insults and jokes for joining the elections. He was an isolated man now carried only by his community that wanted him to represent them in the elections as Indvuna Yenkhundla.

Lost in despondency, angry at years lost to a movement that turned against him at the slightest disagreement and facing grinding poverty he had decided to join the elections, not so much to endorse the Tinkhndla system, but to build his grassroots power with the hope that he could fight for the dispossessed people of Vuvulane and all evictions victims.

It was clear to me Sicelo was in an election for his life: to put food on the table. I surprised him because I supported his idea of joining the elections but for different reasons. I wanted him to use the election as employment so he could take care of his family.

I sympathized with his condition and contributed a small pittance to his election campaign. I called another friend in South Africa and we gave him more money. Unfortunately, I was away in South Africa on election day and only got to hear the outcome through the media.

I really wanted him to win. I wanted him to put food on the table for his family. May Vilane´s life be a reminder that this struggle has taken way too long. The young are dying with a rich history of extreme sacrifices and dedication...I mean, those who gave everything long before it became fashionable.

Let us not fall to the temptation of decimating the contribution of those we may not agree with or whose political choices were at odds with ours. Lala ngocolo Vilane!!