“He had things that people in the area who work don’t have,” said Patrick Nkwela. “How do you explain that?”
Several neighbors said Mr. Mafe had only moved into the area in August of 2021. He lived alone and seemed to know no one. He could also always afford alcohol, they said, which he drank alone.
He did not work but never missed his rent, said Wendy Luhabe, his next-door neighbor.
In Langa, a township in Cape Town where Mr. Mafe had lived for five years before moving to Khayelitsha, neighbors had a different impression of him and were surprised that he was accused of having anything to do with the Parliament fire.
They remember Mr. Mafe as respectful and timid. They called him by his middle name, Christmas, or just Chris. He liked to talk about current affairs and decried corruption, but never in a way that felt threatening. A friend, Doreen Lekoma, said he’d worked for a bread factory but had lost that job earlier in 2021.
When she bumped into him in July, she said, he looked disheveled, and was carrying an ironing board and other belongings. She said she had seen him again on Dec. 26, and he had looked hungry and confused, so she gave him a meal.
His former girlfriend, Mbinde Andoni, said she last saw him on Christmas Day. The next time she saw him was in news footage from court, and she was shocked to see he was wearing the same gray shirt and denim shorts.
“He was clearly sleeping on streets. How would he know how to get into Parliament, what important areas and documents to burn? It doesn’t add up,” said Ms. Andoni.