Violence in South Africa

Tuesday 23 April, 2013

Violence is 1 of those things about which a lot is written in the media, but people don’t necessarily pay much attention to it because they become desensitized to it over time.  News reports about blood spilled in conflicts far away evoke far less emotion than when our own blood is spilled close to home.  In that vein, (pardon the pun), I wanted to write about a few personal experiences that have happened here in South Africa.

Within a span of a couple weeks the 1st month I arrived in Durban in January, 2013, I was told of 3 incidents which really made me step back & question the wisdom of coming here.  Let me describe each of them.  1st, a colleague related to me how her son was accosted in the front yard of his house.  A guy brandishing a gun robbed him of his laptop, which was sitting in the car.  Shots were fired, but only @ the ground.  The police are supposedly using the shell casings to try to find the perpetrator, but I haven’t heard anything since then about whether or not he’s been caught.  My colleague informed me that her son lives in a rough neighborhood, so this type of thing is not all too uncommon, yet they both were still visibly shaken, had to take time off work, & have seen counselors to deal with the emotional trauma.

In the next week or 2, we were informed that 1 of our colleagues in the office had died.  She had rented a mini-bus taxi & driver to take a trip out of the city.  A wheel from the mini-bus taxi came off on the expressway, flipped over, & she was killed.  Her husband & children incurred serious injuries.  We have not been told if the driver or mini-bus taxi company will be found culpable for any responsibility in her death.

A few weeks later, I was told by our quality assurance person that we need to develop a policy for when exam papers “disappear.”  Apparently what happened was; the car that was transporting exam papers was car-jacked with the exam papers in the back seat.  The person who was driving the car was not physically harmed.    To my knowledge, neither the car nor the exam papers have been seen since.

Finally, I’m not too proud to confess that I was the victim of a bit of violence here in South Africa.  I took a long weekend trip to Johannesburg Easter weekend.  A few hours after I arrived, I went looking for a jazz bar called BassLine in NewTown the evening of Good Friday.  When I started roaming this somewhat seedy neighborhood, the sun was still up.  By the time I had given up finding it, it had become dark.  As I was heading back to the train alone on the Nelson Mandela Bridge @ ~7:30 p.m., a guy walked up next to me & muttered something unintelligible.  He then went ballistic on me, rifling through my pockets & demanded that I give him my phone, cash, watch, etc.  When I didn’t produce these items fast enough, he cocked & put a gun to my head & threatened to blow my brains out.  I informed him I wasn’t ready to die yet, so I gave him all that he requested.  He then gave me a fairly strong blow to the side of the head with the butt of his gun & headed back to his seedy neighborhood.  I was kind of dazed & headed in the direction of the train station as quickly as I could.

Needless to say, I’m thankful to still be alive.  I was also lucky that he didn’t take my credit card, bank card, train card, & keys, because without any of those, I would have been screwed. The thing that he got that I missed the most is my prescription glasses.  I couldn’t read much the whole rest of the long weekend.  I spoke with a colleague from Jo’burg who informed me, it might not have been a real gun.  I questioned whether or not it was actually loaded.  However these questions are irrelevant.  The bottom line is, it’s not worth the risk to find out if either of those are true or not.  Guns give small/weak people a lot of power, so I am now an avowed gun control advocate.  Obviously I was in the wrong place @ the wrong time:  my guide book advised being in this neighborhood after dark, but it was Good Friday, it wasn’t late, & I thought I was invincible.  Nothing like this had ever happened to me before.  I’ve learned my lesson.  I will now follow what these guide books say & I will avoid dangerous areas when told.  I’ve wandered through dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago & other places & come through unscathed.  Now I won’t risk it.

There are dangerous areas in Detroit, Chicago, Oakland, New York, DC,…this could have happened anywhere.  However in South Africa, it’s even more pervasive.  I’m constantly warned to leave work well before dark because it’s not safe to be downtown after dark.  A colleague has given me a ride home after work to keep me out of harm’s way.  Businesses have acquiesced to the level of crime.  Busy malls close @ 5 or 6 p.m.  because people no longer feel safe on the streets @ that time.  Granted, the streets of Chicago aren’t bustling after dark most of the year, but many stores are still open & I do feel for the most part safe, even after dark.  South Africa can be a dangerous place, not unlike other places in the world.  Beware & watch your step.  Don’t fall prey to what I did.  Be safe & secure wherever you go.  You take these things more seriously when they happen to you personally.



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