Opinion  :: Columns  :: Jottings from Johannesburg


The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ridiculous
Peter van der Merwe
Published: 04-SEP-06

A gang of heavily armed robbers bursts into a grocery store. They terrorise unsuspecting shoppers with automatic weapons. Shoot one dead in cold blood. Flee with the day’s takings. But the police are on their trail. They corner the thugs in a tiny suburban house. A shootout ensues. When the dust and cordite clears, eight gangsters are dead. Several are wounded. At least 11 are arrested.

It’s a Pyrrhic victory for the forces of good, though. Inside the house, four policemen lie dead. Two of them — grizzled veterans of the force — lie slumped in a final embrace, as if to ward off the hail of gunfire that swept them away. The wife of one, also a policewoman, sustains a shrapnel wound to the head. Days later, with battle scars still fresh, she consoles her grief-stricken daughter at her husband’s funeral.

Shocked colleagues of the dead policemen come to a horrifying realisation: their comrades never stood a chance. They did everything by the book, but were confronted by superior firepower — and a foe that clearly knew what it was doing. They hid in the ceilings and waited for the policemen to walk into their trap.

As the suspects are interrogated, it appears that many of them are foreigners. Disillusioned soldiers from neighbouring countries. Ruthless killers looking for a quick buck. Even as they sit in prison, their thoughts probably turn to escape — and their ne

xt job on the outside. You would be excused for thinking that this sounds like the story-line of some B-grade Hollywood action movie. It isn’t. This really happened. In broad daylight, in Johannesburg, which prides itself as one of Africa’s most sophisticated cities.

It was a terrifying and tragic riposte to the foolish utterance, only days earlier, by South Africa’s Safety and Security Minister that crime was not out of control in this country. “Stop whining, or pack your bags and go,” he told Parliament, suggesting that it was only disaffected whites who complained about the rampant crime.

As the ensuing storm of criticism from every sector of society showed, Minister Charles Nqakula could not have been more wrong. He has since been made to eat his words over and over again — but that is scant consolation to the growing list of victims of violent crime in what is supposed to be the world’s Rainbow Nation.

Ironically, South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies says crime is indeed on the wane. The number of carjackings is down 20 percent since 2000. The murder rate in South Africa has gone down 40 percent in the past seven years. Still, by the minister’s own figures, 18 000 South Africans are murdered every year, so there’s still considerable room for improvement.

The real problem is that when the government appears to dismiss worries about crime, the man in the street thinks government couldn’t care less. And government not caring less about the people is becoming a worrying trend.

Then there is former deputy president Jacob Zuma, whose exploits continue to horrify and amuse the followers of his sordid meanderings through the public eye. In the last instalment of this real-life soap opera, you read how Zuma was acquitted of raping a young HIV-positive lesbian, and immediately set his sights on the presidency.

In the next instalment, our anti-hero must now beat fraud and corruption charges. But all these trials are so expensive. How does one fund them all? You use the Zuma method: sue everybody who has so much as mentioned your name in a disparaging manner, from Sunday Times columnists to a local radio station that aired a ditty about the man.

Zuma is demanding a goodly ZAR40 million from the radio station (and the presenters involved) alone, plus several million more from a host of other journalists and publications. We will not comment further, lest we expose ourselves to his litigious ways. Suffice to say that if he wins, many people will start considering the advice of Minister Nqakula.

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