Crime Scene South Africa: on the edge of chaos

Crime Scene South Africa: on the edge of chaos

[This is a duplicate of a post first published by the author on Facebook in 2019.]

I recently came across a Facebook post from an acquaintance, Amanda Patterson, which read ‘South Africa is basically one big crime scene.’ It went on to list the ‘most dangerous places to live in 2019’, South Africa, disappointingly, came in second place. So close! Brazil topped the list. Still, I think 2020 could be our year. You can hear the rule of law and thin veneer of civilisation straining to hold back the tide of primal anarchy, anytime you switch on the car radio and are unlucky enough to catch a snippet of the news.

Speaking for myself, I have been quite lucky. Excluding the recent incident which I am going to report to you, and being mugged twice, once unsuccessfully I’m proud to report (!), shot only once -a flesh wound, suffering the usual perennial burglaries, stolen cars and petty theft, I have been relatively unscathed. Its true, my home in Jo’burg has been house-napped[1]and is currently being held to ransom by a Nigerian gangster. But, I trust, the judicial system will prevail as soon as my attorneys and I figure out how to navigate it in a post-justice era.

That good fortune acknowledged, even my relatively sunny disposition was somewhat disrupted by the recent reports that my local post office was the scene of the brutal rape and murder of a nineteen-year-old University of Cape Town student.[2]It’s not simply rape and murder that is disturbing, femicide has become more or less a kind of underground national sport, but the young woman in this instance was the victim of an employee of the post-office, on duty at the time! The post office in question Clareinch remains open and operating without any interruption in service – I suppose one should be grateful for no disruption in service delivery, but still it is hard not to feel slightly incredulous at the mind-numbing insensitivity displayed. [3]

I think in part my good fortune and relative insularity from the crime epidemic could be attributed to my (relatively) privileged status. I am affluent and sensible enough to erect high walls, topped with razor spikes and electrified fencing around the inner fortifications of my home.[4]And of course, have the peace of mind of being able to summon armed guards at the push of a button, should any intrepid invaders breech the out perimeter of my property. It sounds worse than it is, once one has locked everything down after sunset, you can settle ever so quietly into the bathtub to soak away the adrenaline traces, dust and blood smears from a day out. I like to do this whilst watching a nice detective or true crime show on Netflix.[5]

The other day whilst so engaged and lost in reverie – I was taking an especial joy in having dodged the armed robbers at the Claremont Shopping Centre, who hit a jewellery store on the ground floor a few days prior, whilst my youngest son Teague and I were, most fortuitously, shopping one floor up! We heard the gunshots of course and the smashing of glass and much of the usual melee around these things, but it hardly worried us as we savoured our ice-creams at the Creamery upstairs.

Anyway, whilst soaking in the tub, you can imagine my surprise at hearing a rather forceful knocking on my front door. This was close to midnight. Not a late and impolite WhatsApp, not a poorly timed Facebook DM, not, heaven forbid, someone actually calling at this ungodly hour, not even someone with the temerity to ring us on the gate intercom from outside the property, behind the walls, the spikes, the electric fence, being fiercely glared at through the gate by the hounds of hell we keep hungry for just such an occasion. No, my dear and only friends, it was the bloody heavy wrought iron (show) knocker on the front door…

Fate, it seemed, unsatisfied with its inability to derail me through the national crisis or, to quote Amanda “crime scene” we call South Africa, had upped the ante. I barely had time to throw on a light grey pair of long trainers from Superdry with a figure hugging plain white T-shirt (if I go down my friends I plan to do it styling) whilst a blood curdling plea for help summoned me from the front door, “Help! Help me!” After quickly checking on Teague and Alexia, dimming the ambient lighting, settling Boris and Poppin, I rapidly made my way to the front door. I opened it to find my next-door neighbour[6]an elderly widow or divorcee, I know not which, in her late seventies, rather scantily dressed in a nightgown and clearly in distress.

She barely had time to dumbly repeat her one-liner, “help,” before her middle-aged son, naked as the day he was born and clearly in a manic state, viciously arm barred her and knocked her down. After which, attempting to explain the situation to me and plead with me, for what exactly I am still unclear. Ever the boy scout, although the front door was now open, I was still safely behind the security gate and could remain there implacable, listening ever so patiently to the explanation for this rather surprising visit from our heretofore less than social neighbours. However, I could not help but notice the elderly lady paling in complexion under the sensor lights as she bled profusely from the cut on her head when it struck the stone patio floor after being flattened by her son’s strategic arm-bar.

‘Heroic’ is not the first adjective that comes to mind when asked to describe myself, and I was somewhat reluctant, understandably I think, to join the naked raving lunatic and his mom on the patio in this impromptu rendition of Oedipus Rex. Not that the son in the role of Oedipus wasn’t quite spirited, but the hour was late and he clearly on the honeydew hath fed and drunk the milk of paradise. Whereas, I, for my part, only a minute prior was gearing down preparing for slumber.

Nevertheless, hesitant as I was, things being what they were, I was obliged to cast circumspection aside and unlock the security gate, the last thin line of defence against the chaos, and exit onto the patio and render assistance to the injured woman. All the time keeping my eyes on the star of this drama, I proceed onto the patio to lift his mother off the ground and attempt to lead her into our home so we could render some desperately needed first aid. The son meanwhile was rather loudly lamenting his fate and bemoaning his mother and the gods. He apparently had the impression that either his mom had hidden his wife or that she was indeed his wife! In any case the exact charge against her was a matter of some ambiguity.

At a critical moment in this process I was obliged to take my eyes off this aspiring lothario to navigate the elderly woman through the front door. Oedipus, protesting the removal of his libidinal object, struck me! Now even in South African terms, with full acknowledgement of its laissez faire relationship with the rule of law, this situation was pretty wild. I was immediately located in the primal scene. Literally having to physically defend the threshold of my home against a naked violent and mentally deranged attacker, who, frustrated with this interference of his Oedipal moment, now turned his fury on me. I had my son and Alexia inside, who I could only imagine were probably frightened out of their wits by the furore at the front door.

I am pleased to report that at this threshold moment all fear and trepidation vanished, and I was filled with a cold and violent rage. Clearly the time for discussion was at an end. I led with a left hook – a favourite in my admittedly rusty arsenal. Incredibly, I missed! I threw a right. Once again, my opponent nimbly ducked out the way!

Gaining increased confidence at my sluggish and easily thwarted attack, and with his mother now absent – she had managed to make her way into the house- he turned his amorous attentions on yours truly. Tapping me on the shoulder, he said, “show me your cock!” I found this request somewhat impertinent and thought t if ever there a moment for a decisive response was, this was it. Digging deeply, I put all my effort into one more left hook, which this time connected with a satisfying crunch and flattened my would-be seducer. Not so easily outdone, no sooner had he hit the deck, when he sprung up onto his feet again. This time I was ready though, and after landing another blow, and recalling something I once saw in the WWE, I knocked him backwards over the low patio wall. His fall unfortunately was broken by a lavender shrub on which he landed (and in the process crushed). However, by now, even in his psychotic haze he realised retreat was the better option and ran off the property and into the street. I hear the neighbours are still recovering, after he streaked up and down the road a few times yelling his head off.

Fortunately, Alexia had the peace of mind to summon the police. After about fifteen minutes of this, they arrived. He was detained and taken to hospital to be sedated and spend the night. An obscene amount of crushed psilocybin (magic) mushrooms were discovered in his home and taken as evidence – no doubt the psychic lubricant if not the primary cause of the evening’s festivities. His mother received first aid and considerable TLC from Alexia and survived the night.

End of report.

All of which is to say that the metaphor of South Africa as “one big crime scene” is in my opinion and based on what I and my compatriots are currently experiencing most astute. It is a useful, if morbid, frame through which to reflect on the circumstances of our national crisis. Many questions occur to me in this regard as ways of exploiting this rich metaphor. Time, energy and fate permitting I plan to write a sequel to this brief post, wherein I will explore some of those questions.

For now, though let me sign off and attend to bolting down the shutters.

Until we speak again,



[1]Much like kidnaping, except they hold your house or some other fixed property ransom, instead of your child.

[2] Uyinene Mrwetyana,

[3] No disruption in service, no apology issued and, to date, no disciplinary action against the perpetrator by his employer.

[4] I am no outlier in this regard, this describes the majority of middle and upper class homes in South Africa.

[5] If as a non-South African reading this, you want to get an image of what this looks like, a good visual and narrative reference is the 2007 film I am Legend, starring Will Smith as the metaphorical SA citizen after dark. I am indebted to Ryan Parker for highlighting this metaphorical resonance when we went to see this together on circuit at the time of its release.

[6]Our cape Town house is a semi-detached property and we share a servitude with our neighbours.

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