Saturday, October 13, 2007

This time last year...

Over on As Time Goes By, Sheila was responding to Libby’s challenge about what we were blogging about this time last year. Sheila shared a really lovely piece of prose about a train going by.

This triggered my curiosity, so I dug into the archives, and was surprised to see that it is a year since the incident in which we caught an intruder at our house,
and in the process I got stabbed with a screwdriver!

At the time I put a humorous spin on the whole thing (I guess it is the same self preservation mechanism I alluded to yesterday, where it is easier to make light of things, or focus on trivia, rather than really deal with the intensity of the violence around us.)

But to be honest, the incident did leave scars, and the emotional ones are deeper than the ones on my arms and hands.
Initially there was a deep insecurity, and neither of us slept well for many months afterwards. We were always on the alert for odd noises, and often used to get up during the night to prowl around and make sure all was well in the neighbourhood, since our front veranda has commanding views over the Park and surrounding houses.

There was also a deep sense of outrage, and for a liberal, peace loving optimist, I found it really hard to deal with the feelings boiling up in me. If I had actually caught another intruder after that incident, I seriously think I might have done some harm, I spent time planning ways of catching and punishing criminals, and the scary thing is that it totally goes against who I am. Is that how this thing works? One anti-social act spurs the next, and it snowballs throughout society until it becomes hard to distinguish the criminals from the normal civilians?

We sleep better now, (except tonight, when remembering this triggered all these thoughts, and then I heard noises and got up to investigate.........) and I have tried to channel the sense of outrage into useful directions, like getting involved in setting up a neighbourhood watch, setting up a community blog, and expressing it as social commentary through my art.
It has resulted in a few disturbing paintings, but hopefully the message they convey can do some good!
This one is called fat bobcat and the hitler-like moustache on the cat should give a clue, Robert Mugabe enriches himself at the expense of his suffering people.

This is called Social Meltdown, and the words on it read "bands of thugs roamed freely while the people lived behind bars. The streets ran with blood and mothers wept for their children.... but the law had lost its teeth."
It has become fashionable to blame everything on Apartheid, and all the ills of our society are put down as legacies of that barbaric era, but in this case I think there is some justification, up to a point. During the repressive years, when black South Africans were being treated as sub-human, and were hounded constantly by the Police to keep them in line with Government Policy, a culture of lawlessness and civil disobedience developed. For 5 decades, it was the only weapon they had against the system, and it was considered heroic to buck the system at any opportunity.

I am currently reading “still Grazing”, the autobiography of trumpeter Hugh Masikela, who grew up in the South African townships of the 40’s and 50’s, and went into exile in America and West Africa during the 70’s and 80’s. It is very illuminating, seeing the situation from the black point of view, because strict censorship and segregation meant that most whites (even those who opposed Apartheid) were unaware of the true conditions the majority of people in this country were living under. He gives a fascinating insight into the culture of civil disobedience that developed at that time.

Unfortunately, this has carried over into the new democracy, and it is not going to be an easy thing to eradicate, because of the snowball effect. (Where this theory falls down, I think, is that the lawlessness is not just perpetrated against whites, or government. Young men rape and murder their sisters and grandmothers, and no-one in the townships feels safe. So it is not a political strategy anymore, but plain criminal behaviour in which all fellow humans are potential victims.)

It is also quite natural that when a cruel and repressive regime is being replaced, there is a sort of pendulum swing, and often an initial over-correction in the other direction. I believe that this has been the case with our legal system. Overnight, the death penalty was abolished, sentences for crimes lightened, many previously illegal activities were legalised, and new laws were put in place which seem on the surface to be humane and liberal, but are in fact simply weighting the legal system in favour of criminals, and denying justice to their victims. It has now got to the stage where, if someone breaks into your home, and you use any force to protect yourself or your family, you will be charged with assault!

Getting back to our incident, a year has passed, and the status of the case is that the intruder was released on R200 (about US# 30) bail, despite the fact that he had stabbed me, and was wanted for various armed robberies in East London. Naturally he disappeared. The police are still attempting to put together a case, but will have to track him down again if it is to proceed, and I have never been approached to appear in court.

On a political level, the apparent approval of lawlessness and corruption is even more worrying. I find it frankly disturbing that, whenever Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe appears in public here, he receives a hero’s welcome and standing ovation from the South African masses that turn up to welcome him. The fact that over 3 million of his citizens have fled to this country to avoid food shortages, wanton destruction of their homes, and Police brutality seems to be beside the point!

The same applies to our ex deputy President, Jacob Juma, who was recently tried for rape, and did nothing to reprimand his followers who threatened to kill his accuser, so that she has been forced to flee into exile in Europe! He still has major corruption charges pending, his co-accused is already in prison, but Zuma’s case has still not been put together. Yet despite all this, he is a serious contender for the next ANC, and therefore South African President. (This is a man who, during his rape trial, was quoted as saying that the sex was consensual, because she was wearing a skirt, which meant that she was asking for it, and therefore did not mean no when she said no! He also said that he was aware that she was HIV positive but had a shower afterwards, so he is sure he did not catch it!!) What makes it all even more revolting is the he was, at the time, the head of the “Moral Re-armament Movement” encouraging South Africans to embrace decent and moral values!

Given this culture of openly flirting with disregard for law and order, at the highest levels, it is hard to remain optimistic that our legal system is going to take crime seriously anytime soon. And it is hard to avoid the temptation to take the law into one’s own hands.

Apparently all people have one of two reactions when threatened… fight or flight. Max and I have discovered that ours is fight. To be brutally honest, if we have a further incident where we are threatened, I can’t tell you how I will react. I hope I will not be as rash as I was last time (if he had been carrying a gun instead of a screwdriver, it would not have ended as well as it did) but I also don’t see myself taking it lying down, because there is still this simmering rage……..

We have bought a paintball gun that takes pepper balls, so it is basically high-powered mace! The theory is that it will disable an attacker long enough to get the police to arrest him, or prevent him from harming you first, but in a way that is still legal (for now!) I hope we never have to test the theory.

It is probably mind boggling for those of you living in more civilised places to imagine what would possess us to stay in a place where you carry mace on you at all times, and have to check out who’s around before taking a stroll around the neighbourhood. I sometimes wonder too! But there are compensations, and over the last year I have waxed quite lyrical about some of the stunning surroundings, old buildings, wildlife etc.
So far they swing the scales in favour of staying… but who knows about the future? We will have to keep an open mind, and take each day as it comes.


Max-e said...

When I look at what that sod did to you my blood boils with anger. That is aside from the emotional scars.

Yes, the justice system is totally ineffective. The criminal walks away with R200 bail, which is nothing in his life and continues with his criminal activity, with impunity. No wonder so many communities are resorting to vigilante justice.

Hopefully our planned neighbourhood watch will contribute to eliminating this scourge.

Let's not forget Harry.

Sheila said...

I had heard you refer to this, but had never seen the photo of your injuries. How terrifying that must have been. I think I would fight back too, but I hope I never have to find out. The law is the same here, if we hurt an intruder we would be charged with assult. I fear if that was the case my husband would end up behind bars, as he would certainly be overly defensive. He feels criminals have so many rights the victims are forgotten. I'm sure a neighbourhood watch will help.
But in your case the damage has already been done.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say. Reading this just boggles the mind. Sadly I think that everywhere nowadays the criminals are getting more and more rights while the victims are getting less and less. What is this world coming to anyway?
It's hard to imagine that anyone who is able to be the next president has raped someone and thought it was no big deal.
I'm sad for your country politically, but I do love how you show the beauty that surrounds you. You seem to find "the flowers in the weeds" and that is a great gift that you give to yourself, your family and those of us who read your blog.

Keep looking at the rainbow Suzi :)


Ali Honey said...

Some of the rest of us think we have too much crime in our conutries, but I guess we are the lucky ones. Do take care and both look after yourselves and each other!

mrsnesbitt said...

I read this with anger too, to rock the security of a family is totally unforgivable.....
Food is a great source of good feelings, so whilst you are out there in South Africa, here in yorkshire, UK I am preparing toad in the hole...just for you!
I will post pictures later, tomorrow, Tuesday, but know you are being thought of right now.


Suzi-k said...

sheila, it is strangely comforting to hear that we are not the only place that favours criminals, if it is a wider problem, perhaps there will be a united movement towards restoring consequences which are appropriate to make anti-social behaviour less attractive!
Kelley, you are right, the ability to see the good and beauty around us is a gift, and i cherish it!
Ali, well in a way you are right, because i think ANY crime is too much!
Denise...thanks SOOOOOO much, I am drooling already!!

mrsnesbitt said...


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