"South & East Africa 2011" story # 18

Sodwana Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa           June 13, 2011

Re-entering South Africa from Swaziland, I returned to the province of KwaZulu-Natal.
     Four days earlier, I'd been in another part of this province. It was dark evening. A large, all-Zulu village of concrete squares and circles sat on the crests of hills and surrounded us. Colin Maritz, a tough-spirited Afrikaner whom I was braaiing meat with, said:
     "You're in the heart of white and black conflict."
     Not far from Colin's secure bush-camp was a historic site commemorating a 19th century battle between the Dutch and Zulus, called "Blood River". 3,000 Zulus were shot and killed in this battle, while no Dutch died. The Dutch took this as a sign from God that they were meant to rule South Africa, and it was in fact used as religious justification for apartheid.
     Today, however, the country's post-apartheid, mostly-black government had established a system that made it almost impossible for whites to get government jobs. A long-time engineer, Colin had once been told: "You can't become plant manager, because you're white."
     -- Interjection: I just wanted to give this story of a failed robbery an introduction discussing South Africa's racial disharmony, its government and law enforcement, and crime - because I suspected these things were related. --
     Before Colin had picked me up and driven me to his bush-camp, I got a ride from Shawn. A man of English descent, he explained that the Dutch Reformed Bible used to claim that blacks weren't human because their hair didn't grow from a "crown" on the back of their heads, as it did in whites. How hateful! It didn't surprise me to hear that South Africa was now the second-most violent country in the world.
     Shawn planned on emigrating. He suggested he'd stay if South Africa still had the death penalty, because criminals used to be very scared of such punishment.
     According to him, 99% of policemen were now black. He told stories of policemen trying to extort money from him and foreign tourists. (I would later hear of a wealthy woman who helped a poor black man get his driver's license. The Transportation Bureau failed him eight times, even though he drove perfectly, just so they could collect more fees from the woman.)
     -- Indeed, governments and criminals had a lot in common. Both used threats and force to obtain money, often providing nothing in exchange. --
     So, what kind of governance, if any, would an anarchist like myself accept? Well, for starters, I would expect a person dedicated to public service to earn no more than an average salary. Mahatma Gandhi, during much of his career in public service, received no salary for his efforts; he earned his money as a lawyer and THEN helped the people, out of good will. A government official should be like a loving parent, wanting little renumeration from her people.
     "If you (the ruler) yourself do not love money, even though you should present the thieves with money, they won't take it." - Confucius
     And before I'd gotten picked up by Shawn, I visited my large friend Kobus. A former corrections officer, he greeted me with, "I thought I was going to be feeding you peanuts through prison bars," because he'd read the story of my imprisonment. We laughed.
     But, then, he told of a white South African who'd gotten pulled over one night after attending a bachelor's party, possibly stood up to the black policeman, was thrown in jail, and got gang-raped all weekend. I was horrified.
     I asked Kobus to tell me about prison.
     He said, not just anybody got raped. Those who looked vulnerable did. Those imprisoned for rape or child molestation were always raped, because other prisoners - most of whom had wives and children - hated to imagine their families being threatened by sex offenders. Nevertheless, Kobus and I agreed no one, man nor woman, should be raped. Kobus said prison wardens often allowed pornography to be shown at night, and this didn't help things.
     He told me about prison gangs: "The 28s" loved cigarettes and drugs; "The Air Force" promoted its members for escaping.
     In contrast, at Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners used to be held), the inmates studied to earn university degrees, and taught the illiterate.
     I thought about what I would do if I became a political prisoner once again, punished for ignoring boundaries. I believed I'd stay safe in jail. But, staying safe outside of jail was another thing ...

Kobus said: "Zulus are more aggressive than Sotho people. If they're your friends, they're great. If they're your enemies, watch out."
     Re-entering KwaZulu-Natal from Swaziland, I headed to Sodwana Bay on the coast.
     A white and black village catering to white tourists, it was generally safe. But, while I was there, armed robbers held up a bar; they also tortured two old people in the lodge they owned, cutting them with knives and placing hot irons on their faces.
     And on a lighter note ...
     One day, I was walking with my bag on a remote part of the beach. A caramel-skinned man appeared, emerging from a fishermans' path through the dunes. He wore a yellow and green t-shirt which read, "South Africa" - which was a scary thing for it to say.
     He told me he worked for the Parks Board, in a slow-witted lisping voice like Mike Tyson's. He suggested I go for a swim, so he could watch over my bag. "Why?" I said. There wasn't anyone for him to guard it from. He said, so that he could collect five rand from me once I'd finished my swim. I said, no, thanks, and walked away.
     I noticed that the man, left behind me, just dawdled with nothing to do. I decided I'd return to the more-populated section of the beach, but I'd have to pass the man in order to get there. He walked towards me, repeatedly reaching into his shorts pocket for something.
     He asked if I wouldn't give him some change, and I said no. The top of his head was no higher than my eyes; was he really going to try to rob me!? I thought. His hand gripped something dark that might've been a Swiss army knife. Suddenly, he wrapped his arms around my bag. Its shoulder strap fell down my arm and became free. And the man began running.
     Hmmm, I thought. Maybe I'd made the right decision by not paying him to watch my stuff.
     Immediately, I threw my large, half-full water bottle and hit him in the back of the neck. But, my momentum caused me to fall to my knees at the feet of the thief. Would he stab or kick me, to make me pay for my mistake? No. He just made use of his headstart and sprinted towards the dunes.
     I didn't see how he could possibly get away from me. Nor could I part with the things in that bag. So, I got up and ran after him.
     The speedy thief maintained his advantage. He'd left his sandals at the entrance to the dunes, though, and he reached down for them as he ran. He even dropped them and had to come back for them once. I expected him to stop and fend me off with his knife. But, he just ran.
     I bargained with him. "There's nothing in that bag! Stop, and I'll give you the money that's in my pocket!"
     "You're lying!" he said, still running.
     As we ascended into the dunes, I looked for a rock I could throw at him. I picked up and threw a thick, bent stick. It struck him in the back of the neck. "Arrgh!" he groaned.
     Now angry, he managed to turn and throw this stick at me as he continued running. He only managed to lob the stick with no velocity, however, and it fell harmlessly in front of me.
     Running between two dunes, he came to a root which extended between the dunes at waist-level and blocked his path. He had to climb over it. I picked up another thick, bent stick and whipped him squarely in the back of the neck. I was working that area of him.
     He dropped the bag. Without hesitation, I ducked and reached under the root to where my bag lay. I grabbed it and pulled it out. The thief's hand, possibly containing a knife, came swooping down at my head. But, it missed me by half a second.
     I left the thief standing behind the root. I came bounding down to the beach, happily. My young lungs throbbed from exertion and excitement. I checked to see that my camera, my electric shaver, my papers and 120 rand, and everything were all still in the bag. Yay! I picked up my water bottle. I would never see that thief again.
     But, I didn't think that poor, slow-witted guy deserved to go to prison.
     Nevertheless, taking other people's safety into consideration, I reported the incident to the "real" Parks Board. They didn't seem very concerned with hearing about it.
     I found a trustworthy person to watch my bag. And I went snorkeling.

Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Abednego; Owen, TP, & VN; Stevie & Lucky; Jon Conway DRC Congo; Sipho; Robb; Bobby & Motumbo; Tata & a woman; a light-skinned Zulu family; Yunus & Salman; and Tata, again, for rides!
Much thanks to Yunus & Salman for the place to stay!

"Do you ever worry about leaving home and coming back in a coffin, with a bullet through your head?" - Lucky Dube, South African musician (in the song, "Crime and Corruption")

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