Friday, November 28, 2008

Only 27 robbing days to go until Xmas

The festive season has come early this year - well for the robbers it has.

For the rest of us there isn't a great deal to celebrate. Here, long-suffering South Africans call the annual spike in robbery “Christmas Shopping”. This year the stockings of criminals are overflowing and it is not even December.

Against a background of political turmoil, after a bitter split in the ANC, the number of house break-ins, robberies and muggings is even higher than usual.

Unfortunately, I've had first-hand experience of the Christmas rush, SA-style. This year, among the most sought-after “gifts” are laptops - something of a professional necessity for a journalist.

My first one went about a month ago when thieves took advantage of our neighbours' lax security - lax by this country's standards that is. They have high walls and powerful spotlights, but had chosen not to put spikes or electric fences on the top. Young and perhaps naive, they have even forgone external beams linked to an alarm system.

This is child's play for the young bargain-hunters. With a skip and a jump they were over, and my office, separated from the garden by a low wall, must have looked like a rich kid's Christmas tree - stuffed with laptop, satellite and mobile phones, cameras and all sorts of digital goodies.

“That wall is too low. They'll be back...” said Leon, a security expert, as we sized up the garden like it was the exercise yard of a maximum security jail. “Don't worry we'll brick up the wall and fix more electric fence.”

Builders arrived, walls were raised, electric fencing unrolled. “Take that,” I thought, to no avail.

Last Sunday, having calculated that I would have replaced the goodies by then, the thieves were back.

This time the alarms went off, the spotlights shone, two young figures were clearly highlighted.

Instead, I stood there four yards away in my boxers transfixed like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights - before running off to tell my wife and daughters to hide in the bathroom (why the bathroom?) and arming myself with a tennis racket.

They battered down the French study windows with garden boulders, walked in, unplugged the back-up laptop and hopped back over the wall. The armed response unit took seven minutes to arrive - far too long. It was all over in less than three.

“It breaks my heart when I see what they do. This has been a crazy weekend,” the friendly local policeman said as he surveyed the wreckage.

Indeed, it had been. It began with a midnight shoot-out between police and car thieves at the end of our road on Friday. Then in rapid succession, a neighbour's daughter was mugged, a friend's cottage burgled, a cash dispenser broken into and a nearby house cleared out.

Go figure
In Britain, the middle classes chatter endlessly about mortgages. In South Africa, it is crime. At times, along with sport, it often seems the only thing to transcend racial divides.

Whites and the black middle class are united in condemnation of the Government's apparent inability to stem the rising tide of criminality that involves 50 murders a day and a rape every 83 seconds - and that is only the ones that are reported. Official statistics are notoriously hard to come by and often out of date by the time that they are published. No one believes them anyway, least of all the police, who are only too willing to tell you how much worse the situation is compared with official claims. This fuels a paranoia that has triggered a fresh exodus of young professionals from the country, despite the huge skills shortage.

Of course it is worse for the poor. People living in the townships deal with crime every day, and are so fed up that many local activists give warning that there is a serious danger of vigilante-style reprisals against criminals.

Own goal
Jacob Zuma, the ANC leader who expects to become the country's next president after elections early next year, has promised to make fighting crime his number one priority.

Until now, politicians have promised a lot but done little. However, the one thing that terrifies all the ANC top brass is that crime will derail the 2010 World Cup, an event that they hoped would showcase the new South Africa and bring untold glory to the entire continent.

The organisers face a choice between swamping the country with military and paramilitary units, or risking the danger of attacks on visitors. Optimists say that the whistle could finally be blown on crime. Perhaps that's why this “Christmas shopping” has started early for some: the thieves know that it could be the last time such bargains are to be had.

1 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

With the economic downturn many people have canceled vacations , but there are also thousands of South African families who stay home over the festive season as they are just too afraid to leave their homes untended. Very sad.