Sunday, 22 January 2012

6 minutes

I am in my room, watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars when I hear a terrible bang coming from the kitchen. I go to check, wondering what our cleaning lady has broken now, a bit irritated that I have to get up now. I hear male voices but figure the garden service has arrived and is outside. Then I see them through the cut-out arch-shape in the wall : four black men, my age. We are separated by bricks and yet not. One of them was huge, towering above the others, with a red streak in his one eye. They were coming from the front door, I was standing on the steps, I see my dogs wandering around looking confused. I thought: “Why is the gardening team in the house?” But that red in his eye made me afraid, and something clicked, I knew something was not right. So I started shouting, telling them to “Get the fuck out of my house”, wasting time when instead I could have closed the slam-lock gate where I was standing. They start shouting at each other, the one comes running towards me. I realise this too late and I am too slow, one of them forces his arm between the gate.  I am not stronger than him, I give up trying to force it shut. I cannot remember his face, he is shorter than I am, wearing a white shirt and cargo pants. He does not look like a robber, but then again, what does a robber look like. Maybe the group are quite successful at it, judging from their wardrobe.

He tells me to go lie on the bed. Not to worry. They won’t rape me. I thought, “What a weird thing to say. Of course you won’t rape me. Why would you. No one does that. That’s not normal.” I keep asking where Rosina, our cleaning lady, is. If she is ok. And then I inform him I’ll lie on my own bed, in my room, further down the hallway, remembering that my cellphone is under my cushions. I just walk towards my room. He tells me to lie down and put the blanket over my head, but he keeps asking me where things are and I have to take it off to answer. They rummage around in the rooms but they aren’t very thorough. I try to keep them away from my mother’s room and from the safe. I am afraid that then they’d want the key and I am not willing to give it. But how well do I lie. While they are away I try to dial something on my phone. I cannot think of who to call. 911? This is not America. 10111? They won’t come. I hear the robbers coming back.

They keep asking for jewellery. I point mine out, but he only sees beads and no worth. He shouts at me, asking for the real jewellery. Tss. Little man.  I give him my box, but it does not contain anything of more worth. Someone already grabbed my laptop, ipod, external hard drive and handbag with my wallet in. He starts going towards my cupboards. The alpha is there. They cannot take the camera. No. So I get up and give him the laptop bag, shifting the camera bag behind my clothes.
He leaves. I hide the camera more, afraid he’ll come back. But I hear the front door slam shut, I see a whitish sedan drive away through a hole in the wall. They tell me later it was a BMW. Stealing in style.  I start looking for Rosina. She is at the back of the house, getting ready to leave. She did not notice a thing. Later I wonder how she could not have noticed four men breaking in?! I ignore her and radio the robbery in. Then I push the panic button. Then I phone my mother.

Louis and the garden team arrive. I lose composure, start crying. But I am inside, I am separated by the bars of the front gate. I am in prison at home. Everyone arrives at the same time. The garden team go about mowing the lawn, as if nothing had happened. It is weird. The police arrive. The security company arrives. I have to retell the story over and over and over and over and over, becoming numb to it. The police officer is a moron. I am apologetic in describing the robbers. Black. Young. My age. Well-dressed. Ag shame. Surely they did not expect anyone to be home. It was my fault: I should not have been home as it was a week of holidays, normally I would have been at the university at that time.
Everyone leaves, I take Rosina to the taxi rank. In the car I cannot stop crying. My face feels as though it is not part of me, as if I am watching myself feel.  It is the violation that affects me, not so much the things that were taken. Sure, I will miss my laptop. Sure my iPod was a week old. Sure, my grandmother’s jewellery is now gone. But it is the intrusion into your home that I cannot accept. We have laser beams and security gates and alarm systems, we live in our own little concentration camps, but here people want to get in, not out, and they manage it. Easily. In six minutes they destroyed all sense of safety. People are pitying. Shame. Poor you. But nothing happened really, hey?! They didn’t hurt you.

I have to replace my ID document, get a new driver’s licence, cancel by bank cards, get a new student card and all those little club cards that stores offer for free. The Monday at the university the security refuses to let me park in the student parking because I don’t have a student card, even though she knows me and I drive the only left-hand drive Mercedes around. I get so frustrated and inform her that she is a fucking dumb bitch, and waiting at the robot I again cry uncontrollably. The car guard nearby wanted to harass me, but I see him turning around quickly.

In my English class I am astounded that the entire row I am sitting in has been affected by crime. Literally everyone has been somehow shook by crime. But I am ok. And not. It is this duality of knowing everything is fine, that I have life, and that it could have been worse, opposed to thinking: how was it my fault? What could I have done? How could I not have fought more?

After a while I start moving on, thinking I will not live here forever. Strange how one’s country can become so despised. I am desperate for things to get better. I assume that they had to rob to feed their families. That they come from a place of poverty. As a result I want to impose education on every car guard and beggar. I want to hand out magazines and newspapers and say : “Read! Learn! Make your life better than this!”

I wrote that on October 1, 2010. Today, someone again tried to break into our house. Luckily they only got past the garage and my mom could press the panic button and radio it in. People in Europe and the States do not realise the extent of fear, the contradicting halves of living here. South Africa is a beautiful country, and every time we drive down to the coast I marvel again at the grandeur of creation, at what a privilege it is to be surrounded by this. But human nature defeats nature here. Power has corrupted our population and many still feel entitled to something, feel like the government now owes them for having suffered at the hands of apartheid. It is understandable to want to profit for having been denied freedom and dignity.

But to me it is also incomprehensible how my generation, a supposedly post-racist generation, does not have the drive to advance society and rather sits, palms cupped, demanding what they have not earned. By talking to older people it is clear that the youth of today do not know what it is to work and what our parents and grandparents had to fight for. We ignore education and human rights in favour of owning the newest gadgets and being able to spend the most.  I feel like there needs to be a fundamental change in the way we acknowledge the existence and the rights of humans, animals and nature. We must come to realise that a decent life, a life without fear, a protected life, is what everyone is entitled to, not gluttony avarice and wrath.


  1. I am so sorry that this happened to you and your family. I am so sorry this happens to millions of people in this lovely country - every single day.

  2. Hi Riette, thank you for your kind words. This never-ending cycle of crime and violence has to be broken, I just don't know how.