Sure we believe you, Mr President
14 October 2007 11:59
As I lay face down next to my husband, David, with our hands and feet tied
up, I thanked him for six years of marriage and three children. My knees
felt like jelly and I had the urge to lose my dinner.
Despite pleading with Thabang* not to harm my family, I feared he would
still shoot my three-year-old son, who was sleeping on the bed, and my
mother and my five-year-old twins, whom I could see.
Thabang, still wielding his silver gun, told his friend Jabu* where to find
our bank cards while he dialled a number on his cellphone. "Where is your
plasma TV? Where is your laptop? Where are your fucking firearms?" he
barked. "Give me the correct PIN numbers or my friend who is staying behind
will kill you!"
On repeating for the third time that we did not have firearms and that we
had an LCD TV, he demanded to know the size of it. While Jabu went to locate
it, Thabang conveyed to his contact on the phone that the LCD TV was 37
inches, not 40, and that there was a desktop computer.
He enquired whether his contact was interested in our black Peugeot 206
convertible and blue Toyota Verso, and provided the registration details.
Stamping on David's back and kicking at him, he demanded that David say
hello to his contact as he bashed the phone against his ear.
They had stripped my fingers of my wedding rings earlier on, and at gunpoint
I had led Thabang to the cupboard containing valuable jewellery, cameras and
cash. As compensation for not having firearms, I had pointed out my
cellphone and digital camera, as well as the valuable jewellery.
I was terrified that they would rape my daughters, my mother and even me.
While Thabang raided my cupboard, I figured that if he raped me, I would not
scream or put up a big struggle; I did not want David to try to rescue me --
we could all be killed. I prepared myself psychologically to be raped and
knew that I could access the AZT anti-HIV cocktail at one of the private
hospitals nearby. Many women survive rape in this country. Luckily, Thabang
did not touch me.
The robbers had struck as David drove into our property on his return from
the gym. After punching him and beating him up with the gun, they had
demanded that he unlock the garage door and lead them into the house. Faced
with the choice of being shot dead or complying, David grudgingly went for
the latter choice, detesting the fact that, either way, his family was at
"Do your vehicles have trackers and have you pressed the panic button?"
asked Thabang as he continued to talk to his friend on the cellphone. He
howled with laughter when we said no. This young-looking robber was on a
tight deadline -- he had Jabu collect most of the items on his list, leaving
behind three old TVs but taking our computer hard drive with my memory stick
These career criminals in their latex gloves and red takkies then drove off
to Soweto in our cars, leaving behind messed-up lives, no fingerprints and
our burning desire to kill them.
However, you see, we have a government that believes that crime is a mere
fallacy and that the foolish citizenry complains for nothing. So,
technically, Thabang and Jabu do not physically exist in the eyes of
President Thabo Mbeki and his honorable Minister of Safety and Security,
Charles Nqakula. They exist merely in my imagination and that of other
victims, while the country theoretically celebrates having the most liberal
Constitution in the world. A Constitution that, in reality, favours
How do you bring a spiralling crime problem under control if, in your head,
it does not exist and things are just dandy in this sunny country? You just
continue living in your high-security residence with several bodyguards,
wishing the media would just shut the hell up and that the whiners would
leave the country. And if you bullshit the people on the ground about the
difference your government has made, maybe you will get to be president of
the ruling party again -- or even serve a third term as president of the
Can Mbeki see that things have fallen apart, as criminals run riot? Is he
not concerned about the shameful legacy he will leave behind for allowing
this country to plunge into anarchy? Does he have any self-respect?
I used to be scornful towards people who fled the country due to crime. I
saw them as traitors. Now I understand their desire for safe, peaceful
lives. I want my children to have the safety and security to make mud cakes
in the garden without any fear of being harmed by robbers.
I want to continue with my dream job and not pack off to some strange
country and start a job on the bottom of the corporate ladder. I don't want
to learn to use a gun, but if I had one, I would kill to protect my family.
[this is the printed dition, the online edition closes differently]
* The names of the criminals are real
[from the print edition: Gower is co-editor of the M&G's Higher Learning
publication and editor of Campus Times]