Warning: contains offensive language.
Apartheid’s Legacy: Home Invasion
Durban, approximately 3.30 a.m., 20 March 2013
The metallic sound awakens me in my bed. I sense that it is not the only sound; there were slight noises before this, I am sure, my subconscious tells me. I lean out of the bed in the isolated guest bedroom on the ground floor of my sister’s luxury Cowies Hill house, an upscale suburb just inland of the east coast city of Durban, South Africa. Put my left foot on the old, refurbished wood floor and look left down the short passage-way to the door that leads into the large open-plan kitchen and family-den area. The passage-way forms the short bottom of the L-shaped guest room. The guest bathroom doorway is to the immediate left of the door leading to the kitchen area.
But the kitchen door is ajar, the six-inch-wide gap letting the ambient light from the kitchen stream into that part of the passage-way. I know I shut the door when I went to bed. Is this the noise, the chinning of the door as the latch disengaged?
I stand up and take two steps when a low dark form catapults from just inside the bathroom doorway, slamming into my left side. I spin right, flailing my arms out and luckily sweep this hurtling thing across the front of me to my right and across the floor towards the large chest of drawers against the far wall. The apparition bounces back at me like an India-rubber ball. I turn and face it, instinctively keeping both my arms out straight in front of me, palms outward at shoulder level, and start to step at the dark thing. I now realize it is a human. I step forward and we slam into one another. I push it away in desperation, an involuntary sound issuing from deep in my throat, a bellow of formless words coming out of my mind, my gut, “Naaaah, naaah, naaah, no, no!” My mind rebels against this alien intrusion into my room, my sleep, my sanctity. The split-second contact my body makes with the person’s chest encounters hard, springy muscle – a man. I cannot make him out properly; the low light through the door from the kitchen is too diffuse. He comes at me again and we bounce apart once more, repeat this age-old action of survival like animals, interspersed with automatic grunts for an unknown count of three, five times? I do not count. The time from initial contact is maybe not even fifteen seconds, the action so quick and blurred. Then, as he steps back from me, my protagonist shines a flashlight on his upraised gloved right hand, revealing a knife, the blade at least ten inches of gleaming steel. There is enough light to show the lines of a black, aquiline face: a black man in his mid-twenties.
“Sit down, sit down!” he orders me. “I will kill you now!”
What? my mind stupidly thinks as another darkling hobbit slides through the bedroom sash window behind him, his accomplice. Christ, are there more? my brain heaves numbly. What does he mean by now, sit down now, or that he will kill me now?
Durban and South Africa. I left my place of birth and childhood twenty-six years ago to live in Canada. I have been back four times. Now I am back again for my recently dead mother’s memorial to be hosted by a pastor in a few days on the large verandah of another sister’s home in a nearby suburb, to be followed by an ashes ceremony into the waters of the Indian Ocean at Umdloti Beach the next day – Umdloti, the family’s favourite beach where we spent idyllic holidays in a cottage (really a home) as children, the beach place shared by us and the families of my aunt and uncle. It was a superb property right on the beach that my four sisters and I idolized. It was sold long ago, now just distant dreams of a truly wonderful and bygone era.
I am sure the knife-wielding thug means, “Sit down now”. I hold up my hands, palms out, arms bent, the universal signal of acquiescence and defeat, realizing that I do not stand a chance, saying, “Okay, okay, okay. Do not kill me, I will sit down.” I sit down on the wood floor.
He immediately shines his torch on my left wrist, almost as if he knows where to look, shines it on my solid gold Rolex and orders me to give it to him … now. That word ‘now’ again. No arguing or I am dead. I give him the watch: eighteen years of hard work, sweat and literally tears, of years of top-end sales for a Canadian company; not just an everyday Rolex, but a top-end Rolex and worth a chunk of money. Now I feel emotion, I have been numb so far. I am angry, furious. The anger rises through me like a wave from my stomach and up into my head. Eighteen years of award snatched by a savage in just a few minutes of climbing through a bedroom window. I realize I must contain my explosive temper, show no reaction or I might die. It is all-consuming this anger. I feel no fear, feel none throughout the entire horror ordeal, this severe anger riding and overriding all other emotions in me like a drug. I fight it all the way, clamp it down, letting sane logic hopefully placate these violent intruders.
But the ancient apartheid words rise unbidden with the heat-wave of anger in me, slot back into their old places in my noggin: ‘fucking, useless, thieving kaffirs’ is one. I feel like bellowing it out at them. But it would be my death sentence. I am stupefied by my powerlessness. I have encountered these situations over thirty, forty times in intense military combat … who was counting during the three years I spent with an elite airborne commando regiment in the Rhodesian, or Zimbabwean, bush war from 1976 to 1979, the height of that war. But I and my compatriots could answer with automatic weapons, call in air support with napalm and rockets if the going got heavy, to blow Mugabe’s freedom fighters away.
Now the shoe is definitely on the other foot. I am completely helpless. Fucking useless.
Yes, the old apartheid words: ‘kaffir’, ‘nigger’, ‘wog’, ‘munt’ and their matching partners of ‘useless’, ‘lazy’, ‘shiftless’, ‘thieving’. Easy to slip back to, easy to use.
What was the white man thinking – well, he was not thinking – when he took their lands and kept his wealth to himself, kept it and kept it, never shared it, belittled the black South African masses and took away their simple pastoral life, a stressless life of cattle, corn, plentiful food, natural utshwala besizulu (Zulu beer), concubines; then crushed the warring impis with relative ease and imposed the white man’s diseases, rotted their teeth and systems with sugar and bad food, addled their brains with neat alcohol, enslaved them and pounded their proud lifestyle away under the yoke of colonialism and imperialism. Kept them in their huts and shanties on useless land and goaded them into attempting to match the industriousness and technical wealth that the West worships. And still now the black masters in government do the same. Hey, they picked up that trait from the old apartheid government. Keep the wealth and fuck the masses.
So my anger, maybe it is nothing compared to the burning fire of rage in these two, for example, these two who would have made excellent foot soldiers in Cetshwayo’s or Shaka’s Zulu impis, or given my unit a run for our money in the Rhodie bush war, armed with Russian or Chinese AK-47s. Maybe my attacker could have been a doctor, an architect, a sales manager, an electrician? But I don’t think these thoughts now; I think them on the white man’s jets flying back to Canada, away from bloody South Africa six days later, in Heathrow airport’s Terminal 5 watching the thousands of wealthy, privileged and lucky pass by on their way to exotic destinations. Just a dream for the downtrodden kafirs in South Africa – kafir, the Arabic word for non-believer which is all that the word really was. Now a deathly epithet in southern Africa, with a double ‘f’ for emphasis, it makes ‘nigger’ look tame.
The heavy drapes over the sash window that they came through have now been pulled back, letting outside light from the driveway in, enough for me to see that my attacker’s black male partner is now leering at me, brandishing an even fiercer-looking weapon, the shiny knife blade at least a foot long, more like a bloody short sword. They are not tall these two, my attacker a mere 5 foot 6 inches and Mr Leering even a few inches shorter. They are dressed in dark military-style jackets and long pants, empty canvas backpacks on their backs, sturdy running shoes on their feet and heads shaven clean. Their faces, like their bodies, are lean, not from hunger but mean-and-fit lean, reminding me of myself and my comrades during my times in the South African and Rhodesian military oh, so long ago. My mind takes on another gear, a shift it seems, jumps back to those military years: Do not fuck with these guys, that young mind of so long ago tells my soft fifty-eight-year-old Canadian mind. I do not stand a chance if I resist. They will surely stab and hack me to death, the heavy-duty blood-thinner medication I am on ensuring a quick death by bleeding, even from one well-placed stab.
Already I can tell that the taller of the two, my attacker, is the leader. He rattles out some Zulu to the other, telling him to use my belt hanging over a chair to tie me up. I still understand the language enough to get the gist of it. I ask the Leader if I can put on a pair of shorts as I have been sleeping in a T-shirt and underpants. He looks at me for ten seconds, then nods his head brusquely, “Okay, okay, no fucking around.”
Good, the man can be negotiated with, I think to myself. I slip on a pair of Nike running shorts hanging over the back of a chair while the two wait, knives poised for any perceived ‘funny business’ on my part.
Then they change their minds about the belt and instead grab a pair of khaki shorts of mine and rip out the waist cord. With their knives mere inches away from my face, the leader orders me in English (his English is good with the merest trace of a Zulu accent) onto my stomach on the floor, where the Leering One ties my wrists behind my back. The Leering One leans down to my face, level with the floorboards, his one running shoe inches away from my face covered in stinky dog shit. He looks me in the eyes and I realize he is as high as a kite, his pupils immensely large.
“I … am … going … to …fuck … you … then … I … am … going … to … kill … you,” he says in English that is heavily accented, the words spaced widely apart and each emphasized. He continues, “FOOK-EE … YOO-HOO … I AM THE FONNEE MEN … KEEL YOO-HOO … FOOK-EE YOO-HOO … I FONNEE MEN… KEEL YOO-HOO … I FONNEE MEN,” over and over, a crazy litany, flicking the blade, pendulum-like, in front of my eyes, his grinning face and crazy eyes reminding me of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. A black Jack.
What an odd thought, I think, at such a time, and why would he want to sodomize me? Just an old white man.
“FOOK-EE YOO …” He is stopped short by the leader who tells him to shut up. Zulu spoken between them and English to me; that will be the pattern for the rest of this ordeal.
Leader to me: “Where is your money?” He is sober, definitely in control of himself and the situation, even professional to some extent. They have done this before, many times.
He would have been good in the Rhodesian African Rifles, my mind skitters away.
“Your money, where is it?’ he asks again. “Show me or he kills you,” he points at the Funny Man who is doing a crazy type of breakdance jig a few feet away, stabbing the air with his knife, grinning, grinning.
I tell him it is in the top-right drawer of the chest of drawers against the wall. He asks for the key and I tell him it is in the drawer of the bedside table. Torches shining, they retrieve the key and use it on the wrong drawers. I point to the correct drawer and they fumble the key and I offer to do it myself. No go. The Leader does not trust me: there might be a gun in the drawer. Still using the torches (they never turned on the lights), they finally get the drawer open and take my wallet out. Funny Man pulls out a wad of South African, Canadian, US and British cash. I ask if they will leave my cards and driving licence and a plastic folder in the drawer with my Canadian passport. Funny Man giggles and the Leader says that is okay and throws my wallet with the cards and passport on the floor. I am surprised at this gesture. Funny Man chortles and breaks into his breakdance jig again, knife flashing – FOOK-EE YOO-HOO … KILL YOO-HOO. The Leader tells him to shut up again and behave. He does. I realize now that the Funny Man is not wearing gloves.
The two men do not smell at all. There is not the deep, rank smell that the African body emanates when it has been unwashed for a long time, or the smell of fear which I know well. There is no smell at all except for the occasional whiff of dog shit from Funny Man’s one shoe. I had discussed smells with the Rhodesian African Rifles, men I got to know well in that long-ago war, and was politely informed that the white man’s body produces a rotten, sour smell after long periods of sweaty-bush-induced patrolling that was highly offensive to them. I agreed, as I and my Rhodesian commando buddies had complained to one another when a group of us was relatively clean in a base camp, and another group came in from a long ten-day patrol. The smelly group was kept downwind until washed.
The guest room is ransacked, the tall stately cupboards against another wall thoroughly searched. My expensive Nikon camera and Blackberry disappear into the confines of their bags. All clothing is ignored. They find a purse in one cupboard with South African money in it, not much it looks like. Away it goes. These guys want small items that can be turned over into quick cash. They ignore my expensive Merrell running shoes and a new windbreaker I purchased in Canada.
Funny Man: “I want money … gun … MONEY … GUN … KILL YOO-HOO … FOOK-EE YOO-HOO. I THE FONNEE MAN. Where is GUN … MORE MONEY … GUN!”
I tell them I am from Canada and do not have a gun and that they have all my money. I barely contain my anger and they see this. They believe me and decide that they are done with this room and what I can offer in the form of loot.
Leader: “Who else in this house. Who? Who? Do not lie or we will kill you. Do not lie.”
I do not lie and tell him that it is just my sister upstairs in her bedroom and that her husband is away on business. I emphasize that there is no one else in the house. This is all true. What is the point of lying as they are going to search the house anyway? But outside, above the three-car garage, is a new condo with a separate entrance in which my brother in-law’s mother lives. She is in her late seventies. I do not want to even go there with that information and pray they do not discover the condo as it is not internally connected in any way to the main house. Do they even know about her? I am becoming sure that this is an inside job. Later I am to discover that local police statistics show that ninety-eight per cent of such home invasions and thefts are as a result of insider information from house servants and gardeners, whether voluntarily provided or provided under the threat of death to such employees themselves and their families. A dreadful vice.
Leader: “Does sister have a gun? Does sister have a gun? Do not lie, we stab you … cut you … kill you… you die,” he says hurriedly as though the sentence is tiresome, done before.
I tell him she does not have a gun. This is true. Funny Man starts his cavorting again and the Leader angrily tells him to shut up, again.
We move along very carefully through the bedroom door and the family den. They take no notice of anything in the den, the huge flat-screen TV or any of the expensive goodies on display and paintings on the wall. I am closely sandwiched between the two of them, their knives hover for instant use, a deathly conga line. It is clever, as any bullet fired at us from the front or back, especially a soft-nosed .38 slug or heavy-duty 9mm round could plough through either of them and into me. I am a moving hostage. The Leader orders me to show the way. He is in front. I point the way to the large entrance hall with its displays of oil paintings (ignored) and then left up the staircase that winds in a series of right-angled jinks onto the main landing between two upstairs bedroom wings. Funny Man is absolutely silent.
We reach the passage that leads to a conglomeration of my brother in-law’s daughter’s bedroom (from a first marriage) and my sister’s daughter’s (my niece’s) bedroom (from her first marriage) – yes, the divorce rate is high in South Africa. Golf clubs, rugby and cricket matches, dinner parties, servants, weekend cottages, overseas holidays: the social pressing need to maintain the old colonial lifestyle, the resultant financial loads and so on. She has left the security gate at the entrance to the passage unlocked and open. Bad mistake if the only occupants of the house had been in the east-wing bedroom. But even if it was locked the threat of my death would have had it unlocked by my sister. We get to the door of her bedroom and I wake her before we enter, calling her by name and telling her that we are being robbed and that there are two men with me, that we are coming in. She tells me now that she will remember this sentence and the timbre and tone of my voice for the rest of her life. Apparently I have a very recognizable voice.
We enter, and my sister is sitting up in her bed, a woman in her fifties with blond hair and a lean figure, dressed in a flimsy nightie top and panties. She is wide-eyed and already appears to be in shock. I had whispered to the Leader on our way up the stairs to please not rape her and he had promised me they wouldn’t. I believed him. Now in her room, standing at her bedside, I ask the Leader if she can put on some pants. He picks up a pair of black leggings lying on the floor near the bed and hands them to her with the same curt “Okay, okay” he had given me earlier. Funny Man is ogling her legs and groin, doing his inane jive on the spot.
Funny Man is my big concern, a loose cannon with a short-man syndrome and high on drugs. I am made to lie on the far side of the bedroom on my stomach on the wall-to-wall carpeting. Funny Man leans down with his familiar “FUCK-EE YOO-HOO, KILL YOO-HOO, FONNEE MAN” in my ears. Eight times, I counted afterwards, of having to lie down this way, with my hands tied behind my back, expecting the knife blade to hammer into my back or slit my throat when they had grown tired of me. In the guest room I had managed to loosen the cord around my wrists and tested sliding my right hand out and then back into place. I can now slide it out in mere seconds, and if they decide to finish us off I am determined to go down fighting. My anger continues unabated.
They ask her the same questions they had asked of me. Where is the gun, the money, show us stuff. She tells the Leader that there are no guns in the house. They threaten, they bluff, flash their knives in her face, tell her they will kill me. Where is the gun? Mumbling in fright, she promises them that there are no guns. Then a new question: where is her daughter? I wonder how they know she has a daughter? A beautiful, blonde athletic girl of twenty-two: instant rape material. Just add two murderous thugs and stir in some pre-dawn dark. Game on. She tells them that the daughter no longer lives in the house. They believe her. What is the point of lying? So rape is a no-go in this situation, in a country with the highest rape rate in the world. My sister is lucky too in that the Leader is a man of his word. They do not touch her, abuse her, fondle her or tie her up. She is not the slightest threat to them. My heart aches for her.
First pick on the madam-of-the-house bandit shopping list is her wedding ring, a large and expensive conglomerate of diamonds and gold as can be expected. It slides easily off her finger, obviating the local hoodlum practice of smashing fingers with a hammer, cutting them off, or just placing a mouth around the ring and scraping it off with clenched teeth – skin, blood, flesh and all. Yummy. They comb the bedroom and walk-in dressing room, taking only small items of jewellery. The end of the walk-in closet contains costume jewellery. They believe it to be valuable and take it all. The real big-carat gold baubles are locked in a middle drawer of a chest in the bedroom. Leader only looks through the top drawers and decides that there is nothing of value. Surprising, as he is so thorough.
They have now dragged me upright as it is very difficult for a reasonably fit man of my age to get up on his feet from the prone position with his hands tied behind his back. Try it. By the end I have worn the skin off my knees getting up and down like a jack-in-the-box at their command. Bit like army basics, nothing fucking new. They do not let me out of their sight for a second, taking turns to watch over me. They do not trust me in the slightest. I do not blame them.
They must sense my absolute rage and complete lack of any fear. I am now on the floor in the dressing room, the fucking idiot Funny Man bellowing his shit into my right ear. I have had drill sergeants do a better job. Fucking wanker, I think. The dog shit is still on his shoe, I note. Fucking wanker, shit shoe, black cunt, fucking useless savage, I ramp my mind up and focus with those mental additions.
My sister is shaking like a leaf in the dressing room as the Leader sorts through her costume jewellery. “Sh, sssh, sssh,” he hisses quietly at her. “Be still, be okay, we not hurt you, we promise, promise. We just want stuff. Good stuff.”
She carries on shaking. From my position on the floor I tell her to relax, tell her it will be okay. The Leader tells me to shut up and this sends fuckhead Funny Man into a paroxysm of breakdancing knife-slashing at the air, with renewed threats of fucking my bum and killing me.
Will I get AIDS if he does me in the arse? I wonder to myself. Jesus wept, as my father would blaspheme. The smelly dog-shit shoe whiffs back and forth past my nose. I lie there. I don’t care. Fuck them. I am so full of fury that is almost like a madness in my head, my chest. I will not go without a fight. My hands are ready from their stupid, pathetic attempt at tying my wrists. I realize I must keep calm for my sister’s sake.
We move to the husband’s office across from the bedroom wing. They completely ignore the bedrooms of the two daughters. Inside information? The office is a grand affair of wood veneer, fancy built-in-cupboards, a corporate desk with a leather wingback chair and a grandfatherly armchair in the corner. There is an ancient, sturdy, green iron safe against one wall and just like the movies it is impenetrable. The Leader sends fuck-face Funny Man across the landing to the husband’s son’s room, the result of a first marriage. But the son does not live here either. He lives down the South Coast near one of the family factories, the twenty-five-year-old being groomed to take over the family manufacturing-business helm. My brother-in-law is on new and very successful industrial and commercial property acquisitions and developments in South Africa. Successful ventures in Angola too. His desk in piled with paperwork reflecting this. Obsessively, compulsively neat. Like me. The Leader ignores the papers. They have no value whatsoever. He is intrigued by the safe and tries different keys he finds, to no avail. His cool cracks and he becomes agitated. “Where is the fucking safe key?” he shouts at my sister who is standing with her hands folded neatly in front of her groin, head bowed, still stunned. “Fucking key, key, where is it?” She does not know, tells the Leader her husband hides it, that she does not know where. He rages at her, threatening to kill me if she does not tell him. She promises him she does not know where it is. I pipe up from the floor and tell him that her husband is a very secretive man who does not trust anyone, even his own wife. This is true. He tells me to shut the fuck up. I do. She offers to phone her husband to ask him where the key is. “Never, never!” he shouts at her. “Never, no fucking phone, no fucking phone talking.” He rocks the heavy safe back and forth which sends the contents sliding back and forth, the slithering noise enticing to the Leader. He obsesses with the safe for at least ten minutes and then Funny Man appears back in the doorway with an old Game-Boy or similar paraphernalia from the son’s room. He has found nothing of value. I am positive there is an informant now. Why search the son’s room (the future company owner) and not the girls’ rooms?
Funny Man walks around the desk and picks up a shiny aluminium case, much like a suitcase. It falls open, spewing plastic casino chips all over the floor. “Ah, so sorry for mess,” he says to us all. He is genuine, no sarcasm, like a naughty schoolboy. This is an astounding remark, considering what this life-threatening home invasion and ransacking is all about. I tell the Leader that they are game-chips only, not the real thing. He believes me and the chips are left where they are.
The Leader has given up on the safe and the pair cleans the office shelves of cameras and other small items. I decide to bring some levity to the situation and ask the Leader why he does this, does he not have a job? He reacts furiously, almost losing control, advancing around the desk to me with his knife raised, shouting, “Why you ask, why, why? Shut up, shut fucking up!” I have touched a raw nerve. I get the feeling he is possibly ex-military, an ex-cop, or perhaps he is still in one of these professions and this is a side-line? This aberration is a known fact in crime-ridden South Africa.
“Okay, okay,” I say, breaking eye contact, defusing the situation.
We finish back downstairs in the large kitchen. I am made to sit in the corner with my back against a locked French door that leads to a large, typically South African verandah that wraps around two sides of the house. The Leader knows what he is looking for and heads towards the locked garage door at the end of a short passage. Insider information crosses my mind again. My sister’s office is located there. He enters the office and searches. He is not in there long when the sound of something being violently smashed can be heard. He puts his head out the door and says to my sister, “Sorry, I knocked your daughter’s picture off the wall.” This is a bizarre statement. He ducks back into the office. He does not take long. In the meantime Funny Man is goose-stepping around the kitchen like a little black Hitler. He has put a pink cap of my sister’s on his shaved head and is spraying perfume all over himself. Bloody little madman. He continues to cackle, “I FONNEE MAN, FONEE MAN.” Tromp, tromp, tromp.
The Leader comes back into the kitchen with a laptop, a camera and not much else. He sees car keys hanging on a rack on the passage wall opposite the office. Funny Man has now joined him and asks for the BMW keys. The BMW is driven by the old mother who remains hidden in her condo above, oblivious to our predicament. The BM is parked outside under an awning alongside the closed three-car garage. So they have obviously seen it. Then the Leader spots the key fob to my sister’s brand-new Mercedes Benz, unaware that the Merc is mere feet away from him behind the locked door leading into the garage. My sister says these are her car keys and that he can take them if he wants. He looks at the square-ended key fob and does not recognize them as car keys, saying, “These are not car keys,” before hanging them neatly back up on the key rack. They give up on the car idea and walk back into the kitchen.
Funny Man opens the stainless-steel fridge in the kitchen and carefully selects a large bottle of fresh orange juice. From a cupboard to the side of the fridge he selects a bag of Simba crisps. He must have the high-munchies. Then he walks across the kitchen to a glass-fronted cabinet, takes out a tall glass, places it on a counter and with a flourish pours himself a full glass of juice. His knife never leaves his right hand. He eyes me all the time. He takes a glug as the Leader warns him in Zulu that he is leaving fingerprints all over the glass for the police to find. Funny Man reacts with an angry, expressive Zulu click sound, a ‘tchuck’ and waves his hands dismissively at the Leader. The Leader shrugs. He has had knitted woollen gloves on all along, the kind my grandmother used to knit for me, along with oversized sweaters, oh so long ago. Funny Fuck-Face Man is marching around the kitchen nonchalantly munching crisps, daintily sipping his orange juice and humming his silly Fonnee Man tune. Stamp, tromp, stamp.
I look at the kitchen clock and the time is nearing 4.30 a.m. We have been at this for an hour! It seems much longer, much shorter: time has taken on a surreal twist, does not have substance in this funny play, this show we are participating in. We are surrounded by neighbours who have no idea what is going on under their very noses.
I sense they are getting ready to leave. The Leader tells my sister to sit on a high stool near me in the corner. She does and twines the toes of her feet under my legs for contact and comfort. She still looks terror-stricken, her face crumpled. I give her arm a squeeze while her cat – such a friendly cat – twines and twists between our legs. The cat does not have the faintest idea of the danger in the room.
Leader to my sister: “What is your cat’s name?”
Petrified for her cat’s life, my sister begs him not harm it. Please do not kill her cat. Begs him tearfully.
I am also very concerned now that perhaps they will pig-stick us and slash us to death with their knives, leaving us as yet another gory picture of slaughtered whites in the South African newspapers. They have never covered their faces so we know what they look like.
He asks her for the cat’s name again. She tells him it is Milo. “Aaah!” he replies, “Aaah, Milo, that is nice.” He does nothing to the cat, but walks off to her office again. What for? A final search? Something he cannot find, something he was told about?
Funny Man makes his way to the other end of the kitchen and opens a cabinet under a counter which contains the trash bin and neatly drops the orange-juice bottle in. There are at least thirty wood-veneered under-counter cabinets to choose from that are arrayed around the kitchen. How does he know so unerringly where the trash-bin is? The cabinets all look alike. Have they been here before, perhaps when my sister and her husband were away over a long weekend, a holiday overseas in Paris recently? These thugs let in by the informer? It is very possible.
For thirty seconds while the Leader is in the office the Funny Man has his back to me, chuckling to himself. The key to the verandah French door is a mere six inches above my left shoulder where I sit slumped, my hands supposedly bound tightly behind my back. I can have my hands free, the lock turned and running away in five seconds. I seriously consider this. But then imagine these two chasing me, a man nearly sixty years of age and running as fast as he can across the lawn, these gazelles swiftly gaining on me and then hacking me to death. Then they would turn back to my sister and do what? Kill her because she was witness to my murder? So I do nothing, put the thought out of my head altogether. I wait, ready, ready to push my sister off the stool and use it as a battering ram against them, break the legs off the stool and use them as clubs. Anything.
But they tell us to get up and we move to the large hallway on the other side of the house beyond which is a formal lounge, the dining room, a bar area and snooker room packed with silver artifacts. But they ignore these rooms. They are interested in the glassed double front-door. They cannot open it as it has a mechanism that they are not familiar with. The right-hand door has a small metal knurled knob below the door handle which needs to be turned three times in one circular direction to unlock the door. I do this for them and they open the door.
They push it open, knives poised. If we run we will die. They take us back to the bedroom where the nightmare started and lead us into the bathroom. I tense. Is this where the deed is to be done? The death of my sister and me? There is a wrought-iron chair in the bathroom. Is this my weapon? I need not worry, as the Leader takes the bathroom-door key out from the inside and we are then locked in. He gives us a final order, “Do not climb out the window. We wait for you. Kill you.” Then there is silence.
We wait maybe ten minutes and then climb out the bathroom window. It is a short hop for me over a hedge below the window to the gravel driveway four feet below. My sister falls out the window before I can support her, crashing through the hedge and grazing her arm as she falls heavily on the gravel. We make our way to the front door, carefully checking as we go, checking for the bastards. But they are long gone. The front door is locked; they pulled it shut behind them and the door locked automatically. There is no way back into the house except through the very window through which the invaders had climbed. How ironic. It is an easy squeeze for me behind what appears to be a wide, impenetrable hedge, a hop onto a handy ledge a few feet above the ground and the same distance below the window, and I then heave my way without much effort through the window. I unlock the kitchen door and let my sister in.
We are alive and unhurt. That is all that matters. Everything else is just stuff, all insured except for my cash of around $1,400. It is nothing in comparison to the sanctity of life.
We call the police. It is all a plodding, frustrating process.
The smashing noise from my sister’s office? The Leader had hurled a framed photograph of my niece’s university graduation against the wall. Blonde and stunning in the photo, but she was not there: she was untouchable.
Two days later I meet the case detective and a police colonel. The detective is a Zulu who speaks with a white South African accent, one of the new. He is friendly and polite. The colonel is in his late fifties. He is an Indian and his accent reflects this. He is most polite. Both their desks and other surrounding desks groan under countless files of murder, rape, robbery and mayhem of the most dangerous kind. They cannot catch up on these files and never will as the violence continues to explode all around them. The gap between the rich and poor is unassailable. The five-storey Pinetown police station is a filthy, dilapidated building, a mere shadow of its former pristine self. I know this because thirty years ago my wife and I lived in Pinetown when we left Rhodesia to the wrath of Mugabe and his set of thugs. Apparently there have been muggings and robberies outside the police station.
Six days later I am flying back to Canada, back to sanity and safety.
The flight from Durban to Johannesburg was late. Would I make the connection to London? Night set quickly. It was pitch-black outside the terminal and a violent rain hammered the metal roof of the new King Shaka International Airport north of Durban. I looked at the passengers seated around me waiting for their various flights to different points across South Africa, my emotions a mixture of hate, anger and a deep, deep sadness. Finally we boarded. I had a window seat and looked out at the impenetrable night and the downpour in the runway lights. Then we were airborne and I unexpectedly wept from sheer frustration and anger at what had happened to my sister and me a few days before. I wept again, inexplicably, at Heathrow Airport for a few minutes, quietly without anybody noticing that I could tell, as I waited for my Toronto flight. I was very bitter and still raging within myself. Did I weep for myself or Africa, southern Africa?
Yes, I wept for Africa. What it had been, could have been, what it is now; its future so unknown, what it should be and is not.
Goodbye forever South Africa, place of my birth and childhood. Goodbye southern Africa. I will never return.