Scary stories from a lovely place
Life is fast, messy and cutthroat in Joburg. One thing every Kwera Kwera must adjust to in living here is dealing with crime. There’s just more of it here, and that’s a fact I can’t shy away from, and my twice mugged mind know that fact personally. Besides dealing with the actual physical crime, what I think is harder is dealing with the hype surrounding the crime.
As in any country, the media aren’t great. In any media publication you can pretty much be guaranteed of reading/hearing stories that range from the sublime to the ridiculous to the horrendous. Sometimes I have had to literally turn off the radio to avoid hearing the end of some abhorrent story of crime enacted upon a woman/child/baby/family by a policeman/group of policemen/husband/stranger. But then the ridiculous normalcy of it all strikes and the story will go something like this “this morning a mother and her two children were set on fire at Southgate Mall by an unknown male assailant. Both have suffered major burns. In other news we speak to the city worker’s who keep Zoo Lake clean for the myriad bird population.” I haven’t had a chance to deal with the first horrible story before I am drawn into the heartwarming one.
Just this morning I was reading the Northcliff Melville Times.The Times is one of those ubiquitous community newspapers delivered free each week, packed mainly with local advertising, but also pictures of schoolkids winning swimming carnivals and the local politicians shaking the hands of senior citizens. And of course, stories of crime. The writing is poor, the reporting is poor. My favourite part of the Times is the regular section on page 2, the ‘thin blue line’ it’s called. Here each police station in the area send in a list of the arrests they’ve made. Again, this is also an experience of sublime to ridiculous. There’ll be “dealing in drugs 1, possession of stolen goods 2, reckless driving, 1” but this will quickly switch to “attemped murder 1, attempted rape 2”. I think my favourite Thin Blue Line contained some information that further buoyed my spirits about living in wonderful Brixton. One of the crimes listed for this area was “possession of stolen Jamie Oliver cookware 1”. I was so pleased that the police officer used such detail in his recording of the crime and that he knew that cookware by Jamie is more distinguished than any old saucepan set. And people say this isn’t a classy area to live?
The other danger for a Kwera Kwera in adjusting to the crime is dealing with the stories that come from friends, neighbours, well meaning strangers and racist bigots. Almost everyone around my age has a story of being mugged while they’ve been walking near the University of Johannesburg. Most of them are fairly benign, just like my own two mugging incidents in that area, no weapons, no violence. But some escalate into more intense stories of being chased by a man with a gun, held at knifepoint and being assaulted. Depending on how much time has lapsed since the incident these stories will be told with a smattering of humour and diminishing anger.
Finally when the Kwera Kwera goes home to places like Ireland and Australia where there is certainly crime, but where such incidents are not a normal part of life, he or she must resist the urge to spew all these enticing stories on hapless listeners. It’s pretty easy to trump any story of life in Dublin or Sydney with stories of life in Joburg. And sure, my stories about crime, the government, homeless friends and crazy taxi drivers are far more interesting than stories about dropping your ipod or waiting 20 minutes in a queue at the bank. It’s unfair to the people at home, and it’s unfair to Jozi’s reputation if that’s the only press it gets.
Life here is fast and messy, but it’s also good and normal. South Africa needs more people to talk about the banal aspects of their lives. I walk to varsity, talk to strangers, drive at night, play tennis at the park, walk to the shops, come home and cook dinner for my tired husband. And somewhere in Brixton, some tired criminal is enjoying dinner lovingly prepared by his wife in Jamie Oliver pans. See, normal.