Monday, 4 June 2012

Hooray for the New South Africa!

Political? Me? Not normally on my blog. Should I comment? I'm a Brit living in South Africa, and I have lived here for over four years with my Joburger Hubby who has lived through and therefore understands his country and it's people far better than I ever could.

But Hubby doesn't blog, so it's my half arsed opinion you're reading ha!

Two things happened recently, both first time occurences for Hubby and I since we've been together and living here, but by no means (far from it) unusual situations for an average South African to find themselves in.

Firstly, we got pulled over in our vehicle by the police last week. Let us just say, to protect the innocent and yet make clear the story, that we had just called on an 'aquaintance' of ours to make a ... 'purchase'. The police vehicle followed us as we left, and pulled us over less than five minutes down the road.

These cops were on a mission, and they were following a set routine.

First, they ask Hubby to step out and they search him. Then they ask me to step out, there's three male officers all now out of their vehicle, one of them talking to Hubby, one of them searching the car and the other now telling me to "search myself" as he's not allowed by law to search a female.

After ascertaining that I have no pockets or bags, the officer asks me to remove my boots so that he can check inside them. Nothing there but slightly cheesy feet but I notice that he's not asking Hubby to remove his boots and the farsical nonsense these Police Officers were up to became very clear. The officer searching the car finds 'something'. Please understand, Hubby and I are not criminal types, but the officer found something wrong, didn't matter what it was, he just needed something so he could try on the old Joburg Metro Police 'bribery technique'.

Instantly, the searching and interrogations stops and the largest Police Officer asks my Hubby to step over to the car "talk to me now, I am the one you must talk to".

Hubby, almost dutifully because he knows how this works, asks the officer;

"Would you mind stepping out please sir?
We just want to see if you have
anything we can bribe you over"
"What can we do? How do we avoid the paperwork, your time and ours?"

Two hundred bucks to each of the three officers was apparently how, and not only were we sent on our way with no further issue, Hubby received promise from our local police that he "wouldn't be bothered in future".

Great hey?!

Then, we were making our way home from a family day out yesterday evening at around 6 p.m. Winter here so it's dark already, Nate (2) and Tallen (4) are both dozing in their car seats in the back.

Our family vehicle is a Bakkie, double-cabbed, meaning it has four doors, with an open back. It's our works vehicle really, but currently the family one too.

We were following directions and coming home along a route we don't normally follow and Hubby's a little concerned as it's taking us right through downtown Pretoria. Not an ideal place to be after dark. We're in heavy traffic, there's plenty of people about and it's still very early but we make sure all doors are locked and it's chilly, so the windows are closed too.

Then, as we stop at a red light at a cross roads in three lanes of heavy traffic (maybe three cars from the front of the lights queue) a young, black African guy approaches Hubbys window.

It all happened so fast, but I'm retelling you the story with the added after knowledge of Hubbys thoughts.

The young guy scans the inside of the car quick, luckily cash, camera and iPod were tucked under my feet in the camera bag but our cellphone was on the dash. The guy shouts through the window to Hubby something along the lines of " I don't want to hurt you, give me the phone!".

Hubby quickly ascertains three things about our would-be thief; 1. He's very young. 2. He has no weapon nor anything to break the window with and 3. He looks scared. Would have been a whole different story if those three points had not been true.

Hubby decides to stand firm and simply replies "NO!" and after a few choice words and more attempts to verbally scare Hubby through the window (he obviously doesn't know my Hubby) into giving him our phone, the unsucessful thief runs around to the back of our Bakkie, and proceeds to remove Nates pushchair from it.

I have to be honest, at this point things were getting a bit laughable. What did this poor guy think he was going to do with the pushchair? I hadn't folded it down either, just chucked it on the back of the Bakkie as we were leaving and this guy was now weaving through the stationary traffic trying to make away with it over his head.

Now, at this point I'm sure most of you would have pulled over and called the police. Here in SA though, you can't really depend on the police. Sad, but true. Generally, they're corrupt and not quick to respond in an emergency. It's something I've had to adapt to, generally it's best to use private firms in the case of energencies. In the UK you could be in trouble in the absolute middle of nowhere and some form of Police would be with you within 5 minutes of you calling 999. Reality here is, even in a busy situation like that there wasn't a policeman anywhere in sight and waiting for them to arrive, our young thief would have been long gone with our pushchair.

And Hubby wasn't having that.

As the very supportive (and horn blowing, light flashing) drivers in the traffic behind him parted to allow him through, Hubby told us all to "hold on!" as he shifted into reverse gear and set off after the departing pushchair, which was easily visible above the cars as the young guy frantically made off with it.

And can I just say, I felt safe. I didn't think Hubby was being reckless, I trusted his judgment and he/we had the support of every other car in that traffic around us. Car Jacker was most definitely out numbered, and surprised I'm sure to be stood up to.

We got close, the thief panicked and dropped the pushchair in the road, heading off empty handed through a fence and away from the road. Hubby jumped out to shout something no doubt rude after the fella in Zulu, and I jumped out quickly to retrieve the pushchair.

Back in the bakkie, lights have long since gone green, quick thank you wave to the drivers who cleared the road to allow Hubby his chase and we're back on the way home. Kids not really stirred!

There's a lot still wrong in South Africa, but it's no longer all about race. It's about a whole shedload of things these days and changing, truly becoming the 'New South Africa' is a complex issue.

It's about money. It's about poverty and the desperate, opportunistic crime this breeds. It's about people being so poor, they will do anything to feed their kids.

It's about a corrupt President and Government who have no intention on committing to a decent minimum wage law any time soon because they'd rather spend the countrys money on themselves than on their country and their people.

It's about lack of information, lack of education and a reluctance by the GOVERNMENT and not the vast majority of the people, to change this. To prevent that education of the masses, that open, honest gateway to information and knowledge that every single person resident in this country (and any other for that matter) should have free and easy access to.

The educated have learnt. The poorer, uneducated still have not.

Our failed robber was very young, in his early twenties at most. HE is surely a new South African, but he still lives in a home most people would refer to as a 'shack' without electricity and plumbing and he thinks the way to better this is to "rob off the rich man" as he perceives all those Joburgers in the rush hour traffic to be.

And the saddest part is, he really doesn't have to. He could get grants, become educated, get a good job, start his own business. But not enough is being done to show him that.

The good people of South Africa, for the most part, are ready and willing for things to change but if it's to happen quicker then the Government must be willing to change first. Methinks they like their fatcat lifestyles a little too much just now.

And that's very, very sad. I love this country. South Africa and it's people are beautiful, strong, optimistic and big hearted.

They deserve a Government that reflects that.

* Family and friends? Don't fret! It's a bit too 'real' for us Brits to imagine something like this I know but we're all fine and totally unruffled by our experiences. And we wont be driving through downtown Pretoria after dark again!