Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Letter from South Africa, Part III

The excerpt from Deon Meyer's Blood Safari in yesterday's post was courtesy of the indefatigable Mike Nicol of Crime Beat (South Africa). He had sparked my curiosity with his observation that:

"We have also watched a venerated liberation movement slide rapidly off the high moral ground to wallow in greed, arms-deal kickbacks, fraud, corrupt land deals, you name it, without being of much help to a huge population of poor people for whom life hasn't changed. But I rant now. It's best to leave these things for funny asides between one's characters."
Naturally I asked for examples. Yesterday's excerpt was one. Here's the rest of Mike's letter:
"As crime has become a major problem in South Africa, and the state has neither the will nor the means to protect the citizenry, the private security industry has grown in leaps and bounds. Cop stations even have armed-response contracts with private security companies. An off-shoot of this has been vigilante groups, especially in the black sectors of society. Richard Kunzmann brought this phenomenon into his latest novel, Dead-End Road. In this scene Harry (his cop protagonist) gets told about a vigilante group called the Abasindisi that operates in the rural areas. The conversation plays about between Harry and one of his contacts in the townships, Makhe.

"`[…] you have a uniform, you have a gun. You are a symbol of violence that is state-sanctioned,' [said Makhe].


"`So any man that wants to protect his home when the state won’t do it has to create that same symbol for himself. He must be feared as a police officer is feared. Perhaps the Abasindisi’s methods involve what you might call crimes, but then the threat of violence you cops use to earn respect on the streets might also be considered criminal, only you can hide behind the barricades of laws and bureaucracy. You warp the process of justice to protect each other. No, English,
[Harry is an English-speaking South African] these men, they exist because our state has forgotten us, because you cops only have your own interests at heart, and because not much has changed for us poor, apartheid or not. We are still left to fend for ourselves.’"

"The new crime writers have also turned their attention to the industrial giants. One of these is the diamond-mining concern, De Beers, which has long been accused of nefarious practices in their bid to control the diamond market. In his 2007 novel about blood diamonds,
The Fence, Andrew Gray thinly disguised De Beers behind the name of his fictional Brano. In this extract the head of security at Brano, known only as The General, briefs an operative, Jan Klein, using the euphemistic double-speak that hides a language of violence:

"`I have said that Brano is a commercially-driven organisation, Jan Klein. This means, as you will soon discover, that we are also, necessarily, incentive-driven, conferring greater autonomy on employees, encouraging initiative and innovation, creativity but without prejudice, as it were.'

"He was smiling now as he used the legal term. `Without prejudice to the important notion of accountability.”’

In my own novel, Payback, I was handed an arms scandal on a plate. An investigative journal, Noseweek, had discovered that despite a cabinet order to destroy an ammunition surplus, some officials had decided to make use of this surplus to run a small arms trade on the side. They were dealing with a company called Industrial Spreewald Lubben and had netted themselves some R12 million. In the extract a government agent, Mo, explains to two former arms dealers, Mace and Pylon, how it’s done.

"`What they’re then doing, the Krauts,’ [Mo] explained, `is selling it on to the United States. Guys there can’t get enough of our surplus for practicing and hunting. Mostly 5.56mm and 7.62mm. We got maybe a billion rounds supposed to be destroyed or dismantled. Which is a waste when you consider there’re people willing to pay for it.’ He drew on the Montecristo, blew the smoke out in a plume.

"Pylon said, `Makes you wonder what the boers
[Afrikaners] were thinking producing all those rounds. Like they were heading for a major war.’
"`Silly buggers,’ said Mo. `On the other hand what we’ve got here is what we call unofficially The Opportunity. Not something the minister wants to hear about, but then not something he’s inclined to stop either supposing he has heard about it. Which he must’ve. Income is income.’ He flicked off a stub of ash, glanced from Pylon to Mace. `Welcome to The Opportunity. We’re happy to do business with you.’

"`Again,’ Mace said.

"Mo chuckled. ‘` suppose you could say again, in a manner of speaking. I suppose should you look at it in a certain light the cause is the same: the upliftment of the people. Fair trade. Guns ‘n ammo for houses.’ He pulled out the shopping list Pylon had hand-delivered earlier in the week. `I can get these,’ he said, tapping it with the damp end of his cigar, `any time you want, as the man said.’"
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

A lot of South African dentists came to the UK over the years and you could write a good crime novel from the stories they told me at dental courses.
Far more interesting than the dental lectures and about one of the few reasons I could think of for going back to work.
We have a two part series on violent cities on TV at the moment [I have not watched it] and one city is Jo'Burg,and the other I am sorry to say is Philadelphia.
In the TV magazine Radio Times the 'City of Brotherly Love' is described as 'a toxic stew of guns, drugs and urban deprivation.'
Although 'Johannesburg is a much more lawless place than Philadelphia' which must be very reassuring for Philly residents.
Keep safe Peter.

December 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, well, we in the U.S. have to keep up our cowboy reputation. But thanks for the good wishes. My parts of town are reasonably safe.

I can well imagine that some of those dentists had interesting stories to tell. I can also imagine the equivocal feelings that members of South Africa's middle and professional classes must have. Some, at least, must have seen the oppression and suffering before their eyes yet at the same time felt a need to protect themselves from its consequences.

December 03, 2008  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Many of the earlier wave of South Africans who emigrated to the UK in the 1960s and 1970s did so in protest at apartheid or because they knew the situation would not last and were possibly worried by the consequences of majority rule. The wave that came from 1996-2003 [before I retired] were definitely worried about the level of violence.

December 04, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder how many of the migrants both deplored apartheid and feared the consequences of its end.

An epoch-making movement is always exhilarating:

a) To outsiders


b) before somber reality sets in – before, in other words, a country becomes a normal democratic society, as Deon Meyer referred to South Africa in an interview to which I have now linked in the post previous to this one.

December 04, 2008  

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