This gives an interesting and little talked about insight into what a victim may feel long after a terrifying attack occurs. People tend to think when it is over, it is over like a TV show, but to the contrary the trauma can live on for a long time. I am pretty sure South Africa has nothing that resembles the 2A but this is exactly why we do.
Fight against crime should cross the color line and rally society
BY XOLELA MANGCU
Article Last Updated: 05/21/2007 0648 PM CDT
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
It was early evening, May 31, 2005. I pulled over to the curb in a plush Johannesburg suburb to give a cell phone interview to a radio station. I had barely gotten off the phone when I heard a loud banging on my windows. Initially, I thought it was the police; perhaps they had mistaken my car for a stolen vehicle. After all, I had been a victim of racial profiling before. But these were my black brothers, brandishing guns and demanding that I open the door.
I was the victim of a carjacking. I had heard of many such incidents but never thought it could happen to me. Carjackings did not happen to revolutionaries. Who would dare hold us - the makers of South Africa's glorious democratic revolution - prisoners in our homes and in our cars?
But there I was in the back seat of my car, a black brother holding a gun to my head. All I could think of were my wife and young daughters. I begged the carjackers for my life, telling them what I had done for the anti-apartheid struggle.
Three of them were in the car with me; the fourth vanished in a getaway car. The one holding the gun to my head recognized the organization I was heading at the time, the Steve Biko Foundation. He reassured me that they wouldn't hurt me - all they wanted was the car. This provided some temporary relief, although he and the driver had to keep restraining the third carjacker, who seemed to be a trigger-happy hothead.
The driver, by all indications, was the
mastermind. He demanded my wallet and the PIN code for my ATM card. These guys carried a bank-card reader with them, which they then used to transfer money from my account. Finally they drove me into the bush on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
As we drove, an eerie silence filled the car. We came to a stop, and they instructed me to walk into the bush, with my back toward them and my head down. Then they told me to kneel, still with my head bowed. A little discussion went on among them, and the trigger-happy hothead came to ask where the tracking device was in the car. I didn't have the faintest idea. Was this a ruse to give them an excuse to shoot me? He went back to his friends for another discussion and then demanded the PIN for my credit card. I had no idea what it was. This is it, I thought, and waited for the sound of the gun.
I had never been that frightened. And then, to my greatest relief, I heard the engine start and the car recede into the darkness of the night. I walked out of the bush as fast as I could and headed for the nearest residential neighborhood. Luckily, I found people who were willing to help me get back home.
Even though I received trauma therapy for months, I haven't fully recovered. I panic whenever I get to a traffic light, and I go to bed scared every night. I had never thought about installing an alarm system in my house before this experience. Now I jump to the window whenever the alarm trips or the dog barks.
I have a weekly column in South Africa's most prestigious daily newspaper, Business Day, but for two years I didn't dare speak or write about this ordeal. Caught between the responsibility to speak openly about a traumatic personal experience and the duty to defend the integrity of my race, I erred toward defending the integrity of the race. After all, the revolution taught us to put the race before family and personal interests.
But now that we are free and have a society to build, can we continue to blindly hold on to the same principles - even in the face of the thugs who threaten our families and our lives?
I was forced to break this code of racial solidarity a few weeks ago when President Thabo Mbeki suggested that racist whites have exaggerated the crime problem in post-apartheid South Africa as a way to discredit our revolution.
Enough, I told myself. Carjackings are real, and they are as much a concern to black people as they are to white people. The fight against crime should be used to rally our society and cross the color line, not to leave citizens suffering in silence because we do not want to embarrass our own.
In a country where blacks make up the majority, we should feel confident enough to speak out about crime and other serious social problems without having to resort to what South African writer Njabulo Ndebele calls "a psychological dependence on racism." On matters such as crime, national solidarity should come before racial solidarity. But the jury is still out on whether black people - particularly members of the country's growing black middle class - will speak more openly about the scourge of crime.
I had expected that many people would be outraged when I revealed my ordeal. There was none, because there was nothing special about my case. Too many black people have experienced similar - or worse - ordeals. People have even been maimed and killed, including some of my best friends.
Some have said crime has always been bad in South Africa and that the difference now is that it ravages white communities, too. Those who make those arguments have probably not come face to face with the brutality of South Africa's crime scourge. It comes to us at the most unexpected moments, whether we live vigilantly or not, inside and outside our gated walls. Maybe it is this wickedly egalitarian nature of crime that will in the end unite everyone: rich and poor, black and white, men and women.
Besides, now that apartheid is dead and South Africa is adrift, we desperately need a common cause. The first step in that purpose-building process could be to talk openly about crime as one of the gravest threats to our national prosperity.
Xolela Mangcu is executive chairman of the Platform for Public Deliberation and a visiting scholar at the Public Intellectual Life Project at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He wrote this piece for the Washington Post.