The Man who stole a Picture

We have all been touched by it. We have all experienced it. We all live with it. It is inevitable that as the population increases so does the crime rate. What frightens me is how inured we are to it. We expect it. We accept it. It’s part of life. I used to fall into the camp that believed most crime took place by people unable to feed their families motivated by desperation. Now, I believe the opposite, most crime is organised, it is motivated by greed and envy, and more so by a deep sociopathic love for causing harm and terror. It is not about feeding the poor; it’s about feeling the power.

A work colleague has had her personal tragedy and terror spread across the front pages of national newspapers, not to raise attention to the state of our society, but to sell papers. In fact she would rather it had never been reported. She is scared enough. She’s been through enough and now she has to share that with a nation of people who will lap it up over coffee and cornflakes.

You can read her story here: http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/family-hostage-drama-1.1098068. What the newspapers didn’t mention was the true extent of her loss. Not only was the home invaded during a vigil for her dying father, but among the all the stuff that was taken were all the photographs of him. You can’t insure that. You can’t replace that. They are gone and the family robbed of more than items, but of its soul.

Today they grieve the death of a family member and try to cope with abject fear that they will targeted again. The gang knows where they work, the phone numbers, their friends, their email addresses, they have the keys to all their homes. Whether they choose to use them or not, the psychological power they wield over this family is shattering.

Ten years ago my husband and I moved to San Francisco to ride the dot.com wave. The move came hot on the heels of three break-ins at our home, a gun battle and the loss of pretty much all we owned. For months I’d wake up sweating and screaming thinking that it was happening again. I had kept it together then, but when the constant fear was lifted from me, I broke.

The state of our country today is not okay. It is not normal. It is not acceptable. Ordinary people should not have to take the law into their own hands to seek justice. The police should be above reproach. Like priests they should be held to a higher standard of morality. They should be heroes and icons not the people we fear. And we fear them. A policeman doesn’t make me feel safe, he makes me feel threatened. I hate that they got to me. I hate that I allowed myself to be bullied and frightened into parting with a bribe. I hate that I pay money every month for a protection racket masquerading as a private security firm. I may as well hire Executive Outcomes.

Sure crime happens everywhere, but in most first-world countries it is aberrant, the exception not the norm. Here in South Africa, we like to extol the virtues of our forward thinking constitution and our democracy and so on. We don’t live in a democracy. We live under a thin veneer of democracy, but in reality we live in tribal anarchy. I’d rather we were just honest about it. The fact is that criminals here are above the law. We watch our government ministers get away with murder, literally. The very people who should be moral leaders instead erode the fabric of our nation. And we wonder why crime is on the rise?

Meanwhile 19 people are trying to make sense of what has happened to their family. Children will remember the fear of imminent death hanging over them. They won’t trust again. Insurance can replace the things that were taken, but nothing will fix the scars, nothing will bring back the day before.

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