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'Treasure hunting' in England

By unknown | Jan 26, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Abbey Makoe

Abbey Makoe

This week I watched with dismay and curiosity the wanton looting of cargo off the sinking container ship at Branscombe in Devon, a popular coastal town in England.

Naturally, I am hopeful that the oil spill from some of the containers won't result in an environmental disaster as is feared by experts.

But as I watched the entire episode unfold I couldn't help thinking back to Soweto and Phokeng near Rustenburg. I'll tell you why in a minute.

First, back to Devon. Watching scores of white people loot was unbelievable.

See, I come from a generation where looting was always perceived as the exclusive preserve of black people.

Our institutional racial prejudices decreed that such behaviour was the act of ultimate thuggery and criminality not associated with the "civilised" white South Africa of yesteryear.

During the 1976 Soweto uprising looting was an integral part of the script. Bottle stores were emptied lock, stock and barrel. While growing up in Soweto it was a great day if a brewery truck got involved in an accident. The same went for a Coca-Cola delivery truck. Or any delivery vehicle ferrying anything to munch on.

We would feast like there was no tomorrow. When I was in primary school in Phokeng, then a rural village, most accidents on the main road to Sun City were caused by stray cattle.

Men of the village with sharpened knives used to rush to the accident scene to do their business on the carcass.

Some even opened impromptu home-run mini butcheries. My experiences as a young lad born and bred under apartheid are intertwined with my adult being. Much as one tries to be colour blind, the world often appears in black and white.

And, though I have been very fortunate in the latter part of my life to discover that skin pigmentation should ordinarily not matter, it is still difficult to associate my white countrymen and women in South Africa with acts such as looting, loitering, stealing, hitchhiking, hunger, starvation, general hardship and other social ills and human shortcomings.

So imagine my psychological trauma and emotional turmoil as I watched white looters walk away with an assortment of belongings that were not theirs. Some sections of the media in the UK referred to these scavengers as "treasure hunters".

English, oh, the Queen's language, what a lovely medium. So there they were in their thousands: men and women, some accompanied by small children and dogs, sniffing through chunks of wet cargo offshore.

Young and old people walked away with items such as shoes, hair products, disposable nappies, motor car parts and drenched rolls of carpets. Others were rolling huge wine barrels.

Within the wink of an eye no less than 16 BMW motorbikes had been looted in a full view of the police who, interestingly, were issuing forms to the looters to register their loot in case someone made a claim against the items. Such a supervised free-for-all would definitely be popular among our people.

I couldn't stop thinking about South Africa, where the police, at least the old SAP, would bliksem looters and drag them behind bars with that characteristic exclamation of voetsek.

I'm telling this story to show the psychological scars caused by apartheid. It wasn't only about not being allowed to marry across the colour line, or to live anywhere in the country of one's birth, acquiring a decent education or voting in the general elections. The list is endless.

Thankfully, a growing number of our children, particularly those who were born after 1994 - the born-frees - will never have to live through institutional discrimination and lies about their "natural" inferiority status.

Too many hypocrites and bigots have made just too many assumptions about us.

Enough of the lies. Now we know the truth, and it is what we must teach all our children, black and white.

We're all human, with the same capabilities, vulnerabilities, susceptibilities and yes, weaknesses, including the penchant to loot, be it in Soweto or Devon.


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