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Tidying up gory scenes just a job for this pair

By unknown | Nov 19, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

He took the full barrel of a shotgun into his mouth. And, in one moment of orgasmic madness, pulled the trigger.

He took the full barrel of a shotgun into his mouth. And, in one moment of orgasmic madness, pulled the trigger.

The sedate living room of a Joburg northern suburban home instantly became an exhibition of a mad artist.

Blood on the floor. Brain neatly deposited on the couch. Half the face gone and part of the jawbone lodged under a TV stand.

Splatters of bodily fluids on the cushions and a high-powered gun clutched in a hand that has since gone into rigor mortis completed the picture.

This is no Pulp Fiction movie, but the gory scene that greeted Graham Slade and his "partner-in-crime" Phillip Sibanda when they found whatever remains of what was once a top lawyer with the problems of the world on his shoulders. It was a man who had decided to end it all in one single, solitary moment of hopelessness and defeat.

Scenes like these often repeat themselves over and over again for Slade and Sibanda, who together form a formidable duo called Sensitive Cleaners, the country's first and only company that picks up the pieces and mops up the mess of murder and suicide.

Just the other day they had to clean up the remains of a man who was shot and hacked to death into a contraption no bigger than a tomato box. The twisted killer/s had done a splendid job since it was a macabre work of art if any there was.

I still can't believe why on earth, with a good lunch still warm under my belt, I decided to go to The Valley Shopping Centre in the sanitised northern suburb of Craighall Park and engage in verbal fencing with two scrawny young men whose work is enough to make one throw up.

In a strange way though, I got a kick out of listening to their bloody tales and when I left after an hour, I took with me a grudging respect for the two.

Thirty-year-old Slade has always eked out an existence doing "safe" jobs like selling insurance, working for a bank in downtown Johannesburg and doing telesales.

One day while surfing the Internet he came across a site dedicated to companies specialising in the clean-up of crime scenes. All of these companies were, however, based in major countries such as the US, Germany, Australia, France and England. Africa, his continent, had none.

He was hit by a brainwave.

"With South Africa regarded as the crime capital of the world, I thought gee, I had hit a jackpot. I thought I was going to be a millionaire in no time," he told me in between sips of a Heineken draft. He didn't figure out that this is no America, Australia, France or Germany.

When reality finally brought him down to earth, he soon realised his was not exactly the kind of a job you advertise.

I mean who can place an advertisement in Sowetan and say "hey, when your spouse, mom/dad/daughter/son/lover blows his/her brains out, give me a call". It doesn't quite work that way. It had to be by word of mouth.

However, long before then, he had had a passing acquaintance with a young black man staying with his washerwoman mother on in a property opposite him.

"Phillip and I used to greet each other whenever our paths crossed. I stopped seeing him when I relocated to Windsor at Park about the time I started Sensitive Cleaners."

One day he bumped into Phillip, 28, again. The young man, who survived on menial, piece jobs, summoned enough courage to ask his former neighbour for a job - any job.

Phillip, who was then living with his girlfriend in a rented shack in Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg, didn't exactly have much of a choice when Graham laid it out to him.

The choices were stark. He either accepted the job as Graham's partner and crawl back to the squatter settlement and starve. Worse still, his unemployed girlfriend was pregnant and bills were piling up.

"It's been almost two years now and friends and people close to me don't even know what my job is," said Sibanda.

Slade empathises with his junior partner because he understands the cultural differences.

While he can freely talk about his jobs at cocktail parties, he knows that in black communities death is rarely spoken about loud. He knows that people would even frown upon you if they discovered that you are working for such an essential service like a mortuary.

"People," he said, "do not realise that in a crime scene, the police's job is to only find clues and motives. It is not their job to clean the place or counsel the bereaved. Someone else has to do that."

He has discovered that in most cases, the family also can not cope with the clean-up. The wounds are too fresh. That is where his company chips in.

"In some cases a family will sell and move away from the house where suicide or murder occurred. Someone has to do the cleaning.

"Someone has to refill the bullet marks on the wall. Someone has incinerate the couches and carpets with bloodstains on them."

He has since resigned himself to the fact that in this country he's unlikely to make his millions with this type of a job.

In a good month he does about seven crime scenes at a paltry R2500 a throw. Thoughts of money have now been replaced by idealism. But it is a job that nearly ended his marriage and still drives him to the bottle.

"There are nightmares. There are mood swings. I believe this is normal. If you can't be moved by what I see then you are not human."

As I prepared to leave, Slade recounted that he considers Sibanda his "broer".

I couldn't help but ask him if that was meant for my ears and if the whole thing was a patronising kind of a Rent-A-Darkie bull. "But what would be the point in that? he asked. "In this kind of a job you don't need government tenders. Do you?"

Over-sensitivity on my part.

Slade has an eight-year-old, primary school-going son who knows exactly what his father does for a living.

The other day the two had a heart-to-heart father and son chat. He told the boy that he wants to bequeath the business to him one day.

"Thanks but no thanks, dad," the youngster shot back.


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