Cowering nyala a shameful sight in CBD

Police avoided what could have been a bloody stand-off with foreign nationals in the Johannesburg CBD.
Police avoided what could have been a bloody stand-off with foreign nationals in the Johannesburg CBD.

I had just withdrawn R1,000 from the ATM and was briskly walking home one afternoon in Hillbrow when I suddenly felt a crushing blow on my back.

My survival instinct kicked in as I fell to the ground in pain. I rolled like I had seen it done in the movies and started kicking wildly at my attacker.

Passersby went about their business as if they did not see my predicament and one even chuckled and told me to give my robber what he wanted.

The thought of being relieved of my hard-earned grand inspired me to land a Mike Tyson-inspired left-hook on the face of the thug. He got the message as I hot-footed it to the entrance of my apartment. I breathlessly told the security at my complex what had just happened but there was nothing he could do as his jurisdiction did not spill onto the dangerous streets.

He said I was lucky to be alive, a refrain that often gives cold comfort to crime victims.

I did not lay a charge with the police as I could not give a description of my assailant.

I lived in Hillbrow for about four years but somehow never felt like I belonged.

My flat at the corner of Kaptein and Kotze streets was a decent and secure abode but one step on the streets of Hellbrow seemed like I'd entered another planet.

From the comfort of my second-floor balcony, I often witnessed people being robbed of their belongings, especially in the wee hours of the morning. Their cries for help woke me up but there was precious little I could do except occasionally dial the emergency number.

One afternoon, I witnessed a mob attack two cellphone thieves. While one escaped, his acquaintance bore the brunt of the mob that stripped him naked and beat him to a pulp.

I called the police, who arrived as he lay motionless.

From what I could tell, the robbers were South African urchins although Hillbrow bustled with foreign nationals. The prevailing theory was these were local drug addicts who stole from the people to buy drugs from the foreigners. Indeed, most cellphone repair shops were owned by foreigners in Hillbrow.

I finally left the place called Little Lagos when I was smashed and grabbed and the police refused to register a case because I could not give a description of the criminal. Worse, my baby daughter had started wailing to imitate the police sirens that formed the soundtrack of Hillbrow nights.

Friends and relatives had long made it clear they'd not pop in for a visit while I stayed in that Godforsaken place.

I never returned to that place, though I often read harrowing reports of rampant criminality in my former neighbourhood. Despite promises by politicians to clean Hillbrow and other places overrun by immigrants, it has all been a pipe dream as business continues as normal.

I was the last one to be surprised when the police were forced to beat a hasty retreat when they attempted to raid businesses suspected of selling stolen goods in downtown Jozi.

It was shameful to see the once-feared police nyala reverse at high speed under a barrage of rocks. This had never happened before in our country, where the fortified military-style nyala had successfully quelled riots by jumping over the barricades.

It was embarrassing in the extreme. The police retreated and reinforced before returning to the scene of the crime this week. They netted an arms cache, tons of fake goods and arrested hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants.

It's a good start to reclaiming our cities but I won't hold my breath.

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