Monday, June 19, 2006

Fool's Paradise

The damage :
2 x minor grazed knuckles,
1 x  bruised Adam’s apple,
1 x dash of slightly bruised pride,
1 x slightly diminished faith in the urban renewal of ‘Jozi

OK, first things first. I know, I know – just damned stupid!! The classic “don’t try this at home kids” would apply. What on earth was I doing walking to the JAG on my own? Broad daylight aside – Joubert Park is still Joubert Park. So:  crazy, naïve, lucky – all those adjectives apply and the lesson is considered learned.

I walk. I need to walk. ATW walks. It renews me, shakes off the black dog as Churchill would say. I also know the hazards of walking in this country and have developed a spare set of eyes in the back of my head for just this purpose.

The story then. A calculated decision (in retrospect a poor calculation) to walk the 2 blocks down Wolmarans Street, into King George St to visit the Johannesburg Art Gallery during lunch.

Minding my own business, walking purposely and as vigilantly as possible. From nowhere, it seems – despite a brief warning flurry like a swirl of wind, a black-sleeved arm is very tight around my throat as it’s owner, monkey-like, clambers on my back, pulling me backwards onto the tarmac in the process (hence the grazed knuckles as I break my fall – still clinging with same knuckles to my famously and relatively unique “lim” leather-clad A5 notebook). All the time there is a loud but hoarse gasping “I kill you, I kill you” in my right ear.

At least two others grapple with my flailing arms and legs while a fourth man, older and in a green track-suit frantically but methodically works his way through my empty trouser pockets. My relatively well-stocked wallet & cellphone remain safely tucked up in my underwear. All the time it’s like watching a movie or being in a dream, where everything is vivid but in slow motion, but somehow I do not panic and remain almost acceptingly in control of myself, somehow being aware that no knight exits that is about to appear and rescue me from whatever fate awaits. The pocket search proving to be in vain the searcher moves around in front of me, presumably to obtain a better angle on my right hand pockets. All of this is happening on the ground, as I lie, held back. For a moment I see the crotch of the green track suit in front of me and with my only free limb, my right leg, aim my foot at his balls. I generate a fair bit of force, but sadly only connect with fresh air.

My reactionary wriggling remains vigorous and with it becoming evident to my assailants that their efforts may be in vain, their grip slackens. I find my voice: “FUCK YOU, FUCK ALL OF YOU” is the best I can muster as I continue to flail some more. Violently kicking the air and lashing out with a now loose arm.

The scoundrels scatter as I am allowed to stand up, to see the odd bemused spectators still wide-eyedly taking in the spectacle. I repeat my previous comments toward the backs of my scattering assailants and to anybody who cares to listen.

All of this is over in perhaps 3 minutes. I walk off, minding my own business, walking purposely and as vigilantly as possible, but with a serious amount of adrenaline pumping through my system and heart beating in quadruple time. I slow things down and write up this tale longhand in my now battle-scarred, but never released, notebook over a Coke & Nandos burger at Park Station, briefly jumping out of skin as an invasion of striking security guards stroll past and rattle on the windows behind me with the handle of their sjamboks.  It will probably take a while to digest these events internally, and I also know that these events are pale and trivial compared to much that goes on in this town. Time will tell if the experience jades my outlook. It also strikes me as a write this that it hasn't occurred to me to consider reporting  this incident to anyone.

By the way, the JAG is closed on Mondays. I know, I know – just damned stupid!


Peas on Toast said...

Ah Wit, I'm sorry to hear about this. Just when we thought things were getting better! You're not stupid - we all do this at some point and the lucky ones get away with coming out unscathed. Hell, I drive into Hillbrow/Berea on a regular basis, and I'm just lucky - touch wood - it hasn't happened to me.

I'm glad you're [sort of] ok considering.

ATW said...

I'm fine. Sore throat, but have been damaged more on the sports field in the past, & nothing that won't be soothable from the inside with cold amber liquid. Thanks for indicating that I'm not stupid, though I haven't quite convinced myself of that yet. My concern is that I actually enjoy the thrill and vibe of visiting strange areas that white folks usually avoid (dodgy Nigerian pubs/downtown Jozi/township shebeens). I hope I retain some of that courage/bravado/stupidity/justplainluck to continue doing so.

PS Peas, I loved your memory posts of this morning, sounds like your UCT fresher week was similar to mine, the bits I can remember anyway.

Dave said...

Jeez, lucky you're able to write that post. You're not stupid at all! It's not your fault the country has descended into a crime warzone, just think about all those unlucky people who have to walk out of necessity rather than pleasure.

Glad to hear you got out of it OK.

ATW said...

Thanks Dave & you're right about those many folks who don't have the luxury of making "caculated decision" about taking a walk. The problem with being a white middle class bloke in Africa that it's near impossible to be inconspicuous so the risk rating is much higher. In Europe for instance I pride myself on looking as little like a tourist as possible, to the extent that I often was asked for directions and the time by locals.
But in Africa it's just too obvious. I mean, if I were a potential robber/mugger in the CBD the whitey walking down St George St would be the one that I'd target first no matter how confident he looked!

VallyP said...

Oh geez, that's sorry to hear this news. The only bright side is that you're still here to tell the tale. I knew some who aren't. It's always a risk, I know, but I think it could happen as easily in Randburg (for instance) as in downtown Joeys, so I echo the, you're not stupid. You can't shut yourself up in a gilded cage all the time. Just please take extra care in future?

I'd hate this site to suddenly go still...

Peas on Toast said...

Wit - glad you enjoyed the UCT post - the memories make me feel nostalgig. *Sigh* those were the good old days...where being an alcoholic was completely acceptable, if not admired. ;)

I also love the thrill of checking out places that the white man never goes to anymore. Which is why I do it. It's completely fascinating. But also fucking disappointing, when things like this happen.
I hope it doesn't stop you from ever going there again in the future.

Wezzo said...

Wow, glad you alright.

We had a break in over the weekend while we were all asleep, the thing that scares me the most out of it was the possibility of one of us waking up and facing the idiots. They could have been carrying anything from knives to guns. It's a lot different, but here you had first hand experience.

Besides what Peas said, personally I would steer clear of the area for good!

ATW said...

Hi Wezzo, Saw the breakin pics on chumpstyle - as you said good thing you guys are solid sleepers. Just been in CT for work today & strolled nonchalantly up Adderley & down Long. It's a world apart. Will certainly be much more wary in my wanderings going forth. The scary thing was even if I'd seen them coming I was still toast.

Third World Ant said...

Hey Wit, heard the news from Peas this morning... so sorry you had to be a victim, so relieved you're still here to tell the tale. Keep on being your explorative self - never lose that curiosity - but next time, have a few friends with you.

ATW said...

I've thought of the few friends scenario. Which may have helped, but maybe then there would have been 8 guys jumping us? The lesson that I learned as I noted to Wezzo that even had I been more prepared I may still have been toast. Sheer numbers of folk who have less than me may still be the problem.
Doubt I'll lose the curious streak though.