By Douglas Schorr
In 1988 I worked Jo’burg 5-day a week hard. Weekends I’d escape into the northern Bushveldt.
Real early one Monday I discovered Burglary Without Violence. While I was away enjoying others were working on taking a share of my salary.
Neighbour Jack explained no sooner had I pulled out Friday in my Ford, so a bungle of blacks in an open back Mazda pulled in. They’d just started selecting the best from the lounge when police sirens scattered them. My goods were hauled off to Sandton Police Station, CID warehouse.
My knocks were drowned by the rebel West Indians and our Clive Rice doing battle. I wandered in and stood surprised, glancing from the cricket to the CID Commander sprawled over a lounge armchair noshing perfect droopy, dripping slap-chips.
“Evidence of your robbery. Works well. Take it so I can sign off the case.”
“You’ve nabbed the thieving black beggars?”
“Beggars?” He cocked an eyebrow. “Black!” He laughed.
He sketched out a complex and flourishing industry. Whites planned, organised and controlled teams of superbly trained, disciplined and loyally paid blacks supervised by blacks. Work started with the boring task of ‘job seekers’ scanning suburb blocks and then zoning in on selected targets. Knowing all was critical.
“They knew I’d be in Barberton!”
“Likely waiting on Rivonia Boulevard for you to leave. They operate with solid information gleaned from watching, from staff and street chit-chat collected over days, weeks, even patient months. Because they know their target areas they act lightning fast when opportunities arise, but never spontaneously. They avoid violence and public ire. And they’re quick - clean, in and out. By luck your pal Jack saved you.”
Maid Rosy was surprised that I didn’t know that Master and Madam were moving to Durban. Annoyed my friend hadn’t confided but nonetheless assured I watched polite black guys in matching overalls haul the stuff out and with great care load it into a shiny brown removals truck. Rosy bustled with importance; chivvied and ticked items off her list. Beside her Growl and Major lay content. They’d drive through the night, Rosie said, so they wouldn’t be too upset.
She (Team leader it was later adduced) was lying. Bob and Margret and the animals banged on my door at nine that night, everything gone.
My sales work took me into dozens of companies each week, I heard all the stories but the classic cleanout happened on an estate north east of Jo’burg. He’d been away for the weekend. They’d come in. When he arrived home, they’d just left leaving a study of silence and space in Italian marble. Yes, even the exotic hard-wood door and frame.
The night we were away my friend’s dotty father invited the Sea Point pro we all loved to greet and tease to spend the night. She got him drunk, called the team and left, back to her beat, her alibi.
No junk was taken. CID explained the team are appraisers, experts. Furs, gowns, leather boots, three quarters of a million Rands worth of diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires, gold chains, bracelets and antique brooches.
“Everything has left the country. By air. Yesterday,” said the copper in charge of that caper.
No one was hurt, no one was even at home.
That was 25 years ago.
Last year I stayed in the Jo’burg suburb of Blairgowerie. The Axe Gang was about too. Their MO is quite different. They rely on you being home.
When it’s still light enough to see past alarms and electric fences they sneak in, relax at the bottom of the garden until REM sleep time when they burst in. It is best you’re quick with pin codes, safe codes, computer codes … it’s not the 80s anymore. There aren’t many market savvy controllers preserving future pickings: take and destroy for tomorrow will care for itself.
In Newlands, Cape Town, my grandson’s neighbours were curled around the fire on a chilly winter’s eve when the front door was busted in with a battering ram. The place was ransacked.
As horrific farm murders attest the pillage process is marked by an insane requirement to do extreme violence. The message of the Golden Goose Aesop found important enough to record isn’t understood. With the ever widening gap between the gainfully employed and poor in South Africa, mixed with our quite particular and peculiar history fueled by our inability to move on and our governments’ inability to tackle poverty, robbery is inevitable.
But can’t we take a leaf from those 80s Jo’burg master-minds and have it without violence?
BWV - Burglary Without Violence
Imagine a system of legalised burglary, country-wide, that ensured that no one got hurt in a robbery situation ever again.
The unemployed graduates and drop outs and the unofficially unemployed Africans [black, white or black-white] make up the personnel needed to run BWV. They’d form themselves into AIR (Atrocious Inequity Reorganisation) teams.
AIR teams would be licensed to, on notice, enter and rob only the houses they can professionally deal with according to the team skill range. The better qualified the team to appreciate what they are hauling away the more valuable the licence. “Doing” a working class suburban home is very different to sorting goods hauled from a middle class pad and so very different to the appraisal expertise needed for a standard palace in Houghton or Bishop’s Court, or an Anglo-American farm.
The AIR team leader would knock on the door, declare to (home owner) Christo Weise (has he moved?) or Ayanda Ncube that their place has been selected for a two hour smash and grab (without the smash) in two hours, or for a total (2-day clean out) in three weeks.
There’d be the usual private enterprise acknowledgements to sign, agreement to post curb-side a sign declaring the home is “burglary pending” booked, information sheets for procedure for home owners and instructions to gang PR and contact business cards to hand over. Business basics done the gang registers the project with the police and both, independently, call Oursurance.
Policy coverage checked, the Homer (that’s you) and AIR team leader are now in a position to agree on temporary accommodation for your loved ones for your bi-yearly ‘inconvenience’. Pet care would be carefully considered, kids’ examination schedules factored in, peculiarities of pool and systems shown … so much to do to get it right, civilised. Extras (leaving granny) charged according to the national suburb class ranking.
Off you’d go to the Spur deli, or two days at an AirB&B (take leave, make it a super weekend), all part of the final, ‘Save lives, abolish trauma, with Oursurance’ insurance.
The AIR team would do their job expertly, handing over an audited removed-assets-schedule and a validated, ready to WhatsApp, insurance claim. For once in the history of the country the items stolen shall be the items stolen, in the condition stolen.
It isn’t all one-way. Required is feedback – did AIR do its job professionally with care and consideration the standard or you might criticise them for paying more attention to her/his previously your cell phone than the job.
Of course you’d be allowed to keep items of true personal and sentimental value. In Khayelitsha it may be the real tin bucket gran left, in Rivonia an uncut (found in the bush near Bloemfontein) diamond. List your heirlooms under Sentimental on the form, estimate a value, there’ll be a surcharge.
Of the general items you’d like to buy back, register your intention on the insurance claim. All appropriated articles will be resold at an accessible open market. The more general the goods the more local the market. Specials would go to a centralised South African Sotheby – “Trust Jooste of Sandton”?
The horror usually felt would be confined to the road trip to the auction.
You and AIR would shake hands over the deal, knowing that your family’s safety only cost you a 100% raise in insurance premiums. The team would be getting what all qualified and capable folk crave, recognition and the chance to go home and say, “I earned my wage today”. South Africa would be getting what she desperately needs; a meaningful and fair distribution of wealth between the haves and the have nots. And more!
A sustainable economic sector that constantly produces Rand making opportunities unsullied by lack of rain, political interference, corruption.
For muggings and hijackings, how about:
“Good morning, Sir! You’ve been randomly selected for a mugging this fine autumn morning.”
“A-ha!” you reply glancing at Samson’s licence tag and his assistant, thumb raised ready over her iPad. “I’m done this month. My pink slip.”
Pink’s for June, and it is signed. Samson doffs his balaclava, bids you goodbye with a smile and turns, eyeing the next passerby. The assistant flicks from the dual purpose insurance – police report form to the statistics record and ticks column 2, item (i).
The Pipe Dream
“But” grumbled a friend as I related the joys of BWV, “the more I earn, the more tax I pay. The government should sort all of that out!”
Too true. But the government is, err, busy. Tax isn’t
always used effectively. Poverty is not receding. As long as the
middle class and up prosper resentment will fester and violence erupts. Fortunately
not everything in the country has soured … there is a new economic power in
As the white Middle Class fades the black Middle Class grows. To a healthy 6 million (said the ANC Congress’ 2018 January 8th statement)[i] and that gives BWV a 5-star business sustainability tag.
It is about deciding how much your family is worth. For the privilege of living in an awesome country, how much are you prepared to pay?
Burglary Without Violence sounds as crazy as legalising drugs. Portugal did that and they’re smiling[ii]. Crazy is what we need and I need you to “Like” and share my page.
I hope you’ve been stirred, ready to bonk the banks … that’s next.