The muggers of Gauteng, the South African province that comprises Johannesburg and Pretoria, are world (in)famous.
They employ various methods to get what they want from you, and they can be utterly ruthless if the intended victim shows signs of non-co-operation.
One of their favourite areas of operation is OR Tambo International Airport, where thousands of visitors arrive daily from all over the world.
I am told that the bandits are partial to passengers alighting from flights originating in African countries, presumably because these tend to carry cash since they are not too much into plastic money.
In addition, African flights are likely to be carrying characters, mostly politicians, heavily laden with monies they intend to hide away from prying eyes back home, and South Africa is a place where properties can be acquired without too many questions being asked.
So, the thieves monitor the incoming flights, decide which one to target and watch as the passengers clear Customs and get into their cars and drive off; they trail the car out of OR and onto the highway leading to Johannesburg, Pretoria or any of the smaller towns in the vicinity.
They have a couple of choices. Sometimes they will make the driver of the trailed car pull up by the roadside and proceed to search the panicked passengers.
Or, if they suspect the arriving passengers are going to a residential house rather than a hotel, they escort the car all the way home and there the do the double, that is, get whatever is on the persons as well as what is in the house.
Last week, a group of young men and women from three African countries got a little taste of this Gauteng treatment when they arrived for a UN-sponsored conference. Their car was stopped on the highway and they were relieved of their cash and (from the girls) jewellery.
Now, that was pretty standard for this kind of heist. But these hoodlums were a tad different. For one thing, they did not grab wallets or handbags; they just told their victims, without even brandishing weapons, to please oblige and hand over all the cash they had on them, no doubt trusting in their victims’ honesty.
They did not tear the necklaces and rings from the persons of the ladies but requested them to kindly remove them and (as it were) donate them to the robbers. Hey, they did not even bother to ask for their mobile phones!
They then asked the passengers where they came from, and these latter obliged… Ethiopia, Uganda, Mali… Upon which, according to the victims, one of the gangsters proceeded to do some civic education:
“We know you all out there revere Mandela, you think he is a some kind of hero or something. Now, let me tell you something. I was a guerrilla fighter, a militant who supported Mandela and the struggle waged by the African National Congress…
“But after liberation what happened? Mandela and his group got all the plum jobs, they live in luxury homes in gated compounds, drive exotic cars, get all the girls. and what do I get? Nothing, nothing, you hear? No job, no house, no money, no education, nothing.”
The seminar done, our colleagues were allowed to continue on their way, thoroughly shaken and nonplussed. They had had an experience like very few had ever had, and they could not explain why their civic educators had been so selective in their choice of loot.
Inevitably, their experience fed into the discourse of the meeting, where speakers questioned the sustainability of societies such as South Africa with all their glaring inequalities.
The meeting was taking place in Sandton, one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world. Right across from there sits the eyesore slum of Alexandra, a shame to South Africa and a mockery of all those sacrifices all those years.
South Africa, like so many of our countries, will have to pay for the greed of its elites, whose snouts are too deep in the trough for them to hear the bell tolling for them.
By JENERALI ULIMWENGU
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]