Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

South Africa: More Tragedy


South Africa’s renowned reggae artist Lucky Dube was shot and killed in Johannesburg last night in front of his teenage children. According to local newspapers, he was shot during a botched hijacking, but the killers fled the scene, leaving his car behind. He was killed, effectively, for nothing. I feel sick.

While reading the same paper online, I chanced across the report of another murder. When I was at university, I worked every summer vacation on the local paper as a trainee journalist. One of my first stories was about a giant zucchini, but I soon progressed to crime and court reporting. I was frequently sent out with senior journalists and photographers and I learnt an amazing amount from them about the craft of journalism: how to talk to people, how not to talk to people, how to take notes in a court-room, how to befriend a tame prosecutor in order to get the best stories and how not to turn up in court stoned.

One of the photographers who adopted me was Elaine Anderson, who was then in her late thirties. We were often sent out on jobs together, and she would let me drive (since I was busy getting my driving license) and give me tips. There’s a part of the highway near my mother’s house where I always remember Elaine teaching me how to drive the cambre of the road. When a road is empty and the cambre friendly, I think of Elaine and swoosh from lane to lane pretending I am a race-car driver. Elaine never tried to do my job for me as some of the male photographers did. She always said, “You’re the journalist. You ask the questions. I’ll just take the pictures.” It was baptism by fire, but a great way to learn. Sometimes she would nudge me and say, “Ask him this. Remember to get a phone number”, but she always did it subtly, so as not to humiliate me in front of my interviewees.

So while perusing the Mail & Guardian online, feeling devastated about the murder of Lucky Dube, I was horrified to discover that Elaine and a friend were shot and killed last Sunday outside her church. Someone has apparently been arrested and will appear in court, but that is cold comfort for her family. Elaine had 10 grandchildren, who now live with the message that their world is not safe.

These are not assassinations or planned murders; this is sheer, horrifying, random violence (perpetrated by desperate people) that can happen anywhere or anytime in South Africa – at church, while you drop your kids off at a friend’s house, outside ballet class, while riding a bike. Neither Rosettenville, where Lucky Dube was killed, or Woodlands, where Elaine died, are major crime hotspots. They are ordinary suburbs populated by ordinary people like ourselves.

My heart goes out to Lucky Dube’s family and Elaine Anderson’s family, and the families of the people who are murdered, hijacked, raped and attacked in South Africa on a daily basis. Will the people of my homeland ever be safe?

Here is Arthur Goldstuck, a well-known South African journalist and friend of Lucky Dube, on Dube’s famous song Prisoner:

If Slave changed Lucky’s life, Prisoner changed the South African recording industry. In five days, the album sold no less than 100 000 copies, and another 120 000 in the next three weeks. Ironically, in the week of its release, eight of South Africa’s longest-serving political prisoners were released from jail, a major step in South Africa’s slow road to democracy. As so many times before, Lucky had unintentionally tapped into the national spirit of freedom hungry South Africans. Yet, he has never regarded his songs as political messages.

“They are all dealing with true and real-life experiences in our day-to-day lives. That’s what they deal with: social issues, even though some people see them as political things.”

You can read his whole article here.

And here is the inimitable Mr Dube himself, singing Prisoner in concert:

I think it’s time that South Africa’s government starts to make crime political. This is no longer a social malaise. This is a political crisis.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

20 thoughts on “South Africa: More Tragedy

  1. Pingback: South Africa » Blog Archives » South Africa to review tour security after bomb blast

  2. Thanks for posting the video, Charlotte. It says it so much more eloquently than my words can.

  3. Pingback: RIP Lucky Dube. « Vendorprisey

  4. This is horrible and shocking, especially the randomness and meaningless side of these crimes. Maybe I’ll sound harsh, but I think you made the right decision in leaving your country, however difficult it is.

  5. Condolences on the loss of a former friend and colleague and of a nation’s voice. Violence, especially gun violence, is so incredibly pointless and sad.

  6. I herd about this this afternoon from one of the South African correspondents being interviewed on the radio about tomorrows rugby. Such senseless killing is truly sickening.

  7. my husband is from SA, and told me of the kind of violence that happens there on a regular basis, but i guess i didn’t fully grasp the enormity of it until i learned that the father of his (and now my) best friend was murdered in his own home in front of his wife and son. and then upon visiting, and seeing the kind of fear ordinary people like my in-laws live in – avoiding driving at night, gates and fencing everywhere, guns in the home. it’s no way to live.

    <i.”I think it’s time that South Africa’s government starts to make crime political. This is no longer a social malaise. This is a political crisis.”

    spot on.

  8. A close friend of ours was editor of the Natal Witness for some years during the worst of the pre- 1st election violence. He phoned me on Monday evening extremely distressed by Elaine Anderson’s murder. She was one of the three staff photographers on the NW during his time there, and all three have been shot dead, Elaine being the last. It was a robbery pure and simple, they took her handbag after they’d shot her, found nothing in it of value to them, discarded it, and then shot her friend, who was going to driving the car to take them home from church. Took the car and pranged it a few hundred meters down the road and then ran off. What a complete bloody useless waste …..
    When I read about Lucky Dube’s death, I just felt utter despair. There seems no end to this horrendous crime/violence in the beloved country.

  9. I’m so sorry to her about your friends’ death, Charlotte. It’s hard to understand what would allow people to brutally murder others in this way. Thieving because of poverty or desperation to satisfy an addiction is one thing, but these acts are simply without any human feeling. These must be desperate people, without any feelings of love or safety in their lives.

    And if that’s a common enough state in SA, then yes, it’s time to make it a political issue. Something intrinsic in that society is not healthy.

  10. You said it and you said it well.

  11. Our nation has lost its pride. We have no credible leader. We’re lost and we don’t know where we’re going. We live in fear so we drown our sorrows with pretence or drugs or alcohol and let anger take over. We commit atrocious, senseless acts.

    Today is the rugby world cup and we’re in the final. I cannot explain the indifference I feel today compared to how I felt 12 years ago. It goes some way to explaining the malaise. My husband remarked, “Our nation needs this victory.” We’re a nation in crisis as the walls go higher. We can’t blame apartheid any more. It isn’t a racist issue. But how can we expect to remain motivated and focused and perform when we live in such enormous uncertainty, when life is so cheap?

    It sounds so chilling to say that one anticipates that as more and more high profile people die, more action may be taken but what a price and how painful and I hope my friends and family aren’t those people.

    But you are so right Char. It is a political crisis. Who wants to live like this? However, the truth is I have benefited enormously and I want to stay and be part of the solution. Solve this political crisis and there is no better place to live. South Africa is my home.

  12. This is the first time I read your blog. I’m so sorry. I feel so many emotions when I hear of senseless violence. Sadness, fear, helplessness. The tragedy is so great.

  13. This must be so hard for you. I’m sorry.

  14. I’ve just read your blog and those tragic deaths have become somehow lost in the elation of winning the rugby world cup – which is a bit sick, really! I must admit I am guilty of revelling in the glory and your blog has just brought me down to earth with a huge bump. My grown up children all want to live in this beautiful country – they have spent a weekend watching rugby with friends, swimming at the beach, braaing with friends, enjoying wine at the wine festival in Robertson, all in glorious weather but WHAT are we going to do to protect this for the nation and its future generations?

  15. Hi Charlotte, just discovered your blog over the weekend ~ lovely reading!

    Yes, the violence and crime in the country here is abysmal. Yes, it prompts most of us to consider emigration.

    But what do you do when you actually have to live in South Africa? You learn to think positively, otherwise you won’t survive. You step up on faith, you learn to believe that you won’t die if it is not your appointed time, you learn to find the silver lining, and you celebrate any sign of progress and brotherly love.

    And that, to me, is an excellent life skill to acquire, no matter where you live.

    As everywhere else in the world, bad things happen here. But good things *also* happen, even if they don’t make it into the media. And that is what we need to find and focus on. Every day!


  16. Charlotte,
    My heart hurts for you. Working in Detroit, and living near it, as I do – I understand how devastating this kind of random violence can be, but I’ve never lost someone I personally know to it. It’s hard particularly when you care so much about a place,to be torn between living there in hopes of making a difference, and the sheer conviction that nothing you can do alone with help – there must be a shift larger than the one inside yourself. I’m sorry for this sad news, and know I am with you in spirit, shifting, hoping,urging, wondering what we can do about violence motivated by desperation.

  17. Once again I am numbed to the core of my being… yes I am one of those so very fortunate people to be living in another country but my family is not so fortunate and have to endure these acts of criminal behaviour. It is far too common and what scares me is the manner in which it is just shrugged off by the very people who have to live and breathe this on a daily basis. Only when you live away from it all do you realise just how ABNORMAL it is! YES…it is a Political CRISIS!! Well said Charl!

  18. We’re struggling with a different pattern of violence in the UK (gangs and guns and effectively children killing each other or their peers by accident or design) but the roots are not dissimilar, I feel.

    I was sitting next to someone reading a South African expats’ newspaper on the Tube this morning and saw an article about this. I didn’t know who Lucky Dube was but picked up on the senselessness and the loss involved.

  19. Thanks to Pippa for those lovely positive words. Sometimes I struggle to feel them, but ironically feel put out when it seems the world has put us in a box and labelled us with a big ‘warning’ sticker..
    Having lived in South Africa for the last 12 years I have learnt great lessons in friendship, love, respect and committment which I don’t imagine I would have had the opportunity to learn elsewhere. YES, we live in difficult times – it’s not a walk in the park. We have to be alert and on the look out all the time – but we are talking, and standing up now and taking action and fighting this nonsense. Our children have space, and sunshine, and are given the love of parents by many more people than just their parents. Our children are learning great lessons about life, they are brilliantly educated, excell at sports, learn to work hard and have the environment in which to grow up strong and happy and healthy. I could not imagine a better life for them. Oh, and the wine is cheap here, and very good too…

  20. You hit the nail on the head – crime is no longer a slight niggle at the back of yuor mind (as it is pretty much anywhere) – it has become a political crisis of tremendous proportions. Years and years of politicising crime has brought us to a place where complaining about crime is seen as middle-class white whingeing – but as this tragedy shows, it’s so much worse than that. But somehow the Government seems powerless to fix it and spend their time inventing excuses as to why it’s not as bad as we think. Hah.

    I’m also sorry for the loss of your former colleague – so senseless.

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