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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.