Kristin Palitza
Kristin Palitza

Criminally hopeful

I had two dates with crime last week, and although they jolted my emotional safety belt, they ultimately were experiences that gave me a lot of hope. How so? They showed me that, despite the general lament about its disappearance, ubuntu still exists in our society.

Here’s what happened: Last Sunday, my neighbour looks out of her bedroom window and sees two heads bobbing up and down by my car, which is parked on the street, in front of her door. In hope for a quick buck, two guys are in the process of cutting off the cable ties securing my hubcaps. My elderly neighbour bangs against her window glass and shouts at them but by the time she makes it out of her front door, the thieves have made off with the loot.

Now, my neighbour is one of those amazing South African women who cannot be discouraged that easily. Having lived in our neighbourhood for the past 60 years, she shuffles through the streets in search of the thieves, putting word out to the entire community of which she is a respected member.

Before you know it, the guys, unable to sell their loot because they’re in the spotlight, are caught red-handed. Minutes later, they are busy at my car again, this time putting the hubcaps back onto my tyres — under the careful supervision of my neighbour.

A few days later, a friend pays me a visit and while we chat in my living room, we hear the unfortunate noise of shattering glass. When we open the front door, we see that two guys have broken the back window of his car in search for hidden goods. We shout at them, but they threaten to shoot us and run off. Their iron crowbars are also rather discouraging.

Although it is almost midnight, a variety of neighbours come out onto the street to find out what the racket is about (one of them even in his pyjamas). Immediately the one jumps into his car in search for the criminals, while another one (who just moved into the neighbourhood and I hardly know) offers to go on a ride with my friend in search for his stolen bag. The police, of course, which we called immediately, don’t come.

A window was broken and a bag with expensive clothes stolen and never recovered (and yes, he shouldn’t have left it there, but one is always smarter in hindsight, right?) but that night neighbours became friends. Now you might think this is naïve (or that I’m living in the wrong neighbourhood) but it confirmed for me that, despite of all the negative stuff that happens, there are a lot of great people living in this country. And it restored my hope.

  • haiwa tigere

    Two crimes against one “household” in one week. and they had guns and crowbars and the police never involved .Crime in SA must be worse than I thought.your cases would never count in the statistics will they?
    Glad you can squeeze some comfort from that experience though god knows how you do it.

    a perverse thought-how long will the hubcabs thieves get for stealing hubcabs. 2 days in jail.and they will be back to steal more hubcabs i can be sure. is your neibhoiur prepared to die for hubcabs. shouting at thieves with gus for hubcabs or clothes may be good for moral but terrible when a bullet rips through you.
    you kind of hope i just cn do without

  • Andrew

    I could easily live with the petty crime you have just described. It’s even to a degree understandable given the circumstances of many people in this country. It is the often senseless violence associated with crime that makes me uneasy.

  • john Bond

    I met a British Copper at Isaldwana last year who had never been involved in a murder. What made this so much more astounding is that I had unsuccessfully tried to stop a murder a month before. Fate? I think not! Most South Africans will witnessed a killing in their lifetime. Some of us will witness several. I am on my fourth – I wear this like a Boy Scout badge, forgetting each killing was a human, a person with hopes and fears like my own.

    How can you have faith in our society when the robberies and killings are so common? Surely, there has to be some prospect of an improvement first.

    How can you look to a community for protection when we have one of the biggest police forces (per capita)? We have 3.7 police per 10 000 while the world average is below 2.0.

    It is time for some realism. This “subjective reality” stuff is getting dangerous. Burying our heads in the sand and pretending this war is not happening is just plain stupid.

  • Hugh Robinson

    Tell us where you stay and we will move in. In our neighbourhood they hide behind closed doors with guns in hand while I run around at three o clock in the morning in the middle of winter baseball bat in hand wear underpants. All becuse some guy had a sissy fit with his queer lover.

    To top that off they phone up just as all is sorted with the police and such to ask what the fuss is about.

    No ubuntu or brave Bantu in our street. They say I am mad to want to help with the breakins and such but I am sure that it the underpants that puts them off.

  • Edwin Matlapeng


    thanks for an uplifting article.

    crime is a result of a grossly unequal society everywhere in the world we go. by attacking this unequality, you have a chance at crime. if the unequality is as big as in this country, we have to rely on our interpersonal and organisational abilities to foster an enviroment of neighbourliness like what you have in your case. well done!

    the most worrying aspect about crime rhetoric in this country is people who believe that crime and apartheid have nothing to do with each other. affirmitive action and bee have probably done much more to alleviate crime than no matter how many built-in communities in sandton! these programmes give the poor a chance at life! and yet many people are against these programs. taking in a disadvantaged child,your domestic helpers child, adopting a school or something, these are the programmes and actions which will exemplify our will as south africans! these are the areas our commonness/idnetity is going to grow out of. criminals are going to kill many of us law abiding citizens. but it takes us to do nothing for them to conquer. and i just feel that emigrating and doing nothing is expecting a hundred and odd year problem to be sorted out in a short time. even buying the solution at a billion rand is expedient for me. we need a lasting solution.

    no criminal will outlast us if we do that

  • Peter Win

    Far from living in the wrong neighbourhood, I’d say you’re living in the right place ! A great story ! Crime only prospers when good people ignore it. I’d say your experience is tremendously inspiring !

  • Homesick Saffa

    I’m currently in Hong Kong- I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled for the last 6 months. I have now been living in Hong Kong for 4 months. There are only a handful of homeless, they have every kind of structure and substructure in place. It’s truly a wonderful place. I’m a white south african- one of the people who was lucky to get a good education and have a stable background. I stand in china and I look around and I think, i miss the love. I’ve decided to come home to live and start my life. There is definitely the unity of Ubuntu in South Africa- but both white and black alike have to embrace it. If the people begin to stand together against crime like you mentioned above. Then there is hope. It can no longer be pages of negative bullsh!t. People have to accept there is crime- they need to make a plan to combat it. If there is no government to do it- we need to find another way. I’m not saying i have answers, but i have hope in the people of SA. The statistics will blind anyone. We need to make our own way together and combat this beast- the people that leave, must leave. We need to do it together. I’d rather live on the frontier than live in a glass box of brooding boredom.

  • john Bond

    @ Edwin

    I agree with you that our crime problem is related to our legacy. Apartheid – yes but much, much more. Our Zulu, Sotho and Xhosa cultures play a part. Added to this, the previous generations did not seek education and other ways to uplift the economic future of our children. Even the riots against education in 1976 played a pivotal role in our current criminality. Don’t blame all your woes on the Afrikaaner, he wasn’t a superhuman, he wasn’t a GOD.

    How to move forward?

    Well we’ve tried throwing both lots of money and hundreds of loyal ANC cadre at the problem and, even though the police have been lying about the crime statistics, the figure the Police put out show no improvement. (That must mean crime is getting worse!!!)

    Maybe it is time to look somewhere else, how about looking at ourselves…

    Don’t give that tired and stupid response – “Oh no, we can’t do anything, We are who we are because of the Afrikaaner legacy and we can’t change that. Why should we make any effort to stop it when we can blame someone else.”

    Let’s change who we are and take a stand against crime, corrupt police dishonest politicians and inefficient public servants. Let’s stop blaming the wrong people, it’s our problem and it’s our fault too.