Over the weekend I met up with my friend the Diplomat and he presented me with an opportunity that I could not resist. We had not chatted since December when he spent his holidays in Cape Town and it was time to catch up. Although his time in the Mother city delivered on all the promises of a well-deserved summer break, the Diplomat told of the misfortune that struck as his car broke down as he was crossing the Boerewors Belt into the southern suburbs, which led to frustrating dealings with a German motor car repair shop and a long wait for repairs in a local gym where his telephone got stolen during a five-minute lapse of attention.

The plot thickened when, a week after the theft of his iPhone, the Diplomat found his iPad suddenly cleaned of all his back-up telephone data and replaced with another individual’s phone book. Uploaded to his devices, which were synced to a cloud back-up application, he could see the new owner’s personal details as if to taunt him that someone out there was blatantly enjoying the benefits of a digital device that he had paid for with his hard-earned money. Yes, he had indeed visited both the iStore to get the phone blacklisted, as well as the local police station to report the new leads in the investigation, but all seemed unperturbed and disinterested. This is South Africa and thousands of telephones are snatched every year — a stolen R14 000 digital device is very last on the priority list of the crime-fighting unit. I mean, it is nothing compared to the R247 million of Nkandla.

Moving along, swiftly.

I was unsettled by the Diplomat’s story, because like all South Africans I am familiar with the feeling of invasion you are left with after your private space has been forcefully entered and your personal property claimed by strangers. I remember the foggy Saturday in my early twenties when I was home alone in the dilapidated student digs in Stellenbosch where I rented for R500 a month, the knock on the door at daybreak and the uniformed man from the security company informing me that there had been an attempted break-in on the property earlier that morning, and that he had been called out to search the unit to ensure that all was in order. It was only after the black-clad stranger had left, after we had been alone in the house for half an hour as he combed the domain, listening to him warn me about the dangers of leaving a set of cooking knives next to an open window, that I noticed the absence of my laptop from my bedroom. I broke out of the early morning sluggishness and face-palmed myself for not asking for identification before letting someone in, or noticing that his sleek black outfit and boots was not the uniform of our neighbourhood security company but that of a stealthy burglar. Then reality struck and I started to tremble.

In South Africa, if you have not suffered directly you are acutely aware that tomorrow could be the day that you stop by the traffic light to hear the glass of your window shatter and watch a strange hand reaching into the personal space of your vehicle, or worse …

Who are the people behind these criminals? I have always wondered. Is organised crime a career choice, like Ocean and his eleven/twelve/thirteen buddies who we watch on screen and egg on as they meticulously plan and execute a “job” of robbing banks and casinos? It’s not so fun when it is your own property and privacy that is coming under attack, now is it? And then I want to know, who are these fuck-nuts who force us to anxiously guard our property and cannot even allow us an hour of peace while we work away our stress in the gym?

But now, with the Diplomat’s breaking news I have been presented with an opportunity to know for sure, at least for one of these individuals, whodunit. While the police showed no interest I was all ears pelting the Diplomat with questions about the new telephone list that had taken over his cloud service. While he had managed to restore his own data from an offline backup, he was hanging on to one piece of evidence from the incident, a specific land line phone number which had caught his attention. “Mum.” I copied down the number and it is now up to me to follow the lead.

To be continued.


Lizette Louw

Lizette Louw

Lizette Louw is a South African storyteller and globe-trotting gypsy. You can follow her blog and read about her upcoming book on her website, Manouchery.me

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