Many people in South Africa have been victims of crime in one-way or another. I too have been a victim of crime. My incident happened about three years ago while I was still working as a sales person at a store called Las Vegas General Dealer, owned by a Pakistani family. It was early in the morning, at around eleven. The weather was very hot, and there weren’t really any customers coming in yet, so the owner and I went and sat at our favourite spot under the shade, chatting away. Soon one of our regular customers, Jabu, joined us. She was seventeen-years-old and had come to buy some snacks for her mom to resell at the school near the shop. Little did we know that our day would be ruined by a bunch of thugs!
As we continued to chat and laugh, two guys who, in our eyes, seemed like ordinary customers, arrived. The owner got up under the shade and went inside the shop with them. Jabu and I stayed behind and continued chatting a few more minutes, but then Jabu said she needed the snacks so she could go. We got up and went, pausing to chat some more at the shop’s entrance. Jabu, sat on the store window. Then one of the two guys came out of the shop and started to talk to us. We didn’t realize that the other guy who was left inside was pointing a knife at the owner, demanding that he give him money. As the guy was chit-chatting with us, he asked where the security guy was and that he needed to speak to him because, he said, they were cousins. It was stupid of me, but I didn’t suspect his intentions, so I told him the security guy had gone to visit home quickly.
In no more than a minute, the thug instructed Jabu and I to go inside the shop, took out a knife and pointed it at us. He also told us to keep quiet because there were some people opposite the shop who were fixing the school fence. There were also some women who sold sweets and snacks to schoolchildren during school breaks. Jabu’s mother was among those women. He didn’t want them to hear.
The knife really got us scared so we did as the guy told us to do and went inside. The other guy still had Bilal at a corner demanding the money. Our eyes quickly met and I could see that Bilal was really scared, too.
Then the two guys escorted us to the storage room. I can laugh now, three years later, as I remember this part, but I wasn’t laughing back them. The two thieves told us to lie down on the floor, where they put two 25 kilos of maize meal bags on our backs and heads so we couldn’t move. I felt like a bug being squashed on the floor. Now I know how the little fellows feel.
Since Bilal was refusing to show them where the money was, and from what little I could see pressed beneath the maize meal bags, they made him lay down too. Then one of the guys pulled a meat cleaver from under his shirt and started to smack the owner on the bum. I could hear him scream like a little girl and my heart started beating fast. They smacked him a couple of times, but Bilal still wouldn’t tell them where the money was. Eventually, threatening to cut off his manhood caused him to crack. Bilal gave in and led the way to the money, after which they returned him to the storage where we were and locked us in.
They took Bilal’s cell phone, coldrinks, airtime, cigarettes, and about R5000. They ran off with their loot and left us locked inside the storage room. Bilal managed to open the door and set us free. Our cloths, heads and faces were so white from all the maize meal powder that we looked like ghosts. Jabu didn’t even bother to buy the snacks she’d come for. She couldn’t get out of there fast enough! She went and told her mother what happed and people were so shocked that all of this happened under their noses. The entire day I was worried they would return and do something even worse. I no longer felt comfortable and safe there, so I eventually had to quit.
This week, long after my brush with thugs, I learned from my brother that a robbery took place again at the Las Vegas General Dealer. Some guys were robbing the shop at gunpoint this time. My brother was there because I’d sent him to buy bread. He, too, was told at gunpoint to get inside the shop while the criminals took money. Now, even he is afraid to set foot in that shop because it is always being robbed.
It’s not just the Las Vegas shop that is being hit by crime. South Africa as a whole has a big problem as far as crime is concerned. Poverty and unemployment rates are at their highest level ever with the current economic crisis. It now seems to me that some people have truly turned crime into a real career.