‘Terror rushes through my body and floods my brain, roaring in my ears. He shoves the gun against my right temple.’
Jani Allan recounts her ordeal of when she was held up at gun-point outside her Clifton home in 2001. She also weighs in on the new debate surrounding gun control in the wake of the murder of Senzo Meyiwa. Allan contends that a licensed firearm is a viable means of protection. She continues to diagnose a ‘gun culture’ image problem in South Africa.
Cape Town, 2001
It is one a.m. in the morning. I have just finished doing a radio show at Cape Talk in Cape Town.
I drive along Victoria Road in Clifton in the black, bandaged night.
As I turn into the driveway of La Corniche, I notice a young black man walking towards me with a jaunty gait. He is wearing an expensive leather jacket.
The young man comes closer. I assume he is trying to help me open the boom gate.
Since he looks Muslim, I say “Shukrain, shukrain” – ‘thank you, thank you!’
Still he comes closer.
I urgently fish around in my bag to give him some money. ‘Shukrai…” I begin again. Now I know he isn’t looking for a tip.
He is standing a yard away from me, right up at the half-open window of the car. I can smell him. It is the acrid smell of evil. His face is expressionless. Only his eyes move like those of a lizard behind the cracks in a stone wall. He reaches down into the front of his jeans. Oh my God! He is a flasher. The thought crackles through my mind like electricity.
Slowly he reaches down and pulls a huge gun out of his trousers. Terror rushes through my body and floods my brain, roaring in my ears. He shoves the gun against my right temple.
‘Give me the car…the cell phone…the dog….’ He says cocking his head to where Tiggy, my three pound Pomeranian is lying in her little traveler on the seat beside me. All that stuff about seeing your life before your eyes is more or less true. My mind goes into slide-show mode.
I see the inside of the car spattered with blood. Half my head is blown away. The next is the dashboard flecked with gobs of flesh…the next image is that of a tiny auburn dog lying in a pool of maroon congealing blood. It’s pure Pulp Fiction.
Before any of these images can become a reality my left arm swings up and with all the force I can muster, I hit the gun away from my head, using the heavy African bracelet I always wear. At the same time I hear an eerie scream which grows louder and louder. It is an ancient siren; a banshee wail that swirls around the car swoops down to the crashing waves and then drifts up to the mountains.
The Munch-like scream is coming from me.
The man with the gun looks as though he has seen something he was not expecting to. His eyes widen. In truth, he looks frightened. He turns and lopes off into the night like a jackal. A jackal in an expensive leather jacket.
I confronted murder twelve years before in 1989 when I survived an assassination attempt on my life. I appeared on the same ‘hit list’ as Desmond Tutu and FW de Klerk. The Orde van die Dood (Order of Death) began with a campaign of intimidation. Prowlers outside my apartment. Death threats by telephone. Dead white roses at my door – a far cry from my favourite bouquets of St Joseph lilies. Then came the limpet mine that exploded in my Sandton apartment. Their original plan was to kill me with a crossbow.
But it was being held-up with a Magnum 44 that capsized my anti-gun stance.
There are over 17,000 murders a year in the killing fields of South Africa. For the first time in 20 years the number of murders and the murder rate has increased for a second consecutive year.
In post-apartheid South Africa, the machinery of social control has collapsed. The chasm of freedom has been filled by rabid, competitive and conspicuous displays of consumerism. And sport.
Glitz, bling, beef, jocks, chicks, guns and wheels, the spectacle of the high life, are, for many, the only image of desired existence in post-apartheid South of Africa.
Americans often ask me why South Africa is such an endemically violent society. I try and explain that this is the legacy of an unequal and race-based society.
Add to this the current economic stagnation in South Africa, insupportable frustration with rising unemployment, broken education systems, social immobility and the growing disparity between rich and poor.
Oh, then there is a ruling political elite that is hallmarked with moral turpitude.
Historically, Dutch and British colonial subjugation led to the dispossession and uprooting of native inhabitants.
During apartheid, black people were brutalized by poverty and their family structures destroyed as the male migrant worker population was enslaved.
Fast forward to 2014.
The white Afrikaans communities – those in the higher income groups – are politically disempowered and this results in vast reservoirs of underlying resentment, fear and anger.
An underclass of white squatters – how the roles have been capsized – is similarly aggrieved.
Both blacks and whites have obsolete patriarchal baggage.
At best, this becomes manifest in a general attitude of suspicion, distrust, barely suppressed aggression, and a readiness to defend bodily integrity with every means at hand. (CF Oscar Pistorius)
At the worst it flares up during incidents of road-rage, temper tantrums, public brawls, racist shooting sprees and family murders.
‘Murder is the most violent and potent of society’s destabilisers. It presents a dangerous puzzle, and we study it constantly in an effort to find a solution.’ I chose this analysis by Professor Dap Louw in the wake of the murder of Bafana Bafana captain, Senzo Meyiwa. The government has responded to Meyiwa’s murder by pledging harsher gun control measures.
If past performance is an indicator of future performance then we should be gravely concerned that the government is taking up the mantle of gun control. The firearm amnesty set forward by the Firearms Control Act (2000) has been undermined by the rampant corruption of the South African police:
- A 2012 report estimates that the police lost 18 196 firearms between April 2005 and March 2011.
- A recent report establishes that 14 000 police firearms are now estimated to be in the hands of criminals.
Citizens that gave up their firearms in good faith now find their guns used against them at home and at shopping malls. A source alleges that (at a price) the police hand stolen guns to inmates as they leave prison or the cell-block at the police station. A 2011 investigation by the South African Institute of Race Relations revealed that police criminality was rife. The institute examined 100 cases where the police were involved in assault, murder, rape and armed robberies.
Charl van Wyk was in the Saint James Church, Kenilworth in 1993 when AK47-wielding APLA members attacked it. The attackers killed 11 worshippers. He was the lone-armed congregant who shot back at the attackers. The commander of the Marxist group who claimed responsibility for the attack said that the congregation was attacked because they were believed to be unarmed. The St James Massacre in 1993 and the East London pub attack (among many other unreported or unreported upon, incidents) are examples of lives saved by licensed firearm owners returning fire.
Several schools in the USA (which are gun-free zones) have been attacked, which proves that the mere status as a gun-free zone does not prevent homicidal attacks. Innocent people are sitting ducks as the cliché goes. There are a plethora of murder cases in South Africa that may have offered different outcomes had the victims been armed.
Months after leaving South Africa, I am at home in the United States watching television when images of Marike de Klerk flicker across the screen during the evening news. I am horrified to read the news banner: ‘South Africa: Former First Lady murdered at home’.
De Klerk, a political figure in her own right as the former leader of the National Party’s women’s league could no longer count on the protection of bodyguards after her divorce from FW de Klerk. Her new status relegated her to travelling with a can of insect spray on the passenger seat. The high walls and sophisticated security of Marike’s secure complex would offer the wealthy residents peace of mind were it not for an internal threat. A security guard at the complex employed to protect residents would would abuse his role by stabbing, beating and strangling the final first lady of the the Apartheid era.
Two years later and I’m sitting at a café in New York’s East Village reading the New York Times. An article on my home country captures my attention. My mind races as I read about the blood-stained floorboards of a little white house in an Atlantic Seaboard suburb of Cape Town. Nine gay men – mostly young Afrikaners – were brutally murdered by two assailants at Sizzler’s massage parlour in Sea Point.
The tragic vulnerability of these victims also speaks to a gun culture that fails to fully represent society. Women and gay men may feel either excluded and/or wary of a gun culture that often appears exclusively white, heterosexual and macho on steroids.
These unarmed victims don’t fit the profile of a gun owner.
Instead we see Oscar Pistorius is the ideal poster-child for gun control. The locked bathroom door tragedy precedes the zombie-stopper and tales of restaurant fire. His behaviour also speaks to a Pistorius gun culture.
The Pistorius family reportedly owned 55 firearms. Pistorius’ father Henke allegedly shot himself in the testicles while in the company of his then girlfriend, former Miss World, Anneline Kriel. These kinds of men, it seems, equate guns with virility.
Elsewhere this gun culture may prevail at a braaivleis in a white working-class suburb. This ritual evokes the early Afrikaners that rode across the endless veld and cooked their game in the open. This evocation of the hunter-gatherer is a deeply masculine and nationalistic mental image.
The braaivleis may be punctured by ruddy faced men sporting wife beaters that struggle to conceal their expanding girths. Tumblers overflowing with klippes and coke. Alcohol leads to displays of bombastic bravado and this is when guns come out.
Still, these social portraits are not reason alone for draconian gun control measures. They instead represent a crisis of attitudes. An attitude that qualifies a gun as confirmation of a man’s masculinity. The likes of Adam Lanza, Oscar Pistorius and the braaivleis repeat offenders suffer from arrested development.
A gun culture should instead foster the ideals of Swiss gun-owners. The famously ‘neutral’ nation has the fourth highest rate of gun ownership per capita in the world – yet maintains low crime rates. The nation has not been afflicted by a series of school shootings as it benefits from ‘a culture of responsibility and safety that is anchored in society and passed from generation to generation.’
As Charlton Heston once confessed to me: ‘Vanessa Redgrave is a close friend, although I differ from her politically.’ If the long-term president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) can find common ground with Vanessa the Red then I believe we can reshape gun culture.
Rigorous gun safety classes and the psychological screening of licensed firearm candidates will always be preferable to a wholesale ban on licensed firearms. The nation would have to be lobotomized to trust the SAPS to handle another firearms amnesty.
Most licensed firearm owners – the silent majority – are responsible.
The death of a talented young footballer will be a deeply psychological blow for South Africa’s black youth. Perhaps if the brilliant young footballer was armed he wouldn’t have been gunned down.
I’m with Switzerland. Citizens are required to own a firearm and be proficient in the handling thereof.
Additional research by Gareth Davies.