every day is for the thief

‘I’m not being racist, you must believe that, but the crime here is committed by the black foreigners, by Zimbabweans and Mozambicans,’ says N, a tall, black South African policeman.

‘I can’t get ahead here, that’s why I want to leave. They only give jobs to black people, it’s always the same: black empowerment. Before it was the whites, now it’s the blacks. We Asians are always left out, no matter how well qualified we are’ says M, a short South African policewoman of Asian origin.

‘So what’s crime like in London?’

‘Well, it’s not like here. You don’t have to put bars on your windows, or electric fencing around your garden. But there is crime.’


‘For example, a man was stabbed to death on a bus in North East London for asking a guy to stop throwing chips at his girlfriend.’

‘No! That doesn’t happen in London. You’re making it up.’

‘You might get stabbed in London for looking at someone in the wrong way, or for being gay, but you are less likely to be stabbed for your wallet.’

‘I don’t believe you. You’re making it up. And is it blacks and coloureds who do the crime there too, like here?’

‘All sorts carry out crimes in the UK, of all colours. Aren’t there white criminals here?’

‘Not really. Not really. The whites are racist, but they aren’t criminals.’

P.S. But one white man who was once South African (in fact, the self-declared ‘son of Africa’), would, according to some, fall into the category of a crook. He is of course Peter Hain. And what I want to know is how an internal party election could possibly require £10k, let alone £180,000 plus. What is there to spend it on? Can someone please enlighten me? If this isn’t some sort of bribery and corruption, then what is?

P.P.S. And for a little more on thieves, Teju Cole has a book on sale now, here. I’m told it’s very good.


2 thoughts on “every day is for the thief

  1. I don’t think I agree with you that violence in South Africa is more likely to have robbery as a motivation than is the case in the UK. It’s true that something usually is stolen in the course of a violent incident, but the level of violence involved in robberies is usually disproportionate to the simple requirements of getting hold of the goods. If people get stabbed or beaten during a robbery, it’s not normally because they failed to hand over the goods – it’s just because the assailants feel like it. Take the much-reported case of the embassy dinner. There was no need beat the ambassador senseless.
    Likewise, rape often happens in the course of a housebreaking where possessions are also stolen, but rape is clearly not a strategy to get hold of goods.
    There still does seem to be a difference in the patterns of violence in SA and UK though – the chips incident you described would seem quite odd in SA. Then on the other hand, it sounds pretty odd in the UK as well! One big difference is that in SA, the most serious violence seems to happen in people’s homes (either among family members or in the course of a housebreaking), whereas in the UK it’s in public spaces. Muggings in SA tend to involve threat rather than actual violence. You’re more likely to get killed by a robber in your home than by a robber on the street. Or am I wrong in generalising like that?

  2. JP
    I don’t know the answers to these questions. But you are right to pull me up. The ambassador’s party sounded dreadful – and he, a guest, and his wife, were, if I remember the reports correctly, beaten about, as you say, for no reason other than perhaps the nerves and anger and violence of the aggressors.
    I suppose what I would say about violence in, at least, the part of London I know best, (Hackney, E5), is that it is often motivated by paranoia, disaffection and anger at (apparently) nothing. Though, I believe, that ‘nothing’ is to do with the society in which we live (in London). I was told by a South African lady here that she had come back from the UK to teach in South Africa, because she was so overwhelmed by the level of violence and lack of respect shown by British pupils in schools. She said you would not see that here: she said that kids here want to learn. No doubt a generalisation as well, but still interesting.
    I’m rambling…. Lara

Comments are closed.