There is nothing quite like the gut punch when you walk out to the spot you thought you parked your car – and see empty space.
It’s happened to me twice.
The first theft was of a 1965 Cortina GT – and, as my first car, it was not only my pride and joy, it was a financial millstone around my neck. Although I financed the purchase price (equivalent to more than four months’ salary) with a loan from the Bank of Mom and Dad, I still owed most of that money. And my mother insisted it be paid back in full.
I didn’t have full insurance, either. I spent a restless weekend after the Friday night theft, driving around townships, looking for a chop shop and a white Cortina. I got a call from the police on Monday afternoon. My car had, apparently, been recovered the morning after it was taken.
I had made repeated calls to the police station and been told there was no progress, despite the car sitting in their yard. My best guess: the cops stripped most of it.
I’ve never forgotten the heart-breaking process of going over the car, which was lying, wheel-less, on its belly. As cops walked past, I looked inside. No steering, no gauges, no gearknob, no aluminium rubbing strips under the doors. Still fixable.
Then, to the engine compartment. No Weber carburettor, no starter motor, no generator, no battery. The hill to restoration got a lot steeper.
I wonder if they took the spare wheel, I thought, and opened the boot … to be greeted by a huge hole where the petrol tank had been. A quick call to a friend and he agreed to take it off my hands.
It took me another two years before I could afford to get a replacement.
That case never ended up in court. Nor did the one when our VW Jetta was stolen on a Saturday morning in Randburg, while we watched my son playing rugby.
The only case which did end up in court was the burglary of our house in Randburg, shortly after we moved to Johannesburg in 1990. Two perpetrators were caught after the neighbour saw them breaking in and called the police.
Six months later, my neighbour and I – as witnesses – went to the Joburg Magistrate’s Court, where we were shocked to discover there was a warrant out for our arrest for failing to appear at a previous hearing.
We knew nothing about it and found out later the cop serving the summon had forged our signatures. Funnily, the perps walked, because the magistrate thought: Shem, they have been inside for six months already and you people are covered by insurance anyway.
Those incidents show you what passes for justice in southern Africa.
However, before anyone jumps to blame the ANC and affirmative action, I will point out the cops involved in all of these cases were white. Which reminds me: what is the most pointless thing that happens every day in South Africa? Taking fingerprints at crime scenes.
So, you’ll excuse me if I am a little cynical about the police and their connection to law and order and justice.
And you’ll excuse my guffaws when the “Cat in the Hat”, Police Minister Bheki Cele, wants 7 000 more police personnel to keep up with the country’s burgeoning population. You can’t do the job no matter how many people you have, minister.
At least I have insurance. And I don’t work at a mine in Marikana.