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What it was like to escape death at the hands of gangsters in South Africa

July 25, 2013, 8:17 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 795

By riazhussain

Illegal immigration is one of the social issues of our world that is polarized into the developed and underdeveloped countries. It is very difficult to make accurate statistics about illegal immigration worldwide because of its undocumented nature. However, according to some sources there are more than 30 million illegal immigrants that have journeyed from underdeveloped to developed countries. This story shows us a glimpse of the difficulties illegal immigrants face in the target countries. When they leave their native land, they have a rosy picture of the target country but when they reach there, their dreams are shattered.  

Unemployment has made Jaydi, our interviewee for this story, migrate to South Africa illegally. He gave a few hundred dollars to the agent for this purpose. He had to cross the border between Mozambique and South Africa. He was included in a group of illegal immigrants who were going to cross the border. So, led by a guide, the six people started first in a car and then on foot towards the border. The terrain was rocky. They had constant fear of being shot or arrested by the border security force. In addition, they were apprehensive about wild beast and deadly reptiles which might attack them.

They hiked for hours. Such long walks for illegal border crossings kill many migrants due to dehydration and exposure. At last, they came near the border. In order to go to the other side, they still had to cross a couple of mountains. Four members of the group could not maintain their temperament. They got exhausted, fell down and, in the end, were caught by the border security force. Two people succeeded in crossing. Jaydi was one of them.

Upon reaching South Africa, he gave money for the preparation of his papers which would allow him to stay and work in that country. He went to different places in search of a job, Pritoria, Brits and Lodium and performed various jobs there.

Our traveller remembers that in 2007 and 2008, there were riots and attacks on foreigners in South Africa. In 2007, he narrowly escaped death when he was working as a salesman at a grocery store in one of the township. The grocery store was located on a mountain.

In South Africa, the word ‘township’ or ‘location’ refers to non-Whites’ underdeveloped living areas located on the periphery of cities. Life in these townships is marked by poverty, violence and lack infrastructural facilities. It is very easy to buy and keep guns illegally in such locales. Violence is taken as a way of life and not as a crime in these overcrowded slummy areas which abound in beggars. Gangs appear to be part of the culture. Teens idolize the thick-headed gangs and join them when they are only 13-year-old.

As night falls, the reckless gangs move around looking for people they can rob and kill. The gangs are notorious for their savage ways of torturing and murdering people. They don’t just shoot their victims. They cut their ears and the tip of their noses. Then, they gouge out their eyes. When this torture makes a victim faint, they blow away the heads of the victims with their guns and run away with cash and valuables. A news report about life in the townships of South Africa (Graham Boynton of the Telegraph, 15 Nov 2010) says, ‘South Africa's crime statistics make frightening reading – more than 18,000 people are murdered there every year. Very few victims are foreign visitors, but it does seem to be tempting fate to travel through these overcrowded, under lit outskirts on a Saturday night, whatever the brochures say’. This was the environment in which Jaydi had to work at the store. In order to defend himself against any nocturnal adventure of the gangs, he has kept a pistol in the store.

The grocery store had three rooms: the kitchen, the bedroom and the shop. The owner of the store had hired Jaydi on the condition that he would remain at the store day and night. So he used to work in the shop during the day and, go to bed in the small bedroom of the store at night. There used to be an older black lady who worked in the store, washing the utensils and doing various chores.

One night, Jaydie saw two exceedingly agile creatures in human form outside the shop. The 'creatures' were making unbelievably agile movements. They would move to various ends of the landscape within the wink of an eye. At first, he thought that they were members of the black gangs. But, then he discovered that they had long arms that stretched to the topmost branches of the tree. He was frightened at what he was witnessing but at the same time he was inquisitive about the sighting.

The next day he asked the old lady, who worked in the shop, about the two mysterious creatures he had seen the previous night. The old lady said, ‘They are genies. Their names are: ‘Mundavi’ and ‘Banbhoor’. In the afternoon, he told the owner of the store about the strange things he had observed. The owner himself had, actually, experienced such things before. Once, some mysterious force had hurled him against the wall when he was sleeping at night in the bed room of the store. However, the owner gave the appearance of being fearless and told Jaydi to be brave. He asked him that if he liked he could hire a salesgirl or even marry her and keep her in the store.  Thus Jaydi hired a black girl on 500 Rand per month. But he did not trust her because he had heard about the faithlessness and dishonesty of the black women of the township.  Life went on quietly for some weeks. Then one night, the thing he had feared most happened.

When Jaydi had gone to bed, she, secretly, left the back door ajar to let in the gang.  Late at night, the armed gangsters came and, first of all, destroyed the public telephone booth near the store so that no one could inform the police. Then, they stormed the store. Thinking that Jaydi might be sleeping in the bedroom, the girl guided them to it. But, luckily, Jaydi was sleeping in the shop. The noise of the shots made by the gangsters woke him. He had always remained ready for such a situation because he had heard stories from his friends of merciless nightly assaults made by the gangs.

The gangsters were now moving through the shop and shouting to him, ‘Jaydi! Where are you? We don't wanna harm you’. They were giving him reassurances that they did not want to kill him. What they wanted was just the cash in the shop. But, from the experiences of his friends, he knew that if they got hold of him, they would certainly butcher him away. He took out his own pistol. Hiding behind the sacks in the shop, he called his boss from his cell phone and requested him to bring the police. The owner sympathized with Jaydi and told him not to worry about the cash or the shop and advised our friend not to hand himself over to the gang, which in the meantime, still led by the girl, was about to reach the sacks. 

They were now shooting at the walls. As they were approaching the sacks, he shot at them, the bullet piercing the body of the girl. As she fell down, the gangsters panicked and fled to the back door of the store.

When the boss came with the police, he saw the dead body of the girl lying on the shop floor. Jaydi showed them the walls where the gangsters had fired. The police investigated the matter on the spot and took away the dead body. Jaydi finally moved to the city, after having worked at the store for a year.

This story shows us glimpses of some of the complex issues that claim many human lives every year. The economic and social problems that form the background of the story can be addressed by providing education and employment opportunities. Parents in townships do not send children to schools because they cannot afford such expense. And people turn to crimes and illegal immigration when they don’t find jobs. 

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