Two Saturdays ago my husband and I left for Jo’burg. Why were we going there? In the particular country where we live in Africa, my husband, Eddy, had been to a few Doctors to assess the infection in his inner ear. He was not satisfied with the diagnosis. Not consistent, he said. So we decided to head to South Africa and see what the Doctors there had to say. Besides being confident that everything would be sorted, I looked forward in visiting one of my favourite places.
We arrived at Tambo International by 6:15am and were out of the airport with our luggage by 6:35am. Although the weather was fresh and warm, there was a strong indication it was going to be a hot day. A friend, Geoff, collected us, and we drove along the undulated roads as he skilfully took on the slightly sharp bends. I commented on the number of buildings that had emerged in the time we had been away. The conversation eventually moved into silence as Eddy and I enjoyed the smooth drive and the lush landscape.
It was a good thirty minutes before we arrived at Geoff’s house. He removed from his pocket a small remote, pressing a button for the electric gate which took its time to open, then pressed a second button on the same remote to open the garage. We drove in, resurrecting the chatter as we sought to catch up with all what each other had been doing, when I slid the car door open and felt a sudden stinging pain to my left cheek. A man stared down at me with glaring eyes. He was saying something to me but I could not work out what it was. I thought he was a beggar asking for money or he was lost and needed directions. He moved to the front of the car and started shouting at Eddy. Again, his words were lost on me. Not that he was speaking in another language, it was a case of not been able to make any sense. It was only when my eyes slowly travelled down his frame that I saw clutched in his hand a gun. I looked in front of me to Geoff. Through the window, I could see the arms of the attacker pointing a gun in the air, and then in one quick movement he cocked it. Geoff raised his hands up. The attacker lowered his arm to point the gun to Geoff’s head. He asked him to hand over his mobile and wallet. Geoff did what he was told.
We all remained calm as we watched helplessly our money, mobiles, handbag and suitcases being taken away. One of them came round to where I was in the back seat and shouted ‘Jewellery!’ I quickly removed my rings but they were not interested in my gold bangle or the gold watch. We all sat and within our minds prayed that they would leave without harming us. They snatched the bunch of house keys and wrestled with the remote. Once it was removed, they wrenched the car keys from the ignition and then pressed the button for the gate and once it had reached half way, they pressed it again for it to stop. The three men scurried out from the garden, got into a car with no number plates where there was another man at the wheel, then left. I sat in the car and felt my insides churning as if on slow speed of a Kenwood mixer. Eddy and Geoff got out quickly to see if anything had been dropped and to see if they could catch a glimpse of the car. Geoff took the bicycle that belonged to the gardener and headed to the police station. The time was 7:20am.
It was now slightly warmer and the street had not woken with the exception of domestic staff making their way to work. The neighbour, who lived opposite said good morning, then asked if everything was all right. We told him what had happened. He was shocked and there was fear in his eyes.
‘If they can do that to you guys, what does that mean for us whites?!’ He then said if they were anything he could do, we shouldn’t hesitate. Another neighbour drove passed, and I could see him looking on with curiosity through his rear window. He halted, then did a three point turn and drove to where we were standing. He asked the same question and we told what happened.
‘What?! Here?! When? Just now??’ He paused and looked about himself stunned. ‘My domestic has just come on duty, let me find out if she knows anything.’ He didn’t waste a second, then left.
We stood in the space where the half opened gate was supposed to cover. Eddy paced up and down with his hands buried deep in his pocket. I looked at him, wanting to say something but I was speechless. There was a part of my cheek that was raised and also felt quite sore. It was 7:50am when Geoff returned. He came with another vehicle and we went to the nearest police station to give a report. This took about forty five minutes and we were given affidavits.
For most of time, we shuffled from one place to the next, trying to sort our passports. The Embassy said they would move quickly to help and would be in touch. We then went to the airline company we flew with, to show them our affidavits and to confirm our seats. I did not feel safe staying at the house, so we went to Garden Court Hotel in Sandton and spent a few nights.
South Africa is a fantastic place, as we have done a number of ‘driving holidays’ from Jo’burg to Durban, or Jo’burg to Cape Town, which we have thoroughly enjoyed. Despite what has happened, seeing work already being started in certain places of the city for the new Underground they want to build in time for 2010, makes me feel excited for the place. But the government has to acknowledge that there is a problem. Otherwise lovers of the country will not be interested in going back there again.