Thursday, October 18, 2007

Who will make the South African crime movie?

"The Brave One" is currently showing at cinemas around the world. Somewhat controversial, it tells the story of a vigilante response to a violent assault and murder. It stars Jodie Foster and I looked forward to a relevant thought provoking story about crime and punishment. Sadly I was disappointed.

Two of the best movies I have ever seen, let alone about crime, are "Traffic" starring Micheal Douglas and "Man on Fire" starring Denzel Washington. The latter is, in my opinion, one of the most finely produced movies of our time. Tony Scott combines with Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, musical maestro Hans Zimmer and the haunting Lisa Gerrard. These movies are violent and Man on Fire is disturbingly so. But the story is so gripping, everything has its place.

"The Brave One" suffers for this reason. I wondered why it was worth making? Was it a story worth telling?

South Africa needs someone to tell its crime story. Just as Man on Fire is not unpatriotic about Mexico, neither would a warts and all story about South Africa's problems and complexities be.

Stories have been told for centuries. Those that are worthwhile have sought to make sense of the nonsensical. In ancient times these stories may have described the mysterious as mythical, the complex as supernatural. Stories gave reason to the unreasonable, basis to that which played at our thoughts.

As we seek the diversion of a rugby world cup win, as we seek an outlet for our pride and love for this country, some people's lives have been ripped to shreds by the scourge that plagues South Africa.

From News24: A security company called Gideon Odendaal of Pretoria at 16:39 on Tuesday afternoon to inform him that there were problems at his home in Lynnwood Manor.

Odendaal, who was in the Western Cape, phoned home but nobody answered. He then tried to call his wife Kathy's cellphone number, but she didn't answer.

The domestic worker eventually answered her cellphone and all she was able to say was "They're busy hurting her."

Soon after that, Kathy Odendaal, 51, was murdered in her house in Farnham Street by armed attackers who had first raped her.

From IoL: Cathy Odendaal was apparently tortured, sexually assaulted and then murdered by the four-man gang who have been terrorising Pretoria.

But in an unusual mobilisation of forces on Tuesday night, members of the community, along with a group of construction workers from Mamelodi, rallied together to hunt down the alleged culprits.

Two men who were found in possession of an unlicensed handgun and jewellery belonging to Odendaal were arrested - one of them, who was wearing a Springbok jersey, was seriously hurt after being subdued by the workers.

Construction worker Vusi Sithole, who was driving with his brother Johannes and neighbour Colbert Novela, said that as they drove towards Mamelodi they spotted a man holding a woman around the throat. He was wearing a Springbok jersey.

Chasing after him, the three escaped with their lives after the man, who had hidden behind a clump of bushes in Cedar Street, leapt at their truck, pushed a gun into the driving compartment and opened fire.

Novela had a spade with him and managed to push the spade against the gun, deflecting the bullet.

The three men pushing the man from the truck and attacked him with the spade and a rock, overpowering him before stopping a passing police patrol.

Sithole burst into tears on hearing of Odendaal's murder.

"If only we could have done something to save her. I wish we could have caught the man before he killed that lady," he said.

From News24: The woman's son arrived on his scooter at his mother's home, at about 20:00 on Tuesday night.

He had not yet been informed of the attack.

"What's going on here? Is everything all right? Is my mom OK? Tell me, tell me?!" he wanted to know.

When a policeman told him that his mother had died, he burst into tears and cried in the policeman's arms.

Beeld heard that the woman's husband was in Cape Town. Her daughter had not yet been informed of her mother's death.

Again from News24: Members of the police forensics unit were fine-combing the Odendaal home on Wednesday morning for leads.

While the police were conducting their search, Marlize Odendaal, the victim's daughter, arrived at the house.

She was in the Kruger National Park when her mother was murdered.

Marlize sat on the pavement outside and just stared at the house.

"It's terrible, what happened to my mother," she said.

A third man has been arrested for the Odendaal murder after assistance by the Mamelodi community. The three suspects have been linked to the shooting of a three year old neighbor to the Odendaals this last weekend in addition to a host of other crimes.

Meanwhile, Ryan Holmes, a 22-year-old Tukkies student who was shot during a hijacking some weeks back remains in a coma.

You can be sure the Odendaal and Holmes families will never recover from these tragedies.

To appreciate some of the agony that victims go through, consider the exceptional case of Seiso Ratsoana. From the Sunday Times:

In August last year, two boys — then aged 12 and 11, I’ve been told — locked themselves in a house in Mabopane, outside Pretoria, with Seiso, who was then a year and 10 months old.

They poured boiling water over Seiso’s head and his groin. They used a knife to peel off parts of his scalp as his skin flaked. They pushed nails through his tongue.

They rubbed chilli into his wounds and into his rectum. They stuffed his mouth with pills to stop him screaming.

When Seiso’s rescuers finally broke into the house, the boys were apparently preparing to pour boiling oil over him and hack off the soles of his feet.


Debbie, a young volunteer at the Children of Fire, takes Seiso to Milpark Hospital every day to have the dressings on his groin changed. The risk of infection is considerable; Seiso is not toilet trained, his bandages are often soaked in urine.


“Nurse comes in at 10.30. Debbie holds torso down. I hold his legs down. Nurse starts cutting staples. Seiso screams. Writhes in agony. Screams louder. Nurse continues cutting. Seiso screams louder. More cuts. More blood. Another nurse comes in. She takes over from me holding legs down. I go to bathroom. Debbie and I agree afterwards that the doctor should be there next time to see how well the Stopayne f***ing works.”

I cried when I read this story. It is not the only child tortured. In the North West province last year, robbers burnt a child with molten wax in attempts to get his parents to tell them where money and guns were. And of course many other people including the aged have been similarly tortured with boiling water, etc.

But Seiso Ratsoana's story is something else. I try to imagine his pain. No matter what pain I've been through it just cannot compare to a little boy who does not even have muscles in his groin left from the burns administered to him. Imagine a little boy who possibly has no memory of a life without pain. And who knows it was someone else that did this to him.

What creates a 12 year old psychopath? Why do we have people growing up to be monsters? Psychopathy is incurable. Psychologists will tell you they suspect that South Africa produces these monsters at an unmatched rate.

I am currently reading Anthony Altbeker's "A Country At War With Itself." It is interesting, but so far I'm short on answers as to the psychology behind South African violent crime.

It would make a story worth telling. Not as a documentary, but a personal story set in South Africa.


Anonymous said...

im returning to SA after 5 years in London... Ive always been passionately defensive of my country and hold the brightest candle of hope. Its really hard though not to side with the thousands of pessimists this side of the world as they explain why they are not returning when you read stuff like this.

Im still coming back but I can tell you Im scared, very very scared.

It is the question said...


There are lots of people like you and I who manage to see the good things too.

The only way for South Africa to move forward is balanced views from those that love the country and pressure to change and fight crime.

And there is a lot to enjoy and love about South Africa.

I have a number of friends who have come back - given up Wall Street jobs, etc.

We can fix the problems.