Thursday, October 25, 2012

I got mugged, then got (most of) my stuff back

Today I experienced my first mugging - in fact, my first violent-violent crime (to borrow from Whoopi Goldberg's "rape-rape"). I was walking my dog Vissie through the extended neighbourhood, hoping to take some more stereo train photos along the way. Here's the last train picture I got; unfortunately my muggers are not in the frame; it all happened so soon after the last pic I took that I must assume they are behind me in this image. Exif data says I took it at 17:41.

The purpose for all the train pictures I'm taking is to be able to construct a 3D model of these old 5M2A trainsets for an openBVE route I'm slowly working on - the route from Cape Town to Simons Town. It's surprisingly difficult to get a pair of photos of the same motor unit (I'm concentrating on these - the coaches are boring) with a reasonable angular separation. My camera (you hear that, mugger assholes? MINE!) "thinks" so long between pictures that by the time it's ready to take the second of a set, the train has usually moved a whole length or so. The name of the game then is to find open areas (to get the undercarriage unobscured by station platforms) where the trains tend to move slowly, due to having just left a station, or due to approaching the junction near Heathfield station.

Back to the topic. I was walking my dog. For the last year or so I've been maintaining a map of which routes I've covered. This is what the map looks like today:

The red line is today's route, followed by a blue trail to the police station after my foray into Parkwood. The red 'X' marks the spot. So these two out-of-frame guys grabbed my camera and dog-walking-stuff bag and, I guess, pushed me over. My memory of the details is fuzzy. But I must have realized what was happening just a split second before it went down, because I was able to hold on to one guys, then perhaps the other, grabbing his ankle to make him fall. I hope he tasted a mouthful of sand. I heard of of the guys say "Steek hom!" ("Stab him!"), and I recall thinking, "Shit just got real", looking out for where the knife is. I didn't see one, and in any case, my inner reptile had taken over and decided it was a good idea to pull ankle boy to the ground.

Unfortunately they got away. (Fortunately I didn't get stabbed in the process.) They weren't all that far ahead, and I was able to get up relatively quickly. Reptile decided to throw some conveniently nearby ballast at them, and if my aim had been better, I might have hit them. I just about had the distance. My aim was off though, and the second stone landed on somebody's garden shed's tin roof. (I feel like I should pay a visit and apologize, or at least explain. It feels dishonest to apologize for something I know I'd do again if I rewound the situation.)

I'm a bit bummed that Vissie doesn't really seem to be a hunting dog. She didn't respond to "Go get them!" (Not that I'd expect her to do that - she's quite territorial at home, but doesn't really bring that aggression along on walks.) In my fantasies I'd have a giant Dobermann like family friends' horse-like Spencer chasing them down like helpless prey and barely holding off from making mincemeat of my attackers.

So I had to do the pursuing myself anyway. I rounded the corner of houses, followed the muggers along the canal as they climbed down and out of it the other side (perhaps to pin me on the near side with my dog, but I quickly found an easy way over). Then over the M5 / Prince George Drive, still carrying significant traffic, luckily not having to wait too long to get my gap.

These assholes probably didn't expect a white guy to follow them into Parkwood, a pretty dodgy-looking area. I've given the cleaning lady at my ex work a ride home after year-end functions a few times, so I knew it was going to be "interesting" feeling like there's a target painted on my back going in there hoping to confront my muggers. I managed to follow them a few blocks before I finally lost sight of them, but not before launching another missile at them (which hit a shopkeeper's car instead, dammit).

So there I was, just me and my little dog sticking out like a sore thumb in a pretty depressed area. It's really no wonder that some of the people living in Parkwood engage in opportunistic crimes. Whingeing white people from leafy suburbs like mine, Plumstead, should really think hard about the effects of NIMBY anti-activism.

Feeling rather down, having moved past the momentary anger stage, I knew it was time to fess up. Today wasn't the shopkeeper's best day either. When I went back to that red car I hit, the guy working on it told me it was the shopkeeper's, and that he had just finished "fixing it". I'm not clear on the nature of this fixing - but clearly the man had just finished doing some work on the car for the shopkeeper, when my piece of rubble hit it. Like a bird pooping on freshly washed washing.

During this car-checking male bonding ritual, a little girl came over and said I should "go up there" and get my stuff. No ways, we all (the adults around) reckoned this would be a trap. So we continued talking car, as I was trying to get to a (reasonable) fee to make things right.

Lo and behold, that's when a young lady with a baby on the arm appeared and gave me (most of) my stuff back. She didn't want to give a name, saying only, "Die boere ken my, hulle ken my goed" ("The police know me - they know me well" [1]). I don't understand how that happens, but yes, somehow, someone, somewhere decided that I should get my stuff back, so I did. Whether it was the muggers' mom or some other "strong woman" type who made it happen, I don't know. I certainly don't think it was remorse that made my muggers capitulate on what, to me, was their unassailable position - they had my stuff, and I had lost sight of them. Courtesy of someone, I have two pictures I didn't take. Here's the first post-mugging shot. Exif says 17:52:

The LCD seems to be fine, as is the lens motor and, in gross, the camera exterior. As you could infer from the mugger-cam above, the lens cover is jammed though. There's sand in the crevices between the body panels, so I'm hoping that a teardown + clean can restore lens cover action. If not, I'll have to remove it entirely. I'm optimistic that the optics are still okay - a post-retrieval test showed a blurred but recognizeable scene, which isn't that surprising, given the jammed cover.


The shopkeeper eventually told me "it's okay", and reassured me that his car is insured. The damage is minor, having only chipped some paint off the trunk and rear bumper without denting any panels. It's one of those vexatious "benefits" of owning a car: occasional minor damage that costs the world, relatively, to fix. While I don't really regret throwing stones at my muggers while still at the railway tracks, I really misjudged this one. I'm a bad person and I should feel bad! (I do.) I don't recall having seen any people in the ballistic cone, so things could have been worse (hitting an innocent person), but I definitely should have reigned reptile brain in on this one. In a sense I'd like to make right with the shopkeeper. I'm not sure how. I'd feel a little unsafe going back into Parkwood with a wad of cash to give to him, but other than that I have no connection to him - no name, no phone number. And I don't want to get scammed out of an unreasonable amount in compensation. It's hard for me to trust people from such a different socio-economic background, which is why I didn't give the car fixing guy the R350 he thumbsucked (down from an initial R900 - see what I mean?) as a cost to fix. (I did, in fact, have a few hundred rand in my pocket - my muggerazi forgot to check there!) People can be a little skelm if they perceive you to be "rich", IME.

If I had been more fit, I could have caught up with my assailants sooner and re-confronted them more on my terms rather than on theirs - Parkwood with its "no I didn't see them" ethic. (Thanks to the kids who haven't yet been brainwashed by this shit and pointed me in the direction these guys had run.) If you're fit, you can tire your prey, and then take advantage of your greater metabolic capacity in a fight.

My physique isn't imposing - at all. If I turn sideways I disappear. Of course it's unwise to go around vigilante-style looking for trouble, but it's hard to imagine greater strength being a disadvantage. Being able to more effectively resist attackers might have let me avoid the unplanned road run I had.

Do I regret my choice to stay in South Africa, when I could live in Europe instead? I am a German (dual) citizen, so getting there (and staying, and being able to work) is not a problem. I don't know. I'm sure today's incident will affect my feelings, and make me doubt my wisdom in staying here. Time will tell.

Along the way

Getting out of Parkwood wasn't too hard - I was only a few blocks in. I didn't really feel welcome there, hearing a few "hey, whitey!" calls, but didn't feel particularly unsafe. Just... not exactly welcome. (I got the same vibe once before after dropping Wilma off at home there after some work function.)

In Southfield I encountered a Metro Police officer, and after asking for directions, had a little chat. It was remarkably reassuring, talking to this dad-like someone who was willing to just listen to my story. Perhaps it was partly also my first in-person reconnection post-mugging with the developed side Schrödinger's city, with authority.

Thanks to the lady who was watering her garden and let me drink from the hose. All the exertion had dehydrated me, so my throat was dry and it was rather unpleasant feeling like a piece of biltong.

Diep River SAPS let me lay a charge, this time without my having to squeeze blood out of a rock. I guess I cope with things by making jokes, as I kept poking fun at how I'm reporting "Amount (1) Description (Sock)" among the items stolen. (It was one of an expired pair, that I used to hold spare batteries for my camera.) Either my jokes aren't funny, or the police aren't allowed to laugh at jokes that complainants make.


I expect that I'll be dealing with some post-crime neurosis, like not wanting to walk the 'hood, as my internal risk heuristics recalibrate. I'll probably get over it and over revenge fantasies and other psychological fallout after a while, as it has in the past when crime has affected my life.

While I was getting over the initial shock of having just been relieved of my camera, the thought going through my head wasn't so much, "They stole R1000 worth of my stuff!", but rather, "There are photos on that memory card that I don't have at home!". Keep it in mind, folks, when you go out with your camera. Download photos to somewhere off-camera regularly. Back up your computer too, while you're at it, and store the backup media at a friend's home. And for goodness' sake, don't fall for the "store it in the cloud!" panacea-talk.

[1] "Boere" is a somewhat derogatory term for "police". It translates literally to "farmers", referring to the mostly Afrikaans-speaking "boerevolk" whom many saw as the protagonists of Apartheid. Back then, police officers were almost exclusively white, and stereotypically Afrikaans-speaking.


  1. This is the sad reality of living in South Africa. Having recently spent some time in Germany, the peace of mind I got from feeling so utterly safe was so reassuring. The thing that brought me back to Cape Town was the people. This city has a warmth I didn't realise existed until I left. It's hard though having to settle with putting yourself and your family at risk just living here. I feel one day soon I may be tempted to leave once more.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I think I know what you mean - on both points. In a fully ordered society like Germany (I've been there too - family), that order has a cost - a certain prescriptiveness around you wherever you go. Ja, pick your poison hey.