Is it really fiction? The Unimaginable Realities of Crime in South Africa

It is just after dusk. I hop off the Bus. The relief is exciting because the anxiety of being inside the bus with all windows shut constantly reminds me of the Covid-19 virus that is lurking. I walk down the street of Bok, Polokwane. A group of ladies standing by the road side with their skirts way above their knees, to a point I could almost see things I do not want to mention. Smoke comes out from both their mouths and nostrils. A fancy German car hoots and all of a sudden the skirts are almost off. They get to the car, and I hear them call the driver all sorts of names. And I think to myself, these must be the most romantic and melodious names I have ever heard.

Meanwhile a man emerges out of no-where behind me. Although fascinated by the ladies of the night, I am scared of the man behind me. I increase my pace, and start jogging. Thinking, haste is a solution. Unaware that the streets at night belongs to them. They own them. They run them, and they use all means necessary to get their way. We just call them “Nyaope boys”, but the truth is, they are part of the major crime problems which go unnoticed, perhaps ignored and even unaccounted for on the streets of capitals cities.

As I walk faster, more of them peel of the walls of the fortified houses along this street. I have always thought fortification is unnecessary but now I know better. Before I know it, both my hands are held up against a vicious barbed wire, and I can feel its ruthlessness on my back. A knife raised to my forehead. Knees in between my thighs. The ladies are just watching, and the men are going on about their business. My laptop, phone, wallet, keys to my apartment and lunch box are all gone by the time ‘I am set free’.

With fear and shame I walk, and then begin jogging, to my place. I had just experienced crime at first hand and I know my life will never be the same again.

Does it all feel and sound fictitious? From a literary perspective it sure does, but it is not. Often we academics remove ourselves from reality, building glass houses in the comforts of our labs, libraries and offices. This is where we debate what are ‘thought’ to be key issues of democracy and humanity, and forget the simple things such as human dignity and safety. These are compromised on a daily basis by the system that fails to detect criminals and keep our streets safe by putting these criminals behind bars.

My research interest is in crime fiction, and now I wonder why I study a fiction of something that is already a reality. My argument has always been that fiction offers some kind of solace to victims. Now, having experienced crime at first hand, I can tell you, it does not. Your belongings forcefully and violently taken away from you by men who have made crime a career is not only psychologically damaging but also makes you question your very own right to exist and to be free. Even though writers of crime fiction exploits the genre’s popular formulae to extend its critical boundaries so that these texts can engage with the many difficult, and conflicted moral concerns that shape contemporary South African society, the genre itself does little in helping us cope with the actual crime. Perhaps it is time to engage in ‘empirical research’ and not to imagine our everyday realities through fiction.

 All these makes me question my very own scholarship and realities of everyday.