Survivors of crime

talk to Jil

At the end of 2019, I became a number, Case Number XX, a survivor of a violent crime.

I share the experience with many others who were told, “if you are not hurt it’s okay, things are only things.”

And daily we read in the press of others who have had the same or similar experiences.

While we are all extremely grateful, thankful to have escaped physically unharmed, and we are okay, it is not okay.

I wonder what has happened to us to make it okay for our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, husbands, wives, friends, bosses and employees to have watches, no matter what value, ripped off wrists, earrings ripped out of ears while walking in the streets and cell phones demanded by people with guns.

Since when is it okay for our phones to be demanded under threat of death, no matter where we are, no matter what value, no matter how cheaply or expensively our phones are made to look pretty or cool.

Our phones. These are the tools we use as a support line for younger or older people, our employees, our bosses, our people, our friends, children and animals when they are in trouble and need our help.

Since when is it okay to be stalked, followed, tied up and held up at gunpoint.

It is not okay to have our tools for our livelihoods and those of others in our employ taken by force.

It is not okay to have our schools robbed of learning materials we use to empower children so they can dream big dreams which tomorrow will become the Apples, Googles, Microsofts, Buffets and Bransons of the world employing thousands of people.

Should we not be protecting learning places with all the security know-how so our children are allowed to grow up and to be part of a crowd?

Or to stand out in the crowd no matter what their circumstances?

And since when is it okay for our workplaces, the happy place for many of our people, to be stripped bare?

These are the places where our employees come to earn a living for their families, are motivated, achieve, get promoted, support people, build things, keep our economy going, innovate and clear a path for others to follow.

On the day of my case my happy places filled with people who, on hearing what had happened to me, had flashbacks of their own.

Like it happened to them on the same day.

They re-lived their stories with the same sensory detail they had experienced a few months ago or many, many years back.

On the day we became each other’s counsellors.

Sharing experiences was a good thing.

A catharsis.

It changed everyone.

It became a motivator, a catalyst in a way, for change, to do something.

We are not being robbed of only things.

We are being robbed of our opportunities to feel joy, pride, achievement, a good sense of self-worth and belonging to a happy neighbourhood, a suburb and a happy country.

Criminals, “they”, are trying to replace our good, positive feelings with fear, worry, anxiety, rage, anger, guilt and sadness.

We have not been trained to cope in a life where those we care about most face danger every day from “them”.

Who are they?  Fellow citizens? Visitors to our space? Those passing through?

After our days together unloading, some people re-wired their homes, changed their lighting. Some people started new support networks, others re-evaluated their lifestyles; where to shop, how to shop, who to employ and where to find them.

We all re-evaluated where we live, where we work, what we do, how we dress, where we go and and how best to cope.

And yes, some people put in their applications for Canada and New Zealand.

Not because they don’t want to be in South Africa. And not because they are negative. They became overwhelmed by it all and needed other mechanisms to help them to cope.

Here are the recollections that were shared during that time and until now, Saturday 02 May 2020.

With time, hopefully, the severity of the shock and pain of the experiences of all those who shared their inner most emotions and thoughts during those days will reduce.

“With my first paycheque, I bought a radio. I had researched the radio and had chosen the best technology to buy with my first paycheque.” Stolen.

“I was so proud the day I bought my first new car. It was a red car.” Stolen. “After that every red car of the same make I saw I believed was mine. I fought to get my red car back, even on one occasion chasing a red car through the streets. Eventually I had to face myself. I would never get my red car back, I had to let it go.”

“I woke up, my place had been robbed overnight, I had been drugged. I never heard or saw a thing. I had to start my life over. I am okay now.”

“My first brand new car for which I had saved every penny.” Stolen. “Then when I had to claim from insurance, the insurance company had liquidated. I had to start my life over. I am okay now.”

“My wife bought a brand new car, her first new car in her life. It was a beautiful car. I was hijacked driving my wife’s brand new car, made to lie on the ground with a gun to my head. I am okay now.”

“I was in my office working on a deadline. They broke in and stole goods. The trigger of the gun against my head was pulled four times, it never went off. I can still hear the click sound in my head. When I heard about Jil’s experience, my sobs about my own experience returned and I could not stop them. I am okay now.”

“I had two young children in my car. In my driveway a professional gunman hijacked me. My first thought was to get to the panic button, the gunman tripped me. I felt a sense of peace as everything but the current situation disappeared. The sense of peace I felt whilst lying on the floor was amazing and unforgettable. It was then that I got up and got to the car. The gunman unlocked the doors and let me take out the children. At this point my neighbour had arrived and helped me get the kids out of the car. By this time the gunman was already in the driver’s seat. Afterwards, I wrote down everything and put together a pamphlet on what and what not to do in a hijacking. I found this helped me deal with the trauma and at the same time gave me a sense of peace knowing I could possibly help others. I am at peace now. My children are okay, they are at varsity now.”

“We have been robbed six times. Imagine, we have had to pay six times for the privilege to watch TV and go through six times of family counselling to help repair the intangible damage to our lives.”

“I was working at a bar at a sports club. Gunmen arrived. We were told to lie on the floor. We were robbed and held hostage. I went for counselling, it did not help me. I helped myself. I recovered. My friend has still not recovered.”

“Jil, last night I dreamt of rivers of blood. I was taking my son to university. It was raining. There was a homicide. It looked like a river of blood in the rain. My son said, Mum we can’t stop, this person is busy being robbed, we too will be robbed. I wanted to stop to get the person’s name so we could at least tell someone that something had happened to someone they know.”

“Jil, they stole a teacher’s laptop from the classroom.”

“Walking to work, I saw a dead man’s body thrown into a vehicle.”

“I have had two smash and grabs. It took me a while to get the glass out of my hair. I am okay now.”

“I was working in my office. Next minute I saw a face at the window. I jumped up and ran to scare the person away. The next week they broke down my door and stole some of my work tools and small things I had collected from loved ones over the years. For many days I was terrified and struggled to get through each day. I felt terrorized and afraid to go outside. I am okay now.”

“Jil, we were on the way to a conference. In front of us a taxi stopped. A man in a balaclava jumped out. It was cold. He was cold. We thought our lives were about to end. We were terrified and in traffic. We had nowhere to drive to. We thought we were being hijacked. Meanwhile the man was just cold. Our hearts did not stop pounding for most of the day.”

“Jil, they robbed our school. Everything is gone. When the kids come back from lockdown there will be nothing for them to work on.” Sob sob sob. “Who knows when we will be able to get other computers.”

“They broke into my school today. Computers are stolen.” Imagine, while a school principal is busy fund raising to keep learners learning and kids from families in distress into feeding schemes, their learning tools are busy being “vanished”.

“They broke into our school. They ripped out wooden rails for copper fittings, they stole a CCTV camera. We are getting it fixed today.”

And some learners were robbed of the joy and pride of walking onto a stage in front of their parents to receive awards for their outstanding work.

And a teacher was robbed of the joy and pride of achieving a one hundred percent pass rate teaching learners with learning difficulties, a process that had taken three years.

And it continues.

If this is us, then again I ask “What has happened to us?”

If this is not us.

Then simply. It is not okay.

“Only things.” Yes, we are all lucky to be alive and not physically hurt. We are grateful and thankful, though confused as we do live in peacetime.

We are all working to achieve, to celebrate success, to realize dreams and goals met be it mastering the skill of riding our first bike or an exam passed or presenting an award to an employee for targets reached or a company paying bonuses for a year well worked.

“Only things” are not only things. They are days in the lives of our parents, children, colleagues, mentors, families, siblings and friends from which they may take years to recover financially, emotionally and often physically.

And yes, we are all okay now.