Bright young thugs

2011-07-02 09:36

With my hands tightly tied behind my back, and my 87kg body neatly packed and folded in the boot of a hired Renault hatchback – after being hijacked and robbed – the least I expected was to engage in the national discourse about why, as a black person, I’m better off than millions of fellow black men.

Here I am thinking I haven’t ­arrived.

I mean, it’s not as if there is a Range Rover parked in my garage, or a boat in my yard, neither do I own a game farm or any of the trappings associated with the black elite today.

But to those four youths who held me at gunpoint at a Nelspruit intersection, I was a good enough catch and they wanted me to give a detailed account, on behalf of tenderpreneurs and other ill sorts of wannabes, of why “Zuma people” are better off than millions of other black people.

Ironically, this happened a day ­after the June 16 commemoration at Orlando Stadium, where President Jacob Zuma had to address empty seats after arriving three hours late.

And the very same young people, whose issues the nation is supposed to address during the month of June, were hurling insults at me, demanding answers for their plight.“Do you work for Zuma?” a question to which I replied “No!”.

“But why do you carry two ­cellphones, so you are an important man, huh? How much do you have in your bank account. What’s your daily withdrawal limit?”

After stopping at an ATM to ­withdraw money from my account, they told me they were doing this­ ­because they were poor and I must forgive them for this.

From the boot, I grudgingly gave them the pin number for my cheque card.

Since I was paid two days previously, I knew they had hit a ­jackpot. In trying to calm them, I explained that I was once poor and that I understood their situation but, with my ­little education, I managed to change my life for the better.

“So you say education is the ­mother of success, madala (old man)”?, one faceless voice sarcastically quipped from inside the car, I imagined from the boot.

In the heat of our conversation, my perception of my captors (probably in their late teens or early 20s) suddenly took an interesting turn.

In the darkness of the boot, which was my bed for the night, as opposed to the comfort of a hotel room, I pondered: these were bright young people who, under different circumstances, would have been future business and political leaders of our country.

The picture I had seen earlier of bloodthirsty, animal-like young men, ready to take a life at the slightest provocation, suddenly faded.

As the vehicle swerved from one curve to another, from dirt to tarred road and back, from chit-chatting women and friends, from one tavern to the next, lying on my side, curled up like a baby, bumping my head and body from side to side inside the boot, I thought: what could so drastically change young people to propel them to commit such sadistic acts?

Has this government failed them to the extent that they saw no light at the end of their misery and hardship?

By the sounds of cars hooting ­outside and my captors shouting at what I imagined to be taxi drivers, I figured it was now Saturday morning.

The sun was slowly rising from its slumber, as the small cracks allowed me to peep through at life outside.

It seemed it was another day for my captors to continue their conversation on national questions.

“Nathi sifakeni madoda, ningadli nodwa, sinawo amakhadi eANC (Hook us up, guys, don’t leave us outside the gravy train, we are also card-carrying members of the ANC),” said one of my captors to whomever they were talking to outside.

Inside the car, the swearing raged – directed at the ruling elite.

I thought to myself: not even the revered Nkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi would match those guys when it came to decimating your enemies with verbal abuse.

At this point my sense of humour kicked in and there were moments where I wanted to burst out laughing. But the rope around my wrists was slowly eating away at my flesh and the cramps in my legs were really spoiling my short-lived fun.

In hindsight, conversations about the national questions, which were matters that preoccupied my mind and those of my circle of friends, helped ease the trauma and pain of realising that my fate, and that of my wife and children, was now squarely in the hands of these angry young men.

As I pleaded with my captors’ ­Godly consciences to take everything they wanted and spare my life for the sake of my wife and kids, their ­anger subsided somewhat.

I’m not sure whether or not it was the booze they had drunk the whole night or the money in their pockets, but I sensed from the boot that they were now more relaxed.

After driving for more than 30 minutes on a tarred road, I guess in search of another ATM to withdraw more cash from my account, the car just gave up and refused to move forward. I suspected the clutch had given in after hours of rough driving.

And I sensed that my freedom was nearer than I anticipated.

Dear reader, South Africa is a ­nation at the crossroads, and conversations about which route to take to true emancipation are happening everywhere.

I had never thought that I would have this conversation from inside the boot of a car as a captured, unsuspecting traveller who was in Nelspruit on company business.

In those 10 hours while in the boot of a car, I was forced not only to confront my sins as a mere mortal getting ready to face the ­Almighty, but also the sins of the nation in the presence of four young men who that night became little gods ready to unleash their judgment on me.

To them, I represented a ­ruling black elite that is selfishly feeding at the trough while leaving them ­behind.

» Buthelezi is a communications manager at the Government Employees Pension Fund. He writes here in his personal capacity 

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