SA is a crime-ridden dystopia, a surreal tableau that is sadly all too common

Yusuf Abramjee’s Twitter feed might not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly is compelling. The veteran anti-crime campaigner has taken to sharing videos on the micro social media site of crimes that have been passed to him. These aren’t the aftermath of crimes anymore, but offences being committed, captured in real time by security cameras. 

The scope and range of the crimes has been matched, in recent times, only by the brutality of the deeds themselves. In recent weeks, visitors to his timeline will have watched footage of the most incredibly irresponsible behaviour by motorists, with multiple vehicles simultaneously overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic, all the way through to the medieval bludgeoning and stoning to death of an armed security guard during an illegal strike. 

The piece de resistance though was of armed robbers making their way to what looks like a speakeasy, shooting the owner dead from the other side of the barred counter before making their way in and shooting him at close range just for good measure. They then take their time ransacking the packed shelves of booze, opening the drawers on the desk and rummaging about for cash. They even check the cowering shop assistant kneeling next to her former boss. In the middle of this sits a man nursing his bottle of beer, with another at his elbow. It is a surreal tableau that sadly is obviously all too common in South Africa. What’s worse is the fact that it’s become normalised. Another of his videos shows the brazen mugging of a man in broad daylight in a busy street by a gang of men. 

There’s barely a week that goes by that Abramjee doesn’t upload footage of another heinous crime which has been shared with him. He’s lucky if it even gets picked up by the media, as for the politicians and the police, it doesn’t even seem to register.

It’s difficult to accept that we have become that habituated to violent crime. It’s almost an ostrich syndrome approach – that if it doesn’t happen to us and we ignore reports of who it is happening to, then it doesn’t really affect us. Nothing though could be further from the truth. What Abramjee posts is a fraction of the true extent of the lawlessness in our society that underpins every crime from the banal (parking in disabled spaces) to the absolute inhuman. He has become the social media equivalent of the canary in the coal mine. 

In 2010, shortly after our highly successful hosting of the soccer world cup, US cable channel AMC began hosting the Walking Dead, a post-apocalyptic horror thriller series, as survivors battle hordes of infected people who die from a pandemic and morph into zombies. It became a cult classic and is now in its 11th and probably final season. 

Ultimately the greatest threat for the survivors isn’t being eaten alive, but the barbarous cruelty of other survivors. Based on a graphic novel, it was intended as nothing more than escapism. Today in South Africa, it could be mistaken for a tutorial on surviving our own post-pandemic and post-liberation dystopia.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 26 February 2022.