Gangsters’ Paradise

White leopard interior of the Africa Centre transport vehicle....classy!

We were only staying in Johannesburg for one night before shipping out to Madagascar and as far as we were concerned that was enough.   We had heard about how dangerous Jo’burg is and, indeed, our hotel – the whimsical, but otherwise perfectly adequate “Africa Centre” – was located in a guarded, gated community and had a huge electronic iron gate in front of the hotel itself.  Our driver told us that people often quip that the “GP” on the end of all Johannesburg license plates  means “Ganster’s Paradise” (it actually  stands for “Gauteng Province”).

But it wasn’t until our conversation with John the bartender at the Africa Centre that we understood how bad the crime situation is, not only in Jo’burg, but in the rest of South Africa as well.  According to John, there was recently a 45 minute shoot out just outside the gates of the hotel.  He also told us that while the end of apartheid was a good thing for blacks and for the country’s maturity, it also  meant the the international communities lifted their trade embargoes which, in turn, meant that gangs from all over the world came pouring into South Africa.  According to John, it is just as dangerous in Cape Town as it is in Johannesburg.  He says that we don’t hear about it because Cape Town does a better job of hiding it in the media. I suppose it sounds plausible enough, however, we spent several days in Cape Town and never saw any guarded, gated communities or hotels with heavy iron gates on them.  Doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but….

He added that recently a Chinese gang from Hong Kong had wiped out the entire Russian mob in Cape Town in one fell swoop after a prolonged, back and forth of single death killings.   He said you won’t read about it in the papers though so there is no way for us to fact check his story.  Hmmm…

We have since spoken to a few other people who live in Cape Town or other towns in RSA and all of them say that Cape Town is a very safe city.

So John may be a bullshitter, but he does have a pretty incredible story of his own to tell and while it may not be 100% true, he did tell it to us with a tremendous amount of conviction and enough details to fuel a very interesting movie script.

John, who, it turns out, is not the bartender, but actually the manager of the Africa Centre (he was subbing for the real bartender who called in sick) was born in South Africa, but had left for Australia after having been mugged and beaten too many times.  The South African government had apparently hired him to come back to teach hospitality to a few key hotels as a prelude to the 2010 World Cup.  He is some sort of tourist/hospitality turn around artist.

His story, in a much shorter version than he told us, is that he was born on a farm in Cape Town and had only black friends until he went to high school. He was so vocally anti-apartheid that his parents sent him to Europe to study to keep him out of trouble.  During the period of apartheid there was a limit on the amount of diamonds one could bring out of the country so,  like many South Africans at that time, John’s parents smuggled out enough diamonds to pay for his Europe education by hiding them in silly puddy and having kids bring them through airport security.

When he returned a year after apartheid ended he settled back on a farm in Cape Town, but was attached by a Nigerian gang who beat him up and shot nine of his horses.  They had previously killed several of the neighboring farmers.  I wanted to ask him why they didn’t kill him too, but I was afraid of angering him since he had already told us that he had shot two intruders who had broken into his home in Cape Town (the one he lived in after he left the farm house).  He said the trial was quick and the judge ruled that he acted in self defense with a licensed hang gun.  Case closed.   After a few more muggings, including one where the perpetrator stole his pants as well as his wallet, he called it quits and moved to Australia where he has been for the past few years.

Even if his story is 20% true it would be pretty incredible and make for a very exciting film. 🙂

Needless to say we did not venture outside of our hotel until we  were safely in the Africa Centre van on our way to the airport.

Country Stats:

Official Name: Republic of South Africa

Official Language(s): Afrikaans, English, Southern Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu

Population: 49,320,000

Capital Cities: Pretoria (Executive), Bloemfontein (Judicial), Cape Town (Legislative)

Government: Constitutional Democracy

Current Leader(s): President Jacob Zuma

For more information about the Republic of South Africa click here.

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2 Responses to “Gangsters’ Paradise”

  1. It’s shame about South Africa and depending on who you talk to, it’s not as bad as the worst case or people are fleeing the country in droves.

    I was in Cape Town for a week and the folks at the hostel stressed the importance of taking a cab, especially after dark, even if your intended location was 10 minute walk away.

    • Wow, really? I guess that corroborates John the bartenders story a bit. we had a car so maybe thats why we never heard that warning, but we felt very safe.

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