2006-09-26 : John Matshikiza: WITH THE LID OFF


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2006-09-26 : John Matshikiza: WITH THE LID OFF

Postby GOSA » Tue, 2006-10-03 17:39

Police intuition

John Matshikiza: WITH THE LID OFF

25 September 2006

It was a strange kind of robbery. I woke up restless at 1.30am and went to the front room to switch channels on the decoder, vaguely intending to watch what was happening in the world from the point of view of the BBC and CNN. I bent down to press the buttons -- only there were no buttons and no decoder, just a tangled mess of wires where it had been. Then I noticed that the DVD and VHS players had also been neatly removed from their usual locations in the same console.

At moments like this you can feel the hair literally standing up on your head. Staring wildly round the room, I saw that a window had been smashed. There was a gaping hole that only a small child could have crawled through. But even that would have been perilous. There were no signs of blood, as there usually are at a scene such as this, where someone taking a chance would have cut a hand or an arm.

I took it that a small person might have been helped through the hole in the window and then gone to let in accomplices through the door. But both front and back doors were securely locked. Strangest of all, most of the broken glass was lying on the ground outside the window, rather than inside the room, as you would expect in the case of a forced entry. The furniture immediately under the window had not been disturbed. It looked like an inside job, especially when I discovered the spare set of keys lying on a chair deep inside the room. Why had they not taken the keys and simply walked out through the front door?

My hair was standing up further and further on my head as I checked all the rooms, wardrobes and cupboards for lurking strangers. I was unarmed. I discovered my wallet was missing from my trouser pocket. Could they have come right into my bedroom while I was sleeping? How would they know just where to look?

I called the police. They showed up after about 45 minutes, Laurel and Hardy, one big and dark, the other slender and light-skinned. The big one did most of the talking, with the thin one nodding in agreement from time to time.

They didn't seem to be too interested in the scene of the crime. They made it clear that they had to deal with dozens of other burglaries in the same neighbourhood that night. They made themselves comfortable at the dining room table and proceeded to take a statement. They said the fingerprint guy would be round the next day. Then they left.

The fingerprint guy dusted the area round the window and told me not to touch anything till the detective had been round. Like his colleagues the previous night, he shrugged the whole thing of as no big train smash.

The detective called me jovially on my cellphone the next morning, addressing me familiarly by the name of Zulu, a character I played in a movie many years ago. He said he'd be round that evening. It took him another 24 hours to make good on his word -- and even then he said he had no transport and could I come round to the office to pick him up.

Meanwhile, I had had a phone call from another policeman, telling me they had found some of my property during a routine search of a suspect in Doornfontein. Some objects from my wallet had been found in the suspect's pockets, including my ID book, driver's licence, an ATM card and a receipt that happened to have my phone number on it, which is how he came to call me. He told me to meet him, not at the charge office, but in the car park at Jeppe police station. Curiouser and curiouser.

Sure enough, two cops rocked up in a police van in the car park shortly after I arrived and gave me these items. Credit cards and cash were missing, of course. So were business cards of various acquaintances and colleagues, and all the rest of the innumerable bits and pieces that pile up in your wallet. But at least I was street legal again. I had been dreading more queues at home affairs to replace those vital documents.

They told me to drive behind them to the scene of the arrest to see if we could pick up anything else. As we got out of our cars, 20 or 30 vagrants leaped to their feet like startled gazelles and ran off into the surrounding streets. They left behind the mattresses they had been lying on idly on the dirty sidewalk, waiting for night to fall to go back on the prowl. It seemed more like a game between cops and vagrants than a serious attempt to clean up crime.

The cops picked through some of the strewn items between the mattresses and discovered my decoder, smashed and useless. They seemed to know where everything could be found. They seemed to know exactly what was mine and what wasn't. I was somewhat suspicious about the whole thing, but held my tongue, grateful for small mercies. I gave each of them a healthy tip. As we departed, the vagrants were slowly creeping back to their respective sleeping areas, ever on the alert for further raids.

I remain baffled by the whole affair, from the strange nature of the break-in at my home to the phone calls from jovial policemen and the unlikely retrieval of some critical documents that I kept in my wallet. I suppose I should count myself among the lucky few for that alone.
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