In the fishing community of Hangberg, below the westernmost kink of the Cape Peninsula’s crooked spine, lives a man who has, by his reckoning, mugged more than forty hikers and mountain cyclists in the last eight years. His name, for the purposes of this account, is Norton. He is diminutive and quick-eyed, with slicked hair and a bony jaw. He has thin scars across his forehead and neck. Although he is older than thirty, he looks, from afar, like a compact teenager, with arms too long for his body. He is not at all physically imposing but is capable of astonishing acts of violence.
A four-part series investigating the Bontekoe mine collapse in 2012, where 10 illicit diamond diggers lost their lives. Produced with an investigative reporting grant from the Taco Kuiper Foundation.
The BP garage parking lot at Cape Town International Airport has space for more than 60 cars. It is full from before dawn until midnight all weekend, but not with customers. Out in the lot, drivers lean against their vehicles or rest with their doors open and seats reclined; when it rains they shut the doors and their windows mist up. A BP security guard with a badge and clipboard paces the tarmac, monitoring how long each driver has been parked. Until the guard tells them to move, or until their smartphones chime like slot machines, or until the late flights arrive and the airport empties, the drivers do not leave.
In March 2014, while harvesting marijuana in a remote valley outside Port St Johns, Cynthia*, now 56, was sprayed with herbicide from a police helicopter. “The pilot spotted me and flew closer,” she said. “I was frightened and tried to run, to shelter beneath a tree. But the helicopter followed me.” As she ran the rotors beat metres above her head, blasting her with dust. The noise disoriented her. Eyes shut, she waved her arms, signaling for the pilot to stop. Then she felt the droplets against her skin.
The villagers keep watch from January, waiting for police helicopters to thud over the hills. Every year, for nearly three decades, their plantations have been poisoned towards the end of summer, right before harvest, leaving behind fields of withered stalks. “We hear rumours that they are coming, that they’ve started spraying nearby,” said one woman. “Then we know the helicopters will be arriving soon — but there is nothing we can do.”
Xolobeni activist Nonhle Mbuthuma broke down in tears last month while addressing a mining conference in Cape Town. “Our people are being attacked. People are dying because of this,” she said, describing her community’s struggle to prevent mining on its land. Six weeks later, her friend and colleague Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe was assassinated.
Cattle rancher Robin Fowler, 60, believes that farmers are eternal optimists. Last November, when summer rains failed to arrive in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, he sold off 160 Nguni cattle, or 80% of his stock. Drought — South Africa’s most severe since rainfall records began in 1904 — had parched the hills, leaving sparse fodder for grazing. Fowler, recognizing that he had no alternative, made plans to thin his herd.
It is simple enough to get a cellphone fixed in Victoria Road, Woodstock, provided you have the money and it is not midday on Friday, when the technicians close their shops and go to mosque. There are eight small cellphone repair businesses, all owned and run by young Pakistani men, situated along a single half-kilometre stretch between Salt River Road and the Woodstock Town Hall. The shops can be found inside hair salons, convenience stores and clothing wholesalers, marked by interchangeable signs — Z.K. Cellphones, Happy Cellular, Cell For You — and plastic accessories pressed up against the windows.
On Friday 7 August four men sat around a table in Hangberg, Hout Bay, watching the harbour and waiting for the body to arrive. Two of the men were drinking beer out of small glasses and smoking cigarettes, flicking the ash into an empty abalone shell. Angelo Josephs, the owner of the house, leaned against a pair of sliding doors overlooking the bay. It was three o'clock in the afternoon. The water was smooth. Josephs punched more airtime into his phone and made another call. “Here, they’re coming now."
Joe-Louis Kanyona, a 32-year old Congolese resident of Cape Town, was hired as a doorman at craft beer megabar Beerhouse on Long Street last December. At 10:37pm on Saturday 20 June, while standing guard at the entrance, Kanyona, a smaller man than his occupation usually dictates, was approached by four men and stabbed in the neck. Without withdrawing the knife from his flesh — "it was a steak knife, like something from a restaurant," an eyewitness said — Kanyona tried to run upstairs, where his brother Julian was working, but faltered after a few steps. He died a few minutes later. His last words, spoken in French and repeated three times, were: "Lord, I put myself in your hands."
When Manie Louw took over a farm outside Paternoster last year his neighbours warned him about three things: stock theft, jackals, and pied crows. Louw, a 53 year-old sheep farmer from Calvinia, grew up raising livestock and thought himself familiar with the risks of the trade. He brought 42 aging Dorper ewes to the coast with him, hoping to fatten them for slaughter on the farm’s Strandveld vegetation. “I didn’t know what people meant about the crows,” he said. Since arriving in April he has been forced to slit the throats of 21 ewes and more than 30 lambs after discovering them with their eyeballs pecked out.
Early in 2016, a few months before his 65th birthday, Sadick ‘Dickie’ Holtman, the tea-brewing custodian of the Turkish baths on Long Street, will retire after nearly 30 years on the job. As an employee of the City of Cape Town he is entitled to a gratuity payout in addition to his monthly pension. He plans to use the extra money to fund his first pilgrimage to Mecca. At work he faces the Islamic holy city three or four times each day, depending on the season, and kneels between the changing room stalls to pray. Then he returns to his chair and picks up the newspaper, or boils the kettle again, or strolls to the sauna to tell a customer to get out soon, or mops the tiled floor, which is always wet.