WITNESS: Third time lucky in crime-ridden Johannesburg

Thu Jun 11, 2009 3:25am EDT
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Serena Chaudhry, Johannesburg correspondent for Reuters, moved to South Africa from Britain in 1995 and joined Reuters full-time in 2008 to report on companies in Africa's biggest economy. In the following story, Serena writes about her experiences in one of the world's most dangerous cities.

By Serena Chaudhry

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - When the white sports utility vehicle pulled up as we backed out of our driveway, I thought it was the delivery man my mother was waiting for.

Until one of the passengers jumped out, pulled a bright orange mask over his head and ran toward our car: in seconds he stood in front of us with his finger on the trigger of an AK-47 rifle, pointing it directly at me.

It was just days before the election and African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma was telling millions of South Africans the party had accomplished many things, including its fight against crime and how it would make the streets safe before hosting the 2010 World Cup.

"Oh no," I said to my father, who first thought it was some kind of practical joke. I froze. It was only when the man trained his weapon at my father that I ducked. The thought of watching my father getting shot through the windshield was too much.

Zuma has promised stepped-up efforts against crime, particularly organized crime and offences against women and children. So far little has changed since 2000, when two men appeared outside our house with pistols as we waited for the electronic gate to open.

My mother, her friend and her daughter and I managed to run into the house just after the barrier slid open, but they stole the car, our handbags and a goldfish in a plastic bag filled with water which was supposed to be a pet for my younger brother.

There are very few people I know in South Africa who have not fallen victim to crime. Over the years, I have heard many stories about murders, rapes, robberies and car jackings. The country has one of the world's highest rates of violent crime, with 18,487 murders, 36,190 rapes, and 14,201 reported carjackings in 2007-8, according to police.   Continued...

<p>Charl Fourie, cooperating with the South African police, demonstrates an anti-hijacking "Blaster" flame-thrower in Johannesburg in this December 11, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Peter Andrews/Files</p>