Louis Theroux travels to Johannesburg, where the residents find themselves increasingly besieged by crime. Despairing of the capability of the police and the courts to protect them, many have turned to an industry of private security, offering protection for a price. Are the sometimes brutal methods of these private police really a solution or just another part of the problem?
The first stop for Louis is a meeting with William Mayangoni, the local co-ordinator for a security firm known as Mapogo. Based on the outskirts of Diepsloot, one of the squatter camps that ring Johannesburg, William investigates thefts for his mainly white clients. When he catches a suspect, he gives them 'medicine': the alleged offender is beaten with a leather whip known as a sjambok.
Although his clients seem to support what they see as 'an African solution to an African problem', William's methods alienate the people of Diepsloot. Finally, their patience snaps dramatically, and William has to call out the real police in order to protect himself from the vicious threat of the mob.
In the centre of Johannesburg, a security company called Bad Boyz work in an area called Hillbrow, notorious for its high crime rate. Louis meets company director Hendrik De Klerk who explains that much of their activity involves reclaiming and securing buildings that have been taken over, or hijacked, by criminal gangs who illegally take rent from tenants. Louis watches dramatic evictions unfold, in which the police and security companies are not afraid to use force to kick out the protesting residents.
There is something deeply irritating about Louis Theroux. His pursed lips, his concern for the caught criminals appears mere lip service. I must play the role of a liberal, he seems to be thinking, and pretend to be shocked that real bullets are being used, not rubber bullets.
He asks questions such of caught and beaten criminals:
"Is he frightened and hurt?"
"Should we call an ambulance?"
"May I see his wounds?"
"Is it too brutal?"
He did get a sensible answer: "It is good for the community. He won't do that again, ever."
Louis tries to answer the question of "whether private police are the solution or part of the problem".
No, Louis. The solution is to bring back the death penalty which the liberal establishment saw fit to abolish in 1995, in their infinite wisdom. (Did our Louis mention that, in his infinite journalistic impartiality? Did he hell!!)
Louis' show made one see why apartheid was once seen as a solution. One just simply wanted to separate oneself from that horror and have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with people like that.
I will just list a number of the more memorable pieces of information I gathered:
When they start swarming, watch out!
The concept of the "mob" and the "community" are used interchangeably. The law-makers and law-breakers are indistinguishable, caught up in an apparently unbreakable cycle of violence.
Methods of punishment were burning with petrol, stones, bricks and the sjambok, amongst other things. William of Mapogo Security, (who seemed a gentle smiling likable giant) had the mob (or was it the community?) turning on him, wanting to burn him after he had broken a thief's leg with a golf club. While Louis was asking him if it was really necessary to break that man's leg, the conversation went along these lines:
What would you do?
I would call the police.
The police are failing, they do nothing, they don't come. If they do come and take him away, after making a donation to the police, he will be meeting you tomorrow over there.
I would build higher fences.
They will climb them and still get in, and meet you later, over there. So what do you do?
To which Louis had no answer.
People are killed "like chickens".
"There is no solution. We must solve it ourselves."
The private policeman was openly on friendly terms with the Nigerian drugdealer, who called him "boss". Nigerian drugdealers and dealers in stolen goods are "human beings too", said the private cop. He doesn't give me trouble, in a way he keeps order and I am not paid to take people like him off the streets. If he were taken off the streets, he would be replaced almost immediately.
The most chilling encounter was the exchange Louis after he shook hands with a criminal and his partner in crime, who killed a traffic policeman for his gun, had been inside for 10 years and had just got out. No remorse was expressed.
"I will die for the job. I like crime. I never go to school so what can I do?"
That was certainly a very healthy attitude of accepting one's lot in life and making the best of things. His implicit acknowledgment that good education would have saved him from a life of crime suggests there is something of the philosopher about him. In any case, his question as to what he is to do now, with no job prospects and without an education, apart from continuing his life of crime, is unanswerable.
Philosophy is after all the asking of the unanswerable question.
His brother, also a criminal, was sought by a policeman who behaved "like a soldier". Apparently, the policeman killed both his parents in order to capture his brother. This could explain his rather jaundiced view of policemen.
He then gave us a few helpful tips on the art of extortion.
"You have a baby. I want your money. I put baby in microwave. I turn it on. You give me money."
"You have a wife. I put knife to her throat. I cut a little bit so you can see blood. I ask if you want me to finish the job. You will give me. No other way".
Louis must be thanked for putting the case for the death penalty so cogently and subtly. He is a liberal, you see, and not allowed to ask for such things as the condign punishment for criminals without risking losing his job or his girlfriend.
In the meantime, we wait for more African problems of to arrive on these shores, and continue the liberal British tradition of wringing our hands and pissing in the wind.