A perceptive and original take on the causes and consequences of South Africa’s current crime wave.
In the decade since South Africa became a multiracial democracy, crime, as British and South African journalist Cohen (Chasing the Red, White, and Blue, 2001, etc.) notes in this informative account, has risen “169 percent, housebreaking by 33 percent, cash heists, as well as carjacking, by 30 percent . . . [and] 71 percent of companies report being the victims of fraud in the last two years, compared to 51 percent of business in the rest of Africa, and just 37 percent worldwide.” Crime affects black and white, rich and poor, and is perpetrated by blacks and whites desperate for money as well as those who have no apparent need. It is also the biggest cause of brain drain and sluggish foreign investment. Cohen attempts to show how crime has become a way of life, with far-reaching effects on a society still coping with the legacy of apartheid. The author illustrates the problem with the experience of the family-owned Jules Furniture Store in downtown Johannesburg. Jack Rubin and Harry Sher, the resilient sons of Jewish immigrants, transformed the original bicycle store into a chain that sells low-end furniture and appliances. Their stores, despite expensive security measures, are consistently robbed. Specially modified cars break through the security grilles, then barrel through the shop windows, their drivers making off with what they can before the police arrive. They also experience internal stealing, at the hands of Harry’s brother and another employee. The firm hired to transport the money to the bank steals from them, and they must repossess more furniture as customers fail to pay. Weaving the story of the owners, Jules Street itself, the trial of the two thieves, and the current repossessors, two former carjackers who have gone straight, Cohen draws a vivid portrait of a society struggling to emerge from years of sanctioned violence and corruption.
Social analysis with verve and insight.