About a little over a week ago I came home to the horror story that has become all too familiar a tale in modern Botswana and across the world. The surreal nightmare of being attacked by robbers at your home has become a real experience for many Gaboronians and having lived through it myself, I sought to make sense of the senseless parts of this very scary incident. The narrative which has now been shared countless times, from police station to card replacements, as well as shocked friends and family is one which might sound familiar.
In brief, I came home around midnight from a late evening do, opened gate, parked and got inside the house. I went outside to get something in the car and was approached by a first assailant (I’m on cop terminology now) who came from the side of the house with a brick ready to launch. Not long after, a second guy approached with an arsenal including a pick axe head, blade and a set of crow bars. I don’t know how and when I switched to negotiator mode but you’d swear we’d done this before. I began with an emphatic no scream to what seemed like an imminent missile headed towards me in the form of the brick in the first guy’s hand. I indicated to him that I will give him the possessions I knew he wanted. Without over stretching this drama that I have already relived enough times, the two took a wallet, phones, and most valuable to me, my UNFPA back pack which had a laptop, St. Louis Export leather note book (lost a few songs written at the back), T.D. Jakes year planner & back up hard drive. Ironically this defeats the purpose when you keep it with your machine as we tend to! Despite my cooperating, the second assailant still found it necessary to swing at me with a brick, scratching the left hand I used to protect myself and a bit of my upper and lower lip.
Upon reflection the thought process of this second assailant baffled me the most. By the way this altercation thankfully happened outside my front door and not inside the house where my partner was. For any man the safety of your loved ones is a number one priority which I swear you will never feel as heightened as in that moment when you have to diffuse a bomb that is already in the process of exploding. In picking a place to say I looked for multi-residentials as I have learned the safety in numbers rule from Gauteng, which is well known for its own crime sprees. My two neighbours at the multi-res came out of their respective houses nervously after hearing the commotion not long after the thugs were making their exit. Unpacking the incident, reflecting and investigating the next day I learned that the electric fence was not switched on and the thugs had been in the yard when we came in while my neighbours slept. They were attempting to skillfully remove my window panes with a blade so they could gain entry by cutting burglar bars with the crow bar and cleaning up shop. Given the time I arrived they might have thought I wasn’t coming home that night but many others are audacious enough to try and break in while you are clearly in your home sleeping or as you arrive as my attackers chose to.
The days following the incident have been an insightful education on what it is to feel like a helpless victim as well as an empowered survivor. Firstly, I was in no state to deal with police officers immediately after it happened. After locking up and saying a prayer it took forever to fall into a sleep so light I could still feel the pain from the slight injuries as I searched in vain for rest. I found the will to go to the police around mid day and joined a handful of others who looked like they’d seen an equally dramatic night. The crop of special constables attended to us well, despite hearing complaints of lack/delay in resource allocation like there being no cars to take investigating officers to scenes, taking statements.
After finishing with the initial police statement my partner and I went to see a psychologist for a trauma debriefing, something I’ve come to learn is uncommon for many people. In our “sweep it under the rug” setswana culture it seems many ignore the trauma they go through which is very dangerous as no closure can be attained if we don’t face up to the things that challenge our concepts of a good life including the fundamental concept of personal security. Addressing the incident with counselling, alongside stepping up my security measures (starting with keeping the electric fence on, engaging security guards and guard dogs as well as body guards when necessary) has helped me deal and learn to do better in what has become a dangerous environment, especially for those who’s work and lifestyle means operating during late hours at night or early morning.
My other reflections lead me back to the hate/anger/frustration that resided in the eyes of my attackers; especially the second one who injured me with the brick despite already taking material possessions. It felt like he saw me as deserving of such treatment which felt like it came from a place of retribution. Was this a disenfranchised person who felt ignored by a social class he feels I belong to and represent? I was asked whether my attackers were Batswana by different people who find it easier to make sense of it if they were not. To me that is immaterial; to answer the question I think (not entirely sure) one was Motswana and the other foreign. Whoever they were, I can’t help but wonder where we lost them as a society and failed to intervene using education, entrepreneurship, arts and culture or any other social intervention that would have put their life on a different course.
I do not excuse the responsibility of the individual to be proactive in creating opportunities for self. This is a crucial part of the equation but can’t work if individuals aren’t capacitated to be ready to take up opportunities. This begs the question of whether our social and community investment is working and targeted in the right areas? We hear a lot about poverty alleviation efforts in rural areas but do we see the same in urban ghettos known as hot spots that breed crime? And is this creating opportunities for people to find economic independence and move up the social hierarchy? Beyond trying to move people from abject poverty, do our political and economic policies also create new opportunities for lower income and middle class groups so that we don’t see a development back slide where now a section of young people (majority of perpetrators are young males) turn to crime for economic empowerment. There are many other social ills that the incident exposed me to. I was not aware of the serious crime stats at some of our police stations. The common one I heard was “they (thugs) were high and wanted money for a fix”. I find this to be an over simplified answer and if that is the case then have we opened drug centres to treat this?
And what about buying property? Most areas that new or prospective home owners are buying in are under construction, lacking tarred roads and street lights which make them harder to police and rob owners of property value. This is despite some of these areas already having key public amenities such as clinics and schools like where I live. What does this mean for those that have to use these services, who now become susceptible to attacks when trying to access these. This incident has made my plot hunting even harder as I try find the most secure area I can find for my budget. This makes me wonder how much harder it is if you don’t have any options at all. All parts of the social system have to come together for us to deal with this growing problem which is so un-Setswana. I am just 28 years old but I can remember a time when you could sleep outside during a hot summer night on a mattress, in your yard without a wall or electric fence, right here in Gaborone. It is a tragedy that we can no longer be this free in our own homes.