Barry Soper is Newstalk ZB's Political Editor

Barry Soper: A close encounter with Johannesburg's lawless side

The skyline of South Africa's biggest city isn't unlike that of our biggest sprawl in Auckland, both are dominated by a sky tower.

But that's where the similarities end.

While Auckland's tower rises from a prosperous part of the city, Johannesburg's is like an arrow, pointing to anarchy where the rule of law is the rule written by marauding, armed street gangs where anything goes and where if you're a foreigner you venture at your peril.

READ MORE: Kiwi news couple's carjacking terror

The suburb's called Hillbrow, a notorious part of the city where many of the high rises have been hijacked and are without electricity and water but are nevertheless lived in by squatters.

Driving through the suburb in mid afternoon a few weeks back, it lived up to its lawless reputation.

Crawling along in traffic we became aware of a passenger in a truck looking down into our rental, taking more than a healthy interest in our car's inhabitants.

The truck eventually inched ahead of us before the passenger jumped out and was swallowed up by the crowd.

Within minutes a young man was in front of our car, shouting and pointing at the right front wheel.

Being an unsuspecting Kiwi, the window down button was pressed so that I could hear what he was saying but instead heard my South African born wife forcefully asking me what I thought I was doing.

With attention momentarily deflected to her, the young man's finger was on the down button before he stepped aside and another man flung himself into the car demanding cellphones.

CCTV still of the burglary of the Camps Bay property in Capetown. Photo / Supplied
CCTV still of the burglary of the Camps Bay property in Capetown. Photo / Supplied

Remonstrating had the man withdrawing his arm with his hand disappearing into his belt behind his back. Thinking he was going for a pistol, in blind panic I did something I've never done before, drove my fist into his face.

He reeled back, the widow was up and off we drove, hotly pursued by the hoodlums.

Recounting the story to a native Xhosa tour guide in Soweto a few days later, he pointed out the obvious, never open your window but adding don't resist, given them what they want.

That means to the hoodlums, your rental car is effectively a supermarket trolley loaded with electronics for the taking.

There was little point in complaining to the police about the attempted robbery.

A burglary the week before in Capetown, with the full faces of the four burglars captured on CCTV, was of little interest to the constabulary.

They were more interested in knowing whether the complaint was being made for insurance or for investigation!

- Newstalk ZB

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Barry Soper is Newstalk ZB's Political Editor

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