[notice]A monthly column by Marcel van der Watt, lecturer in the Department of Police Practice at UNISA, former police detective, and current member of the Gauteng Rapid Response Task Team for Human Trafficking.[/notice]
Memory of pre-dawn encounter that captures root of lawlessness, moral decline
It’s a cold winter’s morning in May 2003. Port Elizabeth is covered in darkness which awaits the dawn of a new day expected to arrive within the next three hours. The notorious final quarter of a 12 hour shift is known to be survived only by a cup of coffee; usually the complimentary one provided by Oom Hennie’s* 24 hour Quick Shop to the men and women in blue and their co-emergency workers from other response agencies.
Two members of the police Flying Squad sit in their vehicle which is stationary in a vacant city-centre parking area. Tired, yet ready for the next priority complaint, they decide to write up their pocketbooks which are to be inspected by the shift commander before they book off duty. The men in blue are distracted by a luxury Mercedes Benz which turns into the same parking area. The distraction is not caused by the peculiar time of day or even the luxury vehicle making its way into an isolated parking area. Rather, the slow speed at which the vehicle is travelling, the driver’s ignorance of his vulnerability due to the secluded and unlit environment, and female jewellery-covered fingers extending from the passenger window to dust off the accumulation of cigarette ash are but some of the very familiar indicators of yet another transaction taking place.
“Did you get the registration number?” the one police official asks his colleague who responds with sarcastic rhetoric: “Do you brush your teeth?” Habitual recording of registration numbers is what these men do for a living- a tendency which never departs.
The radio control room responds with the ownership details:
Mr M. Groenewaldt*
14 Copper Creek Street
Telephone number 041-555 2381
Vehicle not circulated as stolen
A courtesy call to the Groenewaldt household has Mrs Groenewaldt provide confirmation of the vehicle’s ownership and the fact that her husband left 30 minutes ago for an early start at the office. No further details are disclosed to her.
The police officials decide to approach the vehicle tactfully as these situations have the potential to generate hostility. Upon reaching an arm’s length distance from the passenger door, the police officials make use of a spotlight and instruct the occupants to exit the vehicle. At that moment they identify the occupants as a middle aged male and two minor girls. The officers address the male as ‘Mr Groenewaldt’ and question him about the events that are unfolding. His response is one I remember vividly and which epitomise many of the social ills we experience today. Mr Groenewaldt transforms from an embarrassed, exposed individual to an unruffled, arrogant and ‘entitled’ man who refuses to acknowledge that everything is not adding up.
“I am conducting qualitative research on the experience of sex workers on the street”.
I noticed a sudden state of defensiveness in his character. His response was planned and it was clear that this was not the first time he found himself in such a situation. I felt patronised by his search for justification and concerted effort to make the situation disappear. Mr Groenewaldt was a slave; a prisoner caught in a tangled web of lies and deceit.
In Christ we are able to choose liberation from sin and are called to take ownership and responsibility:
“For you became sorrowful as God intended…. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” — 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 (NIV)
Not taking ownership of our role as men, fathers, husbands and protectors in South Africa is one of the key contributors to lawlessness, impunity and moral pollution. We see this in politics, households, marriages and in our crime situation where there is always someone or something else to blame. Taking responsibility is an important step towards healing, reconciliation and building character and integrity.
God give us men! A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honour; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.
Josiah Gilbert Holland– (July 24, 1819 – October 12, 1881)