I got some terrible news on Friday. My cousin was murdered in a botched hijacking. A fifty-two year old father of two was gunned down after picking his son up from the Gautrain station. His son was also shot but survived. The gunman escaped without taking the car or anything else by all accounts.
A good man was killed for nothing.
This happened while I was enjoying an idyllic mini holiday in the Kruger Park. I got back just in time to watch the Tom Hanks movie “Captain Phillips” which is the gritty Hollywood version of the terrifying ordeal of surviving Somali pirates. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it.
After the movie ended I was struck by the similarity of circumstance, motivation and justification of the Somalian pirates and the South African hijackers. In both cases they live in abject poverty, they believe that people richer than them are fair game and they feel that historical wrongs give them tacit permission to decide who lives and who dies.
The gut response is usually to shout out “bring back the death penalty” in the case of the hijackers or “arm the ships” in the case of the pirates, but will this help? As much as my current emotional state would want me to agree, I am pretty sure that other hijackers and pirates are just lining up to take their places, so killing them may help with revenge, but not stop the cruel practice. The solution must be a bit smarter than this.
In each case the main motivation stems from a failure of leadership. Somalia has been without a government for nearly thirty years as leaders prefer warlordism to elected government. This has allowed unscrupulous foreigners to fish out Somalian waters and left the local fisherman with nothing else to catch but foreign cargo ships. Their leaders don’t bother to differentiate between good and bad foreigners so everyone is fair game.
South African hijackers get their motivation and justification from our elected government who never miss an opportunity to remind all of us that the past was full of inequalities, and our own government is considering state sponsored land grabs. As we have seen with our Zimbabwean neighbors in the past decade and with the thousand-year Reich in Germany; when the state promotes the idea that a section of the population is fair game, some of its citizens will take that very literally.
Someone decided that it was okay to take my cousin’s possessions without compensation on Thursday night, and now his wife is a widow and his children are orphaned and his son lies in hospital.
Rest in peace Warren, you didn’t deserve to go this way.