Updated: Mar 13, 2019
The sunrise I viewed on the morning of Friday 30th June was not a particularly spectacular sunrise. In fact it was a sort of weak, typically Johannesburg, watery mid-winter sunrise, but for me it was possibly the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. You see it was, I realised, a sunrise I might never have seen. A few minutes earlier I had come close to losing my life and for the next few moments everything was richly enhanced and seemingly important business matters became trivial.
My morning had started as thousands have started for me over the decades, with a run. With time my morning 10 kilometre run, once run so quickly and smoothly and now run at a dodgy-kneed shuffle, has become something of a routine and a ritual and I set my day by that first hour on the road. I particularly love the winter mornings. I relish the bracing cold and the icy stars in an inky sky but most importantly I enjoy the time on my own with my thoughts and with no distractions. I was about halfway through my run grinding my way up a short sharp hill lost in those thoughts when a car approached me, driving very slowly. The car’s headlights were bright so I couldn’t see it properly but it edged over towards me, almost timidly, as a car will do when the occupants are lost and need directions and are loathe to intrude.
I walked over to the passenger side window to see if I could help and then froze in disbelief. It’s amazing how one’s eyes can look nowhere else except at the end of a barrel when a gun is pointed at you but I stared at two barrels so I may have gone temporarily squint or cross-eyed.
My brain became instantly super-alert and crystal clear. Time was frozen and an incident that probably lasted less than a minute seemed to pass in slow motion. Sadly the first thought that occurred to me was “you’ve always known this time would come and now it has arrived” The thought seems so sad because for most South Africans that is the harsh reality. Dangerous, violent crime has impacted or will impact on all of us and it’s not a question of “if” but rather of “when”
What followed was not pretty. While one thug stood back with a gun levelled at my chest the other piled into me his face a twisted mask of pain. He kicked and beat me across the road shouting “ I’m going to shoot you, I want to shoot you”
In my fantasies, Bruce the hero lashes back at evil dropping the bad man with an uppercut to the jaw. He then pulverises the ugly sidekick, but pathetically, in real life I lost the fight in the first 30 seconds of the first round. In an instant I was on my back in prickly shrubbery with my running shoes being torn from my feet and my watch ripped off my wrist. I was puzzled at why one thin cotton glove was ripped off my hand but the other left companionless. Next the gangsters tugged at my shorts hoping to find a cell phone in my pocket. All they could find was a gate-opener. Aware that there was a CCTV camera on a wall nearby I remember wondering if the camera was recording grainy images of my lily-white left buttock. I also remember thinking that my attackers were making extremely only lean pickings from me as I am very “old school”, and my watch was a simple plastic two function R150 timer and my shoes had run close to 1000 kilometres and smelt richly of ripe gorgonzola.
“Stand-up, stand up” one of them ordered me, but in my one act of defiance I refused to prise myself from the shrubbery. I feared that the discovery of the gate opener in my pocket had convinced them to take me on a drive to my house to look for richer pickings. I could see my family asleep in their beds and refused to move. I shouted back at them
“Well done you two just beat up a 61 year old man. You must be very proud of yourselves.”
At that they jumped in their car and sped off. It was all so quick that I was reminded of days when I have gone snorkelling at the edge of a coral reef and watched the predator pelagic fish diving in to the shallows to grab a struggling reef fish and the darting out into the dark ocean again.
There followed vaguely comical scenes as I tried to walk home in my socks. I shuffle-glided across the rough tar leaping up every now and again when my feet encountered a sharp stones or a pieces of road debris. I chuckled to myself that with my strange gait and my one glove I must have looked like an elderly rocker trying to copy Michael Jackson’s moonwalk.
I arrived home dishevelled and slightly shocked and of course my family was desperately upset and concerned for me. I was advised I needed to seek counselling and to visit a therapist but after a while, as I calmed down, I decided the best therapy I could treat myself to was to simply run, or more importantly complete the run I had embarked on that morning. My coach had expected me to run 10 kilometres that morning and I had only completed half that distance when I was attacked. My coach can get very grumpy when there are interruptions to my training. ( I am my grumpy coach! ) So I set off and continued my run and it was then that I experienced that beautiful sunrise, the one I realised I might never have seen again.
This blog has made use of the first person pronouns “I” and “my” far too frequently for my liking but I really decided to write it for all of us who run and walk and cycle in South Africa. We are all victims or potential victims. It is outrageous that we are daily subjected to such danger. We should be able to enjoy our sport and leisure activities with impunity. Ours are the most innocent and joyful of experiences and yet daily we are in danger of being assaulted, robbed, intimidated, raped and even killed.
I must admit that immediately after my incident I became an instant ardent proponent of the death penalty. In fact I would have vehemently encouraged a judge to sentence my attackers to be hanged drawn and quartered. But my anger soon shifted. It shifted to those who are really to blame for the lawlessness in our country.
I cast the blame for the harrowing ordeals so many of us face squarely at the feet of our leaders, those at the very top of government. When there is a paucity of leadership coupled to blatant contempt for law and order and for the constitution that contempt quickly filters down to all levels of society. When the common criminal sees our leaders steeped in corruption and brazenly stealing they must think. “ us too thanks, and it isn’t it wonderful that we are unlikely to be caught.”
I have refused to lock myself away. I have refused to give in to fear. Three days after my attack I ran the same route at exactly the same time. I’ve been running it for 25 years and I’m not stopping now. I’m not completely recovered from what happened and I still start away uneasy at the approach of a car in the dark night but I love our sport and I love this country and the incredible life it has given me. The least I can do is to soldier on and encourage others to do the same.
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Cartoon by Alistair Findlay
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