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Tik in the Platteland: Part III

by Karl Kemp / Images by Jaco du Plessis / 07.08.2014

BLOED VIR BLOED

Robertson, Western Cape

Ester covered the Worcester crime beat for the local paper for eight years. She’s of below-average height, with a bright face and a ready smile. She’s friendly in an almost matriarchal way; not the kind of person you’d expect to have intimate knowledge of what we’re investigating. Her relaxed demeanor is deceiving.

“It’s chaos! The police can’t handle it anymore. Law and order is a memory,” she says about the Worcester crime scenario. She’s willing to talk about the tik and gang crisis in the Platteland, but only under cover of a pseudonym.

“The violence spills over into the surrounding suburbs, regularly,” she continues. “There have been shoot-outs at the mall. Gangsters clash over drug drop-off points and territory. People get caught in the crossfire and are shot dead… it’s absolute chaos. But it all stems from tik. Tik is truly the big, BIG problem.”

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We’re in Robertson, a 45-minute drive up from Worcester, where Ester took a new job at Die Gazette newspaper in February.  She’s just confirmed to us all the grit and suck we heard from the Worcester residents themselves. Back there, in the Pink Flats, we spent an hour trudging through garbage-strewn streets amongst the cracked and faded concrete of the flat blocks, watched by bored teenagers perched on stairways and tannies getting a day-buzz going on Black Label quarts, before a local picked us up and took us to see Oom Joey. This is where we hear from the mouths of those most affected just how bad it is. Nobody wanted to introduce us to a gangster. They lamented their children’s safety, the shots at night, the torrid service delivery and the rampant violence. They told us a man had been discovered dead behind the flats with his eyes gouged out. Apparently, the hallmark of an initiation ritual by prospective young gang inductees – and a convenient way to eliminate snitches.

“There were nights that I was on standby. I’d get called out on Friday night, and I knew that meant I’d be called out on Saturday and Sunday too. Because that’s their motto – if one guy bleeds, another must too.”

I recall Johannes*, back at Toevlug, telling us the same thing. “Bloed vir bloed.” The cycle of violence is self-perpetuating.

“These are poor areas,” explains Ester. “Most people here are struggling. The gang-leaders pay for school fees, pay off  housing bonds…” when what they’re buying is control; and the silence of would-be-witnesses. “As soon as the police get involved, no one will talk, otherwise they lose their support. That’s also where the weapons and the drugs are hidden. Kids are especially vulnerable – it’s a big status symbol for them to be part of a gang, and offers an illusory kind of protection.”

And it’s only getting worse. “Gang activity wasn’t what I usually wrote about when I started doing the crime beat there,” Ester informs us. “It got increasingly worse, to the point that I was covering three to four gang-related murders a week.”

And the tik?

“Definitely. It’s not rocket science. If you just go look at drug arrests, it’s clear that more drugs are coming in than ever before. I get my stats from CrimeStats, so it’s official.” And you have to wonder how accurate those are. “I think they kook those stats lekker,” she laughs.

Robertson is quieter than Worcester; an immediate change in sensory perception. At least, in the centre of town. It looks much the same but somehow there’s less grime and more green.

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According to Ester, tik is spreading and infiltrating the nearby districts of De Doorns and Rawsonville too, but she insisted that it’s quiet in Robertson. We came here expecting to find that drugs are less of a problem. We just had to dig deeper to find it, but find it we did. Our waitress during breakfast at a local B&B – an elderly coloured tannie with an imperious manner – held the same belief. But when we asked whether we could talk to some locals in the township, her face dropped, and we were strongly advised to go by car and be careful.

Then again, when the standard is Worcester, the bar’s been set distressingly high already.

Drug-related crime in Robertson has risen by 25% in the past three years. We don’t press Ester too much on that, and decide to hit up the police again – but she informs us that the SAPS spokesperson is on vacation. She unknowingly stokes our cynicism when we question her about the lack of police response in Worcester:

“In Worcester, because they’re really struggling, the police protocol lately is that first you have to inquire at provincial, who communicate with the local department, and then relay back to them. Personally I think it’s because the bigger papers like Die Son have made trouble with the local spokespeople, the trust relationship has been broken. So if they don’t know you well… even the Daily Voice has to go through provincial. I think they’ve burnt their fingers a few times.”

We head to the Robertson police department, down the road from Ester’s offices, where we’re told exactly that. A few of them take pity on us though, and we’re sent discreetly to a colonel who told us immediately to follow official protocol, and then slyly affirms that there’s been more tik than dagga in their arrest records over the past three years. He advises us to visit the local high school, out in the township – Langeberg Sekonder – to meet with a Dr Landman, after reminding us specifically that we didn’t hear that from him.

Langeberg Sekonder is tucked into a dip off the main road, gated off. It’s not exactly in a state of disrepair; just stereotypically underfunded – peeling paint and slightly decrepit.

We’re afforded 10 minutes with the principal, Dr Landman; an old white oom in a cramped office almost devoid of light. He doesn’t look like he’s used to media inquiries. He also happens to be the chair of LSAAG (Langeberg Substance Abuse Action Group), a coalition of interested parties fighting the good fight against drug abuse amongst the youth, but he can’t really provide specifics as to their current activities further than meetings and awareness campaigns.

He does tell us though, that the school ground is a microcosm of the gangster world. A pupil was stabbed in the lung a few months back, and they regularly have chalk stolen – allegedly to cut tik with, which has resulted in strokes and heart attacks when snorted or smoked. “It feels like the situation is escalating,” he says, “the JCYs are here.” He paints a different picture to the one Ester did, but we leave with little substantive info. It’s outside the school, two minutes later, where a bunch of cleaners are sharing a cigarette through the steel fencing with some locals smoking bottle-neck dagga, that we find the source. We park and saunter up with our hands in our pockets. The group eyes us warily.

“Ons is joernaliste. Ons wil praat met iemand wat tik verkoop in die area.”

“Nee meneer. Net dagga. Geen tik.”

We hang around, make conversation and give them smokes, until the cleaners leave. Then an old-ish man with dreadlocks calls us to the side, and says he’ll take us to a dealer. We get in the car and drive deeper and deeper into the township.

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The shack is up against a koppie, at the edge of town. It looks out over the other small houses and shacks. We’re given warnings, not to fuck with this guy, not to agitate him. Suitably breathless, I leave my recorder in the car by accident and walk through a wrought-iron gate that grates open on its hinges, to find a coloured guy my own age. Sitting with him in the yard is an older lady rolling a small glass pipe between her fingers. We grab crates and sit down amongst the squalor of dust and discarded furniture. Jaco takes out his camera and they eye it, but say nothing. They don’t have tik, until we offer to buy some for the lady. She graciously accepts, and we spend some time watching her smoke the lollie ‘til it shines. Then we chat, and I scribble notes hastily, wishing I’d remembered the recorder.

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The young guy, the guy about my age, 20-22… he has no name. Gangsterism isn’t big here he says, but tik sure is. He compares it to farming, and makes a gesture out towards the houses – rows and rows of them, lined up and ripe. He doesn’t like the drug much, himself. The dreadlocked man tells us that Wouter Basson makes this shit. They buy in bulk in Worcester, pay R12k for 50 grams in baggies. They bring it back here and sell a gram for R600 (more expensive than in the Cape, where it goes for between R200 and R400), or half a gram for R300. More popular though, are straws, which go for between R15 and R30. Depending on who you speak to, a straw gets you from 5 to 14 hits. And considering one hit is enough to hit home, its financial appeal is glaringly obvious. They don’t want to tell us who brings it in from the Cape, or how.

Later, we drop dreadlocks at his shack but he bums a final smoke off me and shoots the shit for a while longer. Apparently the kids here don’t just like tik – they love it. There’s a rising population crisis in neighbouring Nqubela, and tik compounds it by inducing threesomes and teenage pregnancy. Dreadlocks tells us he makes R40 000 a month selling tik. His busiest period is during school holidays and after pay-day every month. He’s got a couple of kids that he spends most of the cash on, he says. I asked him why, and his replies: “Dis vir my jong mannetjies. Die lewe raak net tougher.”

The next day we visit De Doorns and get to know the patient zero of the tik epidemic – the addicts. There’s a twitching baboon corpse just outside the dorp. We drive past it and don’t look back.

*The next installment, The Beast Is Sleeping / Tik in De Doorns is now live…

**Read Part I and Part II for the back story.

***Images © Jaco du Plessis

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