The Murder Capital Of The World

Marcus O'Malley -- November 16th, 2009

Guest blogger (and former hburgnews contributor) Marcus shares some of his experiences in South Africa.

Some of you may know that I spent the last year in Cape Town, South Africa. I went because I felt I had to, but I was hoping to make a difference. Cape Town is one of the murder capitals of the world an astounding rate of murder of 62 per 100,000 inhabitants. I had several unfortunate opportunities to experience this, but one incident really had a more lasting effect on me.

Cupido Family @ Luke's Sports Day

My opposite neighbor was the only complete family in the community; by that I mean a family with a mother, a father and children living together. Pictured is father Randal, Rene and youngest son, Luke. One evening, Randal was asked to give someone a ride. Being the kind guy he was, he agreed and gave the man a ride. He suddenly found himself tied up in a serious Syndicate (mob) act as an accomplice driving a gunman to murder the drivers and then steal a meat truck. Not knowing what to do he fled home and decided to approach the police. He was arrested and held as an accomplice on a Friday, the following Thursday he was found hung in cell by a belt, that he did not have possession of the day before.

Suddenly the whole operation and the murders were pinned on him in the news and the wife, Rene was too afraid of the Syndicate ties to fight. The cell phone and some other items with evidence of text messages and other things disappeared from the police station. It was quite surreal to be a part of and it was hard not to expect or hope that a director would come out from around the corner and yell cut.

Rene was a rock of faith and though she lost her car and her home because of the tragic event she continued to trust that God had purpose with it. She and her two children moved in with her folks on the same street and she is pressing on in her challenging road ahead.

Marcus O’Malley started Immerge Technologies in Harrisonburg before taking a year off to spend doing missions work in South Africa. He’s now planning another business in Warrenton, VA. Read more on Marcus’ blog from the trip

8 Responses to “The Murder Capital Of The World”

  1. Dany Fleming says:

    Thanks for sharing the story. Marcus. I spent about 2 years in SA in the early ’90s working with a number of anti-apartheid organizations – just before the transition. It doesn’t take long there for senseless violence to become personally connected to you.

    When I arrived, I worked with a woman whose husband had just been shot in the head and killed – the bullet flew past her in the passenger seat and hit her husband in the driver’s seat. It was an apartheid government hit. They were anti-apartheid lawyers and both White.

    A week week later, a woman in the class I was teaching didn’t show. She was Black. I was told she had been “mysteriously” killed that morning. The rush of anger I had towards the killing was almost debilitating and I found myself fighting against acting out foolishly on that anger.

    Just before leaving, my wife and I were 10 feet from a SA soldier as he fired into a crowd of protesters. The SA soldier said he was stunned when the blank turned out to be a real bullet, A Black SA man eventually died from the wound.

    Then, just after we left, an American woman I worked with was pulled from her car at a stop sign and beaten to death with a brick by some township kids. She was driving a route we took every day, though I had learned early on to try to avoid stopping in some areas.

    The nature of violence has changed a lot in SA over the years. What’s amazing though, is that in the midst of the extreme violence and killing is an equally extreme sense of hope and of standing strong against it. That makes SA one of the most powerful and inspiring beacons in the world today. A story that needs to continue to be told, as you are doing.

    The work towards reconciliation in SA is still stronger than the power of retribution and economic despair. Certainly, Gandhi, Mandela, Tutu and countless other less well-known and nameless folks have made that their goal.

    So….good luck in your work. I know it will be powerful for you and the folks you’re affecting. By the way, check out the inspiring work of Amy Biehl’s parents – an amazing example of rising above the violence that rocked their world.

  2. Crazy, tragic stories. Thanks, Marcus and Dany for sharing. I think witnessing something like that would give me a sense of complete helplessness and despair. How do you/did you cope?

  3. marcus says:

    Thanks for sharing Dany – that’s an incredible experience. I think I saw more of the hope and change on my trip than you might have, but there is a lot more road to travel…

    I saw and heard a lot about Amy Biehl and her story and many people are still being impacted by her efforts long after she died.

    Brent – I think in the immediate sense it is helplessness, but just the opposite happens when considering the bigger picture. As Dany stated he was there in the early 90s and a lot has progressed and happened since then. Giving up wasn’t really an option and showing love to the family and the community in response to Randal’s death really brought everyone together.

    Stories like Amy’s and others are exciting and show the change that is happening, perhaps slowly, but it is going on. There is a lot of hope for the future of South Africa and in the years ahead.

    Like here in the USA and around the world racial reconciliation and violence (whether organized crime or other) is still a process and has a long way to go.

  4. Renee says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing your story. Were you scared to live in such a dangerous place? It sounds like pretty much the complete opposite of Harrisonburg!

  5. Marcus says:

    Might be more of an answer than you wanted, but I think I described to a friend as most of the time I was around danger, but not in danger.

    There’s a lot of gangsterism, violence, etc but everyone in the community knew why I was there and what I was about. Even the gangsters in my community would look out for me because they liked what I was doing with the younger guys.

    I also think those kids have to live in a situation like that every day – just because I don’t have to I didn’t feel like I should move away from what I felt I needed to do. I think the fact that I didn’t HAVE to be there but stayed anyway really challenged a lot of people there to get more involved in their own community and making change instead of being disappointed about it.

    That being said I had some scarier moments a few times, but I don’t tend to have a lot of fear about doing things anyway. Being a person of faith it made me more comfortable to be in a position like that.

    And finally I’ll say I’ve had a knife pulled on me in downtown Manassas, Virginia and got attacked in Rome, Italy – nothing close happened with a year in Cape Town, SA. I’m sure plenty of people can attest to violence even in H’burg. I know there’s a rape awareness group in town called 1 in 4. Doesn’t matter where you are anything can happen at any time….fear doesn’t effect it either way…

  6. Dany Fleming says:

    Brent – to answer your question. I think people doing what Marcus is doing are always tuned-in to finding hope and solutions – as in his story.

    However, in South Africa, one of the things that most powerfully resonates for me is the music. I bet Marcus will agree and, if he didn’t know SA music before, I imagine he has a whole new set of CDs. I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts, Marcus.

    Without exception, SA anti-apartheid leaders will tell you that the music was a dominant force in ushering change in SA; in keeping people’s hopes and spirits alive. It’s absolutely contagious and sweeps up anybody working for democracy there. It’s almost impossible to overestimate its value and impact. Under apartheid, it was illegal to have a gun if you’re Black. Plenty of weapons made there way in, but there was no armed battle that brought a change to SA.

    So, the corollary to “the pen is mightier than the sword” is “the clef is mightier than the sword.”

    In this country, plenty of folks work hard for gun rights. However, another battle gets much less attention and support; the arts are being pushed out of schools without much fuss. No doubt, lots of people will chuckle and say “what a lame and trite comparison.” It probably seems absurd that gun-rights advocates would take up the yell of “save the arts.”

    I read a story once about a woman in Bosnia who was severely beaten and abused; her children, husband and father shot in front of her, her village burned down (a well-armed village). Her quote in the article was “I finally lost all hope when people stopped playing music.” I don’t mean to be tragic or dramatic about this. But, I do think the arts – music, as in South Africa – are at the heart of hope and protect against helplessness. They’re certainly the seed of innovation. The gradual taking of that away from kids, in my opinion, is a devastating mistake.

  7. This is superficial, but Capetown is a great place to visit, and, yes, the music is very cool.

    Indeed, there are lots of problems, but also lots of hope. I visited Robben Island and saw where Mandela was imprisoned. It is easy to forget how little hope most outside observers had that South Africa would end up as anything other than a massive bloodbath when it would finally blow. To an astounding degree, the fact that it did not was due to the heroism and wisdom of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest people living on this planet at this time.

    This view was confirmed to me as I was being driven to the aiport from Stellenbosch, where I had attended an academic conference, and the Afrikaner driver turned out to be someone who personally knew de Klerk and much of the top white leadership before they stepped aside. He said that all those people basically had the same view, that they were facing a potentially massive bloodbath, and that more than anything else it was the personal leadership of Mandela that led to where SA is now, despite all of its many problems.

  8. Marcus says:

    Dany – I agree though I didn’t see much of the healing nature of music in the community, I saw (and heard) how much music was a part of the culture. I think part of what I had lost is that most of the South Africans in my area have access to American music, so I heard much more familiar tunes than I imagine you did on your trip.

    At times it seemed everything was wrapped around American culture – many children asking me if I had met Chris Brown or 50 Cent. A lot of the youngsters had some form of music player, mostly cell phones – American R&B or Rap dominating the play lists.

    In the church several local songs along with dance was still kept as part of the worship time, however most American music had made its way into the song lists.

    Deeper into the townships there was a lot more of the local music and I got to enjoy a ton of xylophone talents in the touristy settings. Many of the churches or events away from my area that I attended often incorporated local worship songs in a dialect which was incredible to be a part of. Music there, even American songs, were a production, not just a song. The way they use dance and movement is something completely different than I see in most settings in the US.

    I agree Mandela was incredible, I strongly suggest reading “Long Walk to Freedom”.

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