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28 July 2011 at 09:32 - Posted by Anonymous

Don't bank on the police, or . . . the banks


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The security gate swings open. I take a step forward. “I'm looking for Joseph Williams,” I say. The gate clangs shut behind me.

What the hell have I done? I'm trapped in the enemy's den. The room is filled with files and boxes. Is this part of their scam operation?

“No Joseph Williams here,” says the man at the desk. I'm not in the heart of a crime syndicate. I have stumbled into a law firm that specialises in liquidations.

It's another dead-end. I'd been on the trail of Joseph Williams, the man who breached my underpants - that supposedly footpad-proof holy of holies - to steal my Castrol box that contained sentimental treasures and my chequebook.

He'd been using my cheques and I'd been following his trail. I took on the investigation because the police were indifferent.

The officers who had come to our house on the day of the burglary were indifferent.

I asked one for his name.

“You don't need my name. You need the case number and the statement for insurance.”

He was there to do the job for the insurance company. I don't want insurance. I want justice.

I phone the police station when I discover that my cheques have gone on a crazy adventure.

I'm put through to Captain Nathan Arries - head of detectives at Rondebosch Police Station.

I e-mail the cheques to Captain Arries. “We'll take it from here,” he says. “We'll check if there are cameras at the stores. Perhaps someone can identify him - maybe he's a regular?”

There's a gossamer-winged flutter of hope.

“We'll let you know,” says the captain.

The police are on it. There will be justice. The person who invaded my life will be brought to book. I wait. A week passes and still no word. After two weeks I phone Captain Arries. “Have you followed the trail?”

There's a long pause.

“Er, to be honest,” says the captain, “I, physically, haven't done that, but I have appointed a new investigating officer. He's not at his desk.”

After a week of trying to get hold of the investigating officer I speak to Captain Arries again.

“He hasn't got hold of you with the progress? That's unprofessional. He's gone on leave, but I'll get the file and phone you in an hour.”

He doesn't.

I make repeated phone calls.

Well, I think, if the police aren't interested maybe Standard Bank is - after all it's their money on the line. I go into a branch. A consultant calls up my account.

“Oh my glory,” she whistles when she sees how my account has been plundered.

Joseph Williams has written more than a R1 million of my cheques.

The cheques have been cancelled so the money returns three days later.

The consultant tells me the fraud division won't investigate because it's only attempted fraud.

They only investigate when they lose money. Attempted doesn't count. I've never understood the “attempted” rule. Surely it's about intention - if you mean to steal/defraud/murder it's as much of a crime as if you succeed?

The consultant eventually agrees to contact the fraud division.

“I hope I can get through,” she says, dialling. She asks for the fraud division.

“A few minutes later she slams the phone down. “They put me through to telephone banking, can you believe it?”

She eventually gets hold of someone and hands the phone to me. After I retell the story the person says: “I deal with debit card fraud. You must phone transactional fraud.”

More calls, another rehash of the story and all I get from the person in the “transactional fraud department” is a big sigh. I want to bash my head against the counter.

“There's a stop on your account,” the consultant says, “so why worry?”

She's not talking about me, she's talking about the bank. The bank's not going to lose anything - not even sleep. Perhaps next time the criminals will move from “attempted” to “successful”, I tell her. It's in the bank's interests to stop them now.

On May 23, two months after the break-in, I inspect my bank statement. This has become a paranoid morning ritual.

I notice that there has been success - R3 000 has been withdrawn from my credit card by someone who isn't me.

I phone the bank's fraud division. “Your card has been compromised,” an official confirms.

I tell him about the break-in and Joseph Williams. “There's no connection,” he says. He says it's more likely that a teller at one of the shops where I swiped my card a day or two earlier skimmed my card while an accomplice, watching the store's CCTV camera, recorded my pin number. “Who will be responsible for the stolen funds?” I ask.

“You'll have to pay it and you'll have to pay the interest too,” he says.

“But, but, but?”

“Nah, I'm only joking,” he laughs. He assures me there will be an investigation and if they catch someone he'll let me know.

There are only three shops where my card could have been “compromised”, so it's hardly going to be an arms deal-style probe. It's been two months and I've heard nothing.

A few days later I take a stroll through Cape Town's CBD. I'm in Strand Street, opposite Woolies, in search of salad. I'm lost in thought.

A rush of feet stampede towards me. There's a chase. A wide-eyed man in a green tracksuit top and blank pants dodges cars as he tries to play Frogger to get to the other side of the street. Is he being mugged?

No, this is a mugger. And he's being chased by parking marshals, City Central Improvement District officials and a man he just snatched a cellphone from. A parking marshal catches the mugger first. They're on the island in the middle of Strand Street.

The mugged man catches up with them. “Give me my f**king cellphone,” he yells. He throws a flurry of ineffectual punches.

The marshal holds the mugger. Pedestrians gather.

“What's going on?” someone asks. As news spreads that a mugger has been caught, the bystanders start to get in on the action.

A man in blue overalls slaps the mugger's head. A woman claps. Someone throws a punch. Someone else kicks him in a leg. People laugh. The man in the blue overalls slaps the mugger's head again. And again. The mugged man picks up his cellphone. It's broken. He throws another punch.

“Joh!” says a man next to me. “This is extra kwaai!”

The crowd swells as people shove and pull, trying to get closer to the mugger so that they can slap him.

A wave of excitement that rips through the crowd turns into an exhilarated buzz. It's like being at a carnival. “Good,” someone next to me says. “They must m**r him. He must learn a lesson.”

“Street justice” is a strange kind of group therapy. But instead of sitting in a circle in a community hall and drinking bad coffee, the sun is on our faces and we're beating the cr*p out of someone on a city street. It's Fight Club outside Woolies. The members of the mob aren't just m**ring a mugger, they're trying to claw back control of their lives.

“Now you know if you get robbed everyone is going to come and help you,” a woman says as she takes her turn in the front of the queue to smack the mugger.

“I had been on the fringe of the mob, but suddenly I'm part of the frenzy. I start to tap into the reservoir of rage.

We're a nation of angry people. We're angry because we're frustrated - we've all been touched by crime and we want revenge. If the police won't give it to us we'll take it wherever we can - even on the street; even with our own hands.

The mugger is right in front of me. In a flash he becomes a symbol of Joseph Williams - the man who left me powerless.

I take a step towards him.

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