Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Margie Orford

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Connection Between Illegitmate Social Hierarchy and Violence

Two months ago a woman I have known all my life was hacked to death in her garden. Ann was seventy-two, a retired schoolteacher. A gentle woman with a soft, enveloping body. She was a mother, and a grandmother. My father was best man at their wedding.

They spent every Christmas with us on the farm, us children watching in delight as the adults got tipsy and told the same jokes and sang the same songs. Each year we exchanged gifts. I have some of them still. She was an invisible stitch in the fabric if my childhood.

This is how I picture it.

In the ritual of so many South African households, she would have taken a cup of tea and a sandwich out at mid-morning.

I ask some questions.

That day her husband went to work. He came home for lunch but no food was cooked. He went to look for her. He found her outside. She had been hacked to death. There was no sign of the gardener.

The police came. The house was searched. A firearm was missing. Two days later the gardener was arrested with the gun in his possession.

I ask some more questions. There is only this to tell. There had been words between the gardener and his employers.

I try to make sense of her death, to find an explanation for the brutal slaying of an old lady.

I have been in that garden.

The lawn is mowed, the edges trimmed, the dahlias staked, the white daisies bob in the summer breeze. It is neat, clipped, suburban, like countless others spread through the suburbs of South Africa.

On this day something tripped the fuse that runs through the dynamics of class and race and gender that hold South Africa in a deadly grip.

But what does it mean?

It is something that Randolph Roth, the author of a fascinating book called AMERICAN HOMICIDE, has addressed. He points out in his preface something that South Africans, citizens of one of the most murderous countries on earth, are all to familiar with.

‘The blunt truth,’ writes Roth, ‘is that homicide is hard to deter even under the best circumstances.’

His book presents analysis of the high homicide rates in the United States. It is, after all, statistically the most murderous of all the advanced democracies.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 14th, 2011 @14:23 #

    Heartbreaking, but ultimately helpful. Esp for my own research (which has demoralised me to a standstill). Will be reading Roth.


Please register or log in to comment

» View comments as a forum thread and add tags in BOOK Chat