This is a story about a mining town where very few people feel good about themselves and the lives they lead. It’s worst among the whites who feel trapped without upward mobility and with limited opportunity — a characteristic of most mining towns. It is a very patriarchal, church-going community. Speak to anyone and they tell you about how cliquey the townspeople are. This is Mokopane in Limpopo, where a Monday for lawyers means sobbing wives who try to hide the bruises behind sunglasses and makeup. By Wednesday, all talk of divorce is over and it all starts again.
Among blacks, there is a more genuine sense of community but the challenge is staying alive. There are few jobs, especially if you are a member of the DA, and not nearly enough for everybody. New mines, it is claimed, only offer jobs to ANC members.
Last Saturday, a dog was killed — murdered would be a better word — at someone’s house near the centre of the town. Witnesses who saw what happened clammed up when they were asked to testify so exactly what happened never found its way to an affidavit. But it’s claimed that the dog was beaten with a chair, driven over by a bakkie (or the attempt was made) and shot several times. The dog’s owner claims the dog bit him, but whether this was before or during the beating is unclear.
Since a firearm was discharged in a residential area, the police were called but took no action.
The local SPCA took the report very seriously and it’s chairperson is Marcelle Maritz, a DA councillor for Mokopane. She’s no stranger to difficult situations, having been the town’s Sheriff for 18 years.
They SPCA asked to collect the dog’s body to establish how the dog died. The owner agreed and undertook to call them back to make arrangements. When he didn’t call back, they called again only to be told that the dog’s body had been disposed of. It had been taken to the edge of town, and buried under tyres which had been set alight. Does this sound like the actions of someone with nothing to hide?
When I spoke to Marcelle, she said that she had just been speaking to the man’s boss. He was clearly unhappy with the events and had issued the man with a final warning — he had used the work bakkie without permission to dispose of the dog’s body.
He also told Marcelle that the man is under a lot of stress. His wife is out on bail and his kids have no food. The boss was worried that the next act of violence could be directed at the wife and children.
In discussion with Marcelle, she conceded that this cannot justify his actions but she had to look after the best interests of the community… and her priority was the children. She would obtain food for them from the Noodforum.
But what about the gun, I asked. Had it been fired while under the influence of alcohol? Marcelle felt it probably was. So surely the police should open a case, confiscate the firearm and revoke the licence? Surely, given the fact that South Africa has the highest rate of family murders in the world, one cannot take chances?
What about the other dogs? If the children have no food, do the dogs have any? (Let’s ignore the fact that there’s probably money for alcohol.) Surely the SPCA should remove the other dogs?
Marcel agreed and her next stop was going to be the station commander at SAPS Mokopane.
The next thing I hear is that the man has agreed to do voluntary community service at the SPCA, and that’s the end of the whole episode.
Or is it the end of the episode? If he walks away after the first day of community service, does the SPCA have any recourse? Are his wife and children safe? If they become his next victims, who is to blame? Is it the witnesses who let a whole community down by refusing to testify? Is it Marcelle Maritz who tried to find a middle ground? Or is it the SA Police Service who — yet again — ignored all the obvious signs and did nothing? A former neighbour says the man has a history of violence and alcohol abuse… a suitable candidate for a firearm license?
The real sadness is that communities allow things like this to happen. Is this how the people of Potties (the old affectionate name for the town) want to be known — turn-a-blind-eye, sweep-it-under-the-carpet kind of people because it’s not too bad?
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.” — Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)