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Friday, April 18, 2008

house-breaking lessons

It hasn’t been a fun few days…

Last week, while house and dog-sitting in Montgomery Park, Jono and I had an extremely scary experience. It started off with me being a bit of an insomniac the last few weeks. As a result, I usually find myself awake at about three am most mornings, staring at the ceiling and wondering what’s up with my over-active brain. Well, Wednesday last week, I was lying awake when the dog next door started barking.

“Maximus” is a great dane, so when he gets going he has a penetrative bark. I was cursing him and almost drifting off to sleep when my car alarm started. My first thought was “not again!”, because the damn thing was faulty when originally installed, so I figured it was playing up again.

I got out of bed and wandered into the hall in a dazed state, muttering under my breath about dogs and alarms. Suddenly there was a crash at the far end of the house. Down the passage and across the lounge (about 10 or 12 metres away from me) the glass door into the back yard had just been smashed open!

Without even a split second of thought, I knew what was happening. The barking dog, the car alarm … we were being broken into! While in the house! Two steps later I was back in the bedroom, leaning up against the door (which wasn’t closing), yelling for Jons to call the cops. He was already up and on the phone to 10111 (South Africa’s version of 911).

Mistake number 1: not having the security company number on our phones.

The ancient and blind terrier we were supposed to be looking after was in the next room. Woken by the smashing glass, she wandered into the hall and started backing incessantly. In my non-reasonable panicked state, I almost opened the door to get her. I kept thinking, “please, please, don’t let them kill the dog.”

Twenty minutes of panic later we were still waiting for the cops to arrive. I called 10111 again. At this point I completely cracked. I was crying on the phone to the cops, and listening to him trying to get hold of the flying squad guys. Ten minutes after that they arrived. NOTE: we are five minutes from Linden and Melville cop stations, but these guys came from Brixton (20 min away).

Then the guy on the phone says, “You have to go open the door for the cops”. In fact, when I told him we were not sure if they were still in the house and I was too scared to leave the locked bedroom, he told me to tell my boyfriend to go! Like I’m going to say to Jono to go out alone!?!

We listened at the door, and heard nothing more than the dog barking, so we unlocked it, and armed only with the phone and a hammer that had been in the room, made our way to the front door.

Mistake number 2: the mace spray and panic button that were in the house, were sitting by the front door, rather than within reach.

We opened the door, and about 15 cops stepped out of the shadows, armed to the teeth. They were extremely professional, entering the house and garden, making sure no one was secreted anywhere, and then talking us down from our wide-eyed terror. If only they had arrived quicker, I would have nothing but praise for them.

With the lights on now, it was revealed that the burglars had taken the laptop from the dining room table, but nothing else seemed disturbed. The cops gave us instructions and reassurances and left. By now it was 5 am and we were never going to sleep.

Mistake number 3: Leaving the laptop right next to the glass-only door, with the light on in the room.

The aftermath of this was a horrible visit to Sophiatown police station (because Linden and Parkview told us to go elsewhere), and a scramble to get Maxidor thingies fitted to the unprotected glass windows. It also meant a few sleepless nights and a very jumpy Possum. Oh, and seriously rethinking the lack of precautions we had taken.

This is first time I have ever been personally affected by crime in SA, and all things considered we got off very lightly. I hope it doesn’t happen again, but it may. At least I know now not to be too complacent, and have learnt from the above mentioned mistakes.

P.S. Before any of the racist internet trolls (who used to stalk me online) get too high and mighty: my happy South Africa perspective is not damaged. I love this country, but it makes me sad that all the wonderful people in our country have to live like we do. I do see it changing in the future. I hope I’m right.

P.P.S. Prompted by this post and the discussions in the comments section thereof, go make your voice heard against crime in SA:

1. SA "Rocking" an interview with Desmond Dube about Million man march.
2. Million man march facebook group.
3. Million man march (against crime) website.


Tamara said...

Hectic, lady! So glad you're both ok. And good on you for keeping positive.

I'm on my third laptop now! Both the previous two were stolen out our flat. I reckon the insurance people think we're selling them on the sly and claiming for new ones :)

At least you have taken the good (the lesson you've learnt) from the situation and left the bad. And at least it wasn;t a violent crime.

Katie Possum said...

this may sound twee, but I really believe the positive is the only thing you should TAKE from an situation. leave the negative behind. Know what I mean??

ja, i'm also really glad that there was no confrontation or violence.

Tamara said...

I completely agree, but many people take the whole situation with them forever after. It's not good baggage to be carrying.

Katie Possum said...

some negatives came along for the ride though (the jumpy-ness, the paranoia for a few days). I dont want to know how much harder it is to get over when it turns violent and some times fatal!

but it didnt, so i can choose how i respond, eg:

last night was the first night in the house post maxidor installation, and i slept much better...

Anonymous said...


Welcome to the realities of South Africa!

I trust you will be just as positive, next time you get raped whilst someone relieves you of your brand new laptop.

Better go back to the UK, Katie... much safer there.

Oh, and how stupid a statement - should not have left the laptop next to a window. My laptop is permanently places on a desk overlooking the most beautifull park, with loads of passers-by. Only thing that keeps it safe is a three-feet fence, which even my mom climbed over when she was too lazy to walk around to the park entrance.

How does it feel to live behind maxidors? Burglar bars?

Enjoy SA, Katie, Enjoy.

Katie Possum said...

hey anon
justify your decisions to yourself however you want, but please don't use my little blog to abuse me or the country I live in and love.