It was shocking to hear of a visitor to Knysna being involved in a scary incident of racism on Thesen Islands’ on December 11. It allegedly culminated in a white man running and pointing a gun towards a coloured man getting away in his car. The incident was apparently watched by many, by the staff and customers of Col’Cacchio’s Pizzeria, next to the kids’ playground.
The victim’s fiancée claims that the Knysna SAPS then mistakenly arrested her partner. When this was made aware, both perpetrator and victim were taken to the Knysna police station where the victim was told that unless he was also arrested, that would not arrest the gunman. The SAPS then let the gunman go.
It was later reported on Facebook’s Golden Girls page that the gunman was actually holding a BB gun. Whether true or not, what happened would still be a crime… and the fear still real.
I’d previously met the couple, after they’d experienced racism in Knysna in 2015 – view ‘I Am Human Before Colour, I Hurt No Matter My Colour’.
The woman sent me her version of the recent event, a well-written, emotional piece. But since the matter was obviously bound to be controversial, I needed more information. I waited in the hope that Turbine Hotel, who owns Col’Cacchio, would respond – they said they would but never did. The police, as usual, never responded to my queries despite me CCing Colonel Kahn (admittedly, my point was also to prove to him that his Communications Officer never communicates).
In between, I got caught up in other stories, including revealing Knysna Municipality’s alleged illegal director who is set to earn R1.2-million this year. Despite the delay from my side, no more detail has been forthcoming. Consequently, and in light of the fact that it has subsequently been posted elsewhere online, I post the letter that was sent to me:
“Ok everyone, this is going to be a long story, but I feel it’s important enough and it NEEDS TO BE TOLD, because behaviour like this, should not EVER be happening ANYWHERE in this country.
Let me begin by stating that I am thoroughly disgusted by the behaviour of the South African Police Services in Knysna. I’m not even sure disgusted covers the range of emotions actually – perhaps terrified, disappointed, bitter, furious and gatvol also would be appropriate.
Yesterday evening, Sunday the 11th of December, my fiancé and I met up on Thesen Island to visit one of our regular haunts, Col’Cacchio’s, where we had been just the night before and were hankering for one of their signature salads. You see, we’re locals of Knysna (well, semi-locals over the past three years), and we come to Knysna specifically to escape, as many others do, to relax, to decompress and shed the worries of our hectic and demanding lives. Perhaps I should rephrase that – I get to relax in Knysna, because I am white. He, on the other hand, a colored guy, gets constantly reminded of his race, gets stared at, whispered about, experiences overt and covert racism, and often finds being here just as stressful, and sometimes just extra dehumanizing. To combat this complete and utter violent nonsense, he spends much of his time by the water, fishing. He has been known to say that fishermen don’t care what color you are; everybody will talk kak with you in the middle of the night by the ocean.
So, yesterday evening was just as many other evenings, he was coming from an afternoon of fishing (with no luck, unfortunately), and I was coming from home – he had called to request a romantic dinner, at a spot we knew we wouldn’t be stared at or feel uncomfortable, somewhere where they know us for the lighthearted and sometimes goofy people that we are. We were both excited to spend some time together, and he walked me from my car to the restaurant holding my hand, as somehow he had managed to get a parking spot right by the side door, in between the Turbine and the inside dining space. Since he had been fishing, and the only thing he’d managed to catch was a greedy octopus, he mentioned that he wanted to use the public restroom to freshen up, wash his hands, get himself slightly less fisherman-y before dinner. I agreed, and we walked to the small public restroom outside several of the restaurants all clumped together on Thesen Island. I waited for him outside, and after a minute or two was surprised to hear raised voices from the men’s half of the restroom.
Let me preface this by saying that I don’t speak Afrikaans, and I’m not going to pretend like I could follow this heated argument from the start (except maybe for all the swearing), but I can say that two Afrikaans guys were yelling and following my fiancé as he walked away toward me – and he quickly explained to me that he had clearly heard them, the two of them were using the same bathroom stall, the last in an empty row, snorting what one could safely assume to be drugs. My fiancé had called them out on it, clearly stating that their behavior is unacceptable, especially since this public restroom is directly adjacent to a play park with so many small children and families.
Now, my fiancé is not the kind of person who is going to see something wrong and let it slide, in fact, it’s one of the things I absolutely love about him – if something is wrong, the person should not just get away with it, and certainly shouldn’t feel entitled to their wrongness as it affects those around them. And let’s be honest with ourselves, if a white guy had walked into a bathroom and even just suspected my fiancé, as a colored man, of using drugs, the security would’ve descended on him in literal milliseconds and he would’ve been strip-searched (in public) and interrogated. I bet, even now, people reading this can imagine that scenario with militaristic precision – why? Because that is the only way that scenario unfolds. If you are a white person reading this, shaking your head and saying no, no here in the new South Africa equal this and that, please don’t. It is not equal the way people are treated, and it’s grossly, disgustingly, terrifyingly wrong.
But, let me continue with this nightmare of a story. So the two Afrikaans guys are now getting more and more heated, calling my fiancé racial slurs. Nasty, dirty words used to belittle, to dehumanize and to shame people of color – to make them feel as though their voice, their entire personhood, is meaningless because they are inherently a despicable thing. Again, my fiancé, not really the person you can say these things to and expect him to just shrink back, to fold, to quietly go away and leave a racist to whatever it is they’re doing – in fact, it’s more like throwing gasoline on a fire, it is just further proof that this person is scum, and they shouldn’t be allowed in places of polite company. Now don’t get me wrong, my fiancé also spewed a whole manner of insults (though, obviously there are no equivalent things a person of color can yell back at a white man and have them wound and dehumanize him in the same way) and yelled back with equal ferocity, and being colored, many of these things revolved around his mother.
At this point, our idea of a romantic evening together was totally out of the question, and he was moving further and further away from these bigots, toward his car, and he turned to me to say let’s just go. I could see he was deeply wounded – here are two adult men getting away with things that they should never be getting away with, in front of all of these people, and no one was willing to stand with him, to tell these racists to leave him alone, not a single security guard to see if they were indeed snorting drugs in the bathroom. As things were de-escalating (or so we thought), one of the guys had left and my fiancé had gotten into his car and I was turning to walk to mine. Then we hear tires screeching.
The smaller of the two, a blonde guy in a blue sweater, had gone to get his Jeep (a wrangler, JPH 612 NW). He flies into this 15km/hr zone next to the children’s play area, and my fiancé (seeing that he’s about to block him in to this tiny section of parking) quickly reverses by him, and good thing too, because he gets out of his car with a gun and starts running after my fiancé in his car.
Let me just repeat that. He gets out of his car WITH A GUN. And is holding it outstretched, pointed at my fiancé’s car as he runs forward. Immediately, there is screaming and scattering, as the play area had moments ago been full of CHILDREN and their parents.
Now, maybe you (attn: white readership) were thinking that this was all a big fight over nothing and my fiancé was over reacting, that he should’ve just let it go. But what does that mean? It means that we constantly ignore and excuse the actions of people who are violent, who are dangerous, who are capable of … well I think anyone brandishing a gun around a play park is capable of extraordinarily awful and terrifying things. Should we not stand up to what is wrong that’s happening around us before it becomes such a scary and uncontrollable situation? Should we not ensure safe and decent places for all of us to enjoy? Should we not demand a standard of behavior that includes not accepting people being racist, being violent?
That being said, what followed is perhaps the most unsettling and nauseating part. So the guy with the gun gets back into his jeep, and eerily waits for his wife and child to come out of the restaurant (a la sociopath). Everyone is unsure what to do, no one wants to attempt to approach the guy with the gun, the panic button in Col’Cacchio’s had been pushed, the police had been called, yet there is no security, no police officers, there are just defenseless and scared patrons, staff and children waiting for someone to help. A solid 10 minutes passes in this uncomfortable limbo, and when the wife and son do alight into the Jeep, he drives off without anyone attempting to halt his exit (which, I do not blame ordinary citizens for, no one wants to confront a clearly unstable man with a gun). As he leaves, he passes my fiancé (who is waiting for the police, or literally anyone, to come to his rescue), again pointing the gun across his child’s face in the passenger’s seat at him, yelling more threats.
Can we just pause and do the thing where we imagine how the scenario would’ve been different if it had been a colored guy with a gun? Just. Imagine.
The security company finally arrives, at which point we tell them you just passed the person leaving Thesen Island what is wrong with you, they make a completely ineffectual turn around and arrive by my fiancé (who has been following at a distance) and the Jeep just past Knysna Primary where the road intersects with the N2, not even 500 meters from the police station. At this point, my fiancé has called me, panicked, saying the police are on him with guns drawn, so I run to my car, and fly down the road to scream at them that they have the wrong person, even if he IS a coloured guy. When I arrive, there are four police officers, one with his firearm out, all yelling at my fiancé to put his hands up and get against the car so that they can search him for weapons.
I would like to point out for comparison, this Jeep with the GUY WITH THE GUN in it, is parked some 200 meters further up the road, and we can clearly see that the police did not ask him to get out of the car, they did not search him, and they have allocated all of their paranoid resources to making sure the colored guy is not a threat. I am bewildered. Shocked. Completely aghast at this level of idiocy – of blatant, unfair, unjust and systematic racism. Lo and behold, it only gets worse.
They ask us to come to the police station, which we do. We sit on the benches and wait, we see the wife and son who were in the Jeep being interviewed (in the open – where is your professionalism?) the other Afrikaans guy (the friend of the guy with the gun) be led in to a back room. We are then informed that in order for them to arrest the guy with the gun, my fiancé must also be arrested.
So, in order for the man who brandished a gun around all these children to be punished, we must also punish the colored guy who… incited him? provoked him? told him not to snort drugs in the public toilet? I’m not really sure what they are going for, but I’m going to bet it’s unconstitutional. I asked them to please go to the restaurant and ask ANYONE who had been standing there for footage of what happened, as I had heard someone say they got it on video. I told them to ask the staff at Col’Cacchio’s, who witnessed the entire thing. They assured me they would. They are still adamant that my fiancé is getting put in a cell – at which point I decided now is the time to obtain legal counsel – and we left to do just that.
But, as we left, we saw the guy with the gun drive off in his Jeep. Just like that. No consequences.
While my fiancé met with a lawyer, I returned to the restaurant to ask if anyone still had footage or photos, and they were floored to hear the police had simply released him. There was no logic. No possible way to understand why that had happened, or how it had transpired. No reason that a person that unstable should be driving around Knysna with a firearm and the notion that he is above reproach, that he can be as racist, as vile, as abhorrent of a human being, as threatening and relentless, and face no barriers.
But, that’s apparently how this story is ending – with violent racists with firearms doing as they please, while the rest of us flounder in a mix of incredulity and fear. Why is this acceptable? Why is South Africa and why are South Africans okay with this? Full disclosure, I’m actually foreign born, I’m not a South African by birth, I’ve just lived here for many years, though I still have a heavy and recognizable accent – when I was desperately on the phone trying to get the police to come help us, and while I was lamenting that they weren’t here, an older male bystander just laughed and said “well this is South Africa”, with a shrug. Yes, this is South Africa and I refuse to settle for substandard police services. This is South Africa and I refuse to accept that racism can go on being unpunished and uncontested. This is South Africa and South Africans, all of you, deserve a place where we can all feel protected by our fellow countrymen, where we can understand that what’s wrong is wrong, and standing up against it shouldn’t get you punished, you should be celebrated and we should all be striving to improve the lives of those around us, even if that means confronting what is unacceptable.”
The writer also said:
“I would just love to include a HUGE thank you to the staff of Col’Cacchio’s – they are literally a light in the darkness and were so helpful and kind, when I was clearly freaked out and so upset. They really deserve all my gratitude and respect.”