On Tuesday night, a few hours after Police Minister Bheki Cele announced the latest crime statistics, we watched the movie, Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story, which in some ways contextualise a crime statistic from a few years ago.
In 2007, Ellen Pakkies strangled her drug addict son, Abie, to death after she and her husband suffered months of abuse at his hands. This included him stealing their possessions, including his father’s savings, breaking windows at their house and physically beating his mother.
Abie terrorised his parents and drove his mother, who had endured a lifetime of abuse, including being raped when she was four years old, over the edge. Ellen was eventually given a three-year suspended sentence and had to perform 280 hours of community service.
I chose to watch the movie at the Blue Route Mall in Tokai because it is the closest cinema to Lavender Hill, where Ellen and Odneal Pakkies still live. It is not often that one is able to watch a movie so close to where it is situated.
Crime is so much more than statistics. Behind every one of the 57 people who are murdered in South Africa every day there is a story of a human being who lived and loved, who might have been a father or a mother, or a son or a daughter. Most women who are raped are mothers and daughters with loved ones.
What Ellen shows is that crime cannot be seen in isolation. It needs to be contextualised within the brutal society that South Africa is to the majority of its people, the poor who cannot afford to escape communities such as Lavender Hill where gangsterism and drugs dominate the lives of most families.
Watching the movie, I found that I could relate to much of what was being portrayed because, like most people who grew up on the Cape Flats, I had a couple of family members who were addicted to drugs.
I remember my brothers, who both passed away at the relatively young age of 40, also displaying mood swings like Abie because of their drug addiction. In those days the drugs that decimated many communities were dagga and Mandrax, which were often mixed. Abie’s generation is being decimated by tik, which is apparently much more vicious.
My brothers would sometimes break everything in sight and often steal my mother’s stuff so that they would have money for drugs. But often they would cry like babies and ask my parents for forgiveness, promising never to steal and abuse them. Drugs affect just about everyone on the Cape Flats, especially those who do not use drugs, because they often have to deal with family members who do.
The gangsters, especially the ones who operate on the Cape Flats, know how much leverage they have in poor communities if they continue to addict young people to drugs. The problem I have with crime statistics is that the politicians, like the minister, often see them in isolation. Crime will not come down while South Africa remains the unequal society that it is. It requires more than policing to bring down crime statistics. It requires poor people to have access to decent jobs, housing and other things that are expected as normal in most societies.
It would be good for the minister and the top brass of the police force to see Ellen. It would be even better if they dedicated some funds to ensure that the movie is shown in schools and communities throughout South Africa, followed by discussions on drug abuse and gangsterism.
The shocking reality portrayed in the movie could help to dissuade young people who might be tempted to find drugs appealing.
(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 15 September 2018)