How to use a sjambok and other lessons from the South African frontlines

Um, so another day in South Africa, another outrageous racist incident.

In Cape Town a few days ago twenty two year old Muhammed Makungwa reported that as he was on his way to work on Monday morning, he was attacked by a sjambok-wielding white man driving a white BMW X5. For those of you who don’t know what a sjambok is, there’s a definition here.

According to Makungwa, he was a bit late for work so he decided to run down the road, towards his place of employment. Well, that wasn’t such a great idea. Obviously a black man running at 7 am on a weekday must be running away from something.

Makungwa works as a gardener in the Claremont suburb of Cape Town. Little did he know that at the same time that he was headed to work, a civic-minded white guy was also on the road looking around to make sure that there were no lawbreakers on the run.

Suddenly, Makungwa notes, “Someone in a car started shouting at me, but I don’t understand English very well and could not understand what he was saying.

“I kept on running and he then tried to drive his car into me. I stopped and he got out and started whipping me with a sjambok. He just went crazy and didn’t give me a chance to explain myself,” he said.

“He was shouting at me and I could make out that he thought I had broken into his car. I tried to explain to him that I was on my way to work, but he just kept on hitting me. My lunch box fell as he was whipping me and that’s when he stopped. He then asked me where I worked and after I told him he took me to (my) employers,” he said.

The great thing about the attacker is that once he realized his mistake he stopped hitting Makungwa and actually gave him a ride to work. Which was like a really sweet gesture considering that he didn’t even know him.  When he is eventually caught he’ll have a strong chance of convincing a magistrate that he’s a good guy who was just trying to make sure that the neighborhood is safe.

This approach kind of worked for Tim Osrin, the guy who attacked a forty-four year old domestic worker a few weeks ago. Like Makungwa, Cynthia Joni was on her way to her job in Kenilworth in early October when she says a man jumped out of his car and started to slap her. She says after that he threw her to the ground and kicked her. She started crying and screaming because, um, it hurt. Soon, horrified strangers came to her assistance so he had to stop beating her. He hadn’t explained why he was attacking her but it later emerged that he thought she was a sex worker. Which made everyone kind of go, ‘Whew! He’s actually a really good guy after all.’

In fact, to prove how nice he actually is, Osrin told the Cape Argus, “I hate people thinking that I am a monster because of this … I am not sure why Cynthia has trumped up all sorts of injuries either. I can only think she is going for some sort of payment, where she can leverage some cash…

“She’s probably thinking, ‘this white guy slapped me, great … here comes my Christmas box’. People do these things, you know.”

Ah yes, the Christmas box. There has been an epidemic of domestic workers begging strangers to attack them by standing provocatively on the side of the road waiting for their transport, just so they can fill up their Christmas boxes.  These people literally stand there with impunity, trying to look guilty, hoping that a white man will drive past and punch them in the face. The worst thing is that you would be amazed by how many white guys fall for this trick.

It works like this: once the victim of this elaborate ruse has been baited into punching one of these so-called domestic workers in the face, the person starts screaming, acting like it really hurt or something. This is just a ploy to get to the next phase of the plan: getting the neighbors involved. Once these bleeding heart white liberal employers are in the mix, they start pulling out their cellphones and calling the police. Next thing you know you are in the middle of a media scrum and all you did was get in your car and drive down the street. It’s truly shocking what’s happening in this country.

In any case, the sjambok assailant might just be at the forefront of a revival of the apartheid era instrument. If you are looking for new ways to use yours, it turns out that there are some great online videos. This one – used to educate, entertain and to advertise the Cold Steel Sjambok – is really powerful. Who knew that the sjambok had so many uses? Its “great for moving stock, it’s a premier snake killer and in an emergency it makes an unbelievably effective self-defense tool.” As the video shows, you can also use it on eggs, tomatoes, road safety cones and um, multiple ping pong balls.

Watch and learn friends, watch and learn.

Note: In case you are confused, all of the quotations in this piece are real. See here and here for the media coverage of these and other stories related to similar incidents.

Image Credit: Flickr.

Sisonke Msimang

Sisonke Msimang is a writer who probably tweets too much.

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