Joburg's inner city hijacked by truth

#142. Confirm that real life can be far more interesting than fiction in this city. Last week I interviewed Peter Harris, author of In A Different Time, at one of my favourite bookstores Boekehuis in Melville. Harris’s true account of the dramatic tale of the Delmas Four with its intrigue and suspense and myriad coincidences is a plot fiction writers dream of creating, remarked someone in the audience.
Big news this morning is the arrest of a prominent attorney for assisting a crime syndicate to hijack inner-city buildings. This after watching “Jerusalema” last week, a movie set in Johannesburg that I had long been wanting to see.

“If you are going to steal, steal big and hope like hell you get away with it,” says Lucky Kunene, the hero of the piece. “Jerusalema” is the story of a petty criminal who becomes king of Hillbrow. A young man with big dreams from a poor family he turns to gangsterism (assisted by an ex-MK soldier) after failing to secure a university bursary. Lucky Kunene builds a career out of hijacking – or “affirmative repossession” – as it’s termed in the movie (which is definitely worth seeing. The soundtrack is also brilliant), a South African equivalent of “City of God”. In Hillbrow Lucky targets residential buildings long neglected by their wealthy owners. His MO is to call a tenants meeting, tell them their rent is being halved and that it should now be paid into Lucky’s “trust” and that he will take care of the them and the building. I won’t give away more of the plot, just to say that his path to riches is paved by a number of professionals including his lawyer and his banker.

“All Lucky Kunene ever wanted was a BMW seven series and a house with a sea view. But born into a poor family in Soweto in the dying years of Apartheid, the odds were stacked against him. However, working a menial, dead end job, was never an option for this ambitious, talented and impatient young man.” Some dream of being doctors, of bringing world peace. Lucky dreams of a seven series BMW and Rapulano Seiphemo is so likeable as Lucky that you can’t help rooting for him (he ends up with a Mercedes though — could it be a case of the dream deferred?)

The lawyer in Livhuwani Mammburu’s piece Top Attorney busted (click to watch) – an editor’s news pick – on Times Live this morning lacks the glamour of Kunene (after all her face is covered by legal briefs for much of the piece) but her story is definitely worth a filmmaker’s attention. An audacious plan, a city full of opportunity and a criminal syndicate with eyes on a property portfolio.

In the promised land, who needs fiction?

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