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Archive for February, 2015

This story is loosely based on an incident reported in a newspaper article in April 2012. A green grocer, Rajen Moodley, living in Durban, South Africa, was approached by two men from northern Zululand. The men had an old rhino horn in their possession, and were looking for a buyer. Being unfamiliar with Durban, the men approached Rajen Moodely to help them locate such a buyer. Rajen was promised 10% of the R1.5million price tag attached to the horn. Rajen, enticed by the potential R150 000 he stood to make, went about the task of finding a buyer in the market for a horn. His first port of call were the local muti* markets, where he left his name and cell phone number with muti sellers, with the instruction to call him if they happened to hear of someone in the market for a rhino horn. One day, Rajen received a phone call to say that a potential buyer had been found; he then set up a meeting with the two men who had initiated the contact, in order to meet the buyer. They met on Durban’s Golden Mile outside one of the better hotels, and then made their way to another location to show the horn, hidden on the backseat of their vehicle, to the buyer. Once the horn was uncovered in front of the buyer, the police surrounded the vehicle and arrested Rajen and the two men for illegal possession and attempted sale of a rhino horn. For his role in the crime, Rajen received a 3 year jail sentence.

*muti: the South African term for tradition medicine; usually herbal.

I must stress that this story is completely fictional – apart from reading the one newspaper article on the case, I have no knowledge of Rajen Moodley, the others involved in this case, nor any other fact pertaining to the case. I was simply letting my imagination run wild.

****

Danny Naidoo was always looking for a way to make a quick buck. He was from a long line of down-and-out Naidoo men who somehow managed to evade gainful employment and yet remain marginally solvent through the hard work of a long line of Naidoo women. But even Danny knew he couldn’t rely on the females in his family for every meal, and had therefore perfected a system that ensured he was reasonably well fed without severing those already tenuous relationships. For Danny’s siblings were not impressed by his chosen lifestyle, which often saw one of them bailing him out of jail in the early hours of a Monday morning – having spent the weekend languishing in the cells, a warm place to lay his exhausted body, which was continually on the move as he outwitted the police bent on chasing vagrants from every tourist spot in the city.

Despite the fact that Danny was as long and thin as one of the many palm trees that dotted the promenade along Durban’s Golden Mile, he walked the streets with swag and a smile, waiting for the next best opportunity to present itself. For Danny believed that if one had the right attitude, and his uncanny ability to recognise the suckers from the street savvy, then a person could do rather well for himself on the streets. Nothing was considered an insignificant win for Danny; a cigarette bummed from a surfer, R2 flicked from the hand of a faceless driver – the car idling at a red light, R10 from a tourist still unfamiliar with the notes of a new destination, enough for an infrequent night in the local shelter. All small fry in the grand scheme of things, but they kept Danny alive to see another day. His optimistic outlook on life meant that he truly believed that one day his ship would come, steaming into Durban’s harbour, banners flying, steam billowing, to pick him up and transport him away from this life of frugality. He’d show them all that Danny Naidoo, perceived loafer and waster of space, was actually capable of great things – he just needed someone to offer him a hand. A hand that when stretched out towards him, he’d grab with every ounce of strength in his wiry body – he just hoped the hand was strong enough to lift him out, rather than be pulled down into Danny’s disreputable existence.

One hot and humid Durban day, the tar shimmering with peculiar visions that hovered in the muggy air, Danny saw his marks before they saw him. He was standing with his back resting against the wall of the local Chinese Mall, a cigarette drooping from his lip as he stared at the duo through a curtain of greasy hair. They looked completely uncomfortable as the roar of Durban’s city centre engulfed them. Two country-bumpkins ripe for easy pickings; a large duffel bag suspended between them, their hands gripping a handle each. Danny figured they were either from some rural area on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, or some one-horse inland town. He peeled himself off the cool concrete and sauntered in their direction; acknowledging a slow approach was called for, and with that he gently eased himself into their worried huddle with a friendly Zulu greeting, “Sanibonani”. Without looking up from the piece of paper they were examining, they responded automatically with the customary response, “Yebo, sanbona.” It was only when they lifted their heads that they saw the man they’d expected to be a Zulu, was actually a skinny Indian with a perfect Zulu accent. Danny grinned at their surprise and smacked one of them on the back as he made his introductions, welcoming them both to the beautiful city of Durban, asking them if he could be of any assistance.

Eish, brother,” said one, wiping beads of sweat from his brow with a well-used facecloth, “we are completely lost.”

The other proffered Danny a scrap of paper, the pencil markings smeared with the oil of the many fingers that had brushed its surface. Danny took it, studying the address with an air of concentration. He knew this place, it wasn’t a stone’s throw away. As he folded the piece of paper, he raised his head, his face a picture of concern,

Ey cuzzies! It’s lucky I found you. You’d have wandered in circles for days trying to find this place. Come on,” he said, grabbing a handle from the smaller of the two, pulling them both into a wildly convoluted tour of the city.

Danny made an hour pass quickly enough as he showed them the ocean, letting them taste the salty water for the first time, the cool ocean water washing over their tired feed. He let them gaze in wonder at tall buildings made of glass and steel, tentatively step on an escalator, and ride in a lift for the first time. By the time Danny’s tour was finished, not 500m from where he’d met the men, all three were the best of friends and made plans to meet up for a beer later that evening at one of the local taverns on Point Road.

***

That night, the three men sat closely together on sticky faux leather stools around a table that listed to one side. Much of the evening was spent ensuring that large quarts of Black Label didn’t slide right off the table to join the river of beer and broken glass that already soaked the men’s shoes. After a few beers and the usual banter, the conversation turned to the reason the two men had travelled all the way from the small town of Manguzi in northern Zululand, to the bright lights of Durban. Danny told them that he’d met many a man from rural backwaters who’d come to Durban to make his riches, only to find that he quickly became even poorer than when he arrived. Most had no connections and mistakenly thought that on arrival jobs were easy to come by, and cheap clean accommodation was available on tap. Only to realise that a life of even worse poverty awaited them, forced to live in hijacked buildings with no electricity or water, rubbish filling up disused lift shafts; the police knocking on doors at all hours. No, this was not the place for those with big aspirations and empty pockets. The city would swallow you up and spit you out in no time.

Jah baba, this country is littered with ruined men! Just angry wives and hungry children to go home to,” nodded one of the men.

A silence descended on the table, as each man considered what an angry wife might do to such a man. Equally, a humiliated man could react in unkind ways, so perhaps it was best that these unfortunate men remained in the city of broken dreams.

Danny, never one to dwell on unhappy thoughts, looked up at the men and said, “So laanies, what’s your story?”

They leaned in towards the table, drawing Danny in with them.

“Rhino horn,” whispered the older of the two.

“Rhino horn?” Danny cried.

The younger man clamped his fingers around the tender spot above Danny’s knee, silencing him immediately.

“There’s big money to be made in rhino horn.”

“I’m sure there is,” said Danny, “but I sure as hell didn’t see any roaming around the city today.”

The two men shared a glance. They needed someone with imagination and street smarts, and currently, Danny appeared to be lacking in both.

The older man traced a pattern through the droplets of water beading his bottle of beer, “Where are you sleeping tonight, Danny?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” he mocked, “maybe my mansion in Morningside or my penthouse on the beachfront.”

“Stick with us Danny, and that mansion in Morningside won’t be a dream for much longer,” said the other.

Danny took a long slug of his luke-warm beer, studying the two men around the bottle. There was about a ten year difference between the two. They appeared to be related; maybe brothers, but possibly cousins. The younger man, Mandla, spoke excellent English. But Khaya possessed a calm confidence, while nervous energy flowed from the fidgeting hands and dancing feet of Mandla. It was obvious that neither man was in rolling in it, but then looks could be deceiving.

“Okay cuzzies, you got my attention,” said Danny, “how you gonna make me rich?”

The three men leant in, their heads almost touching, and the older man began to share their story.

One afternoon, as they walked home, they passed an isivivane, a pyramid of stones created in memory of the deceased, which had grown in size as the years went by. As was customary, each picked up a stone ready to throw it onto the pile, when the younger noticed a piece of fabric and what appeared to be greying bone, poking out the bottom. They’d both reared back in fright, imagining the bleached bones of a long deceased freedom fighter, rising up to attack and dispatch them with practiced ease. Then they’d remembered that it was a symbolic resting place of the dead, and a heated debate ensued listing the pros and cons of vandalising such a site, with the older mentioning the likelihood of retribution from the ancestors, highlighted by a lifetime of bad luck. The younger felt less strongly about traditions and secretly did not believe that ancestors had any say in current matters. What if, he said, they uncovered the body of a missing person, and the police offered them a reward for their troubles? Surely the ancestors would not object to the reunification of a missing person to the family burial site. They should, in fact, be quite pleased. So as the original pile diminished, and a new pile grew to its left, the anticipation was palpable as the last layer of stones was removed. And there, at the bottom, wrapped in a dirty, threadbare blanket was not the bones of a man or woman, but rather was the unmistakable sight of a large rhino horn. The two men sat back on their heels; a horn was not exactly a lucky find.

They knew there would be no reward for finding the horn. If anything, they’d be locked up in jail, the police more likely to believe that the men had poached it, and having failed to sell it, were looking to make a quick buck for their troubles. So they took it with them, wrapped in the dirty blanket, hurrying as fast as they could, as though the band of poachers themselves were in hot pursuit. The horn was hidden under the bed of Khaya, and stayed there for two years. It only ever came up in conversations late at night, the smell of Black Label on both their breaths, their hopes pinned to the possibility that one day they would sell it and make their fortune.

A month ago, the men had been drinking in a local tavern. The small room was filled to capacity, and people were jostled up against each other in their determination to get to the bar. It was impossible not to hear the conversation between three men next to them. The men were boasting of their great financial windfall and were buying drinks all round. One of the men, particularly loose-lipped after his fourth quart of beer, was draped over one of the lovely ladies purposefully positioned at the bar. He was leaning over her, retelling a well-worn tale of great danger; the poaching of a white rhino in one of the nearby private game farms. Although he hadn’t pulled the trigger, he had the risky job of sawing off the horn as the beast breathed its last, paralysed from a shot to the spine.

“And, was it worth it?” she said, wondering whether she’d be rewarded for enduring his yeasty breath and wandering hands.

“Yebo sissie, come outside and check my ride.”

“Hm mm,” she said, as she stood up and readjusted the length of her skirt, “then you can show me the back seat.”

As the two left the bar, one of the other men took up the story, explaining how they’d smuggled the horn out of the reserve and into a waiting car. From there they’d driven to Richards Bay and met a middleman who would transport the horn to Vietnam via a shipping container leaving the harbour. The three men were paid very well for their part in the plan, but not nearly as much as the middleman, who would put all three of his children through university with that one transaction.

***

To be continued

If you can’t wait to read the next two instalments, click here for the full story: A Rhino’s Revenge (Full Story) http://wp.me/pYnie-fY

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