Geschrieben am 14. Mai 2011 von für Crimemag, Kolumnen und Themen

Andrew Brown: From Convict to Constable (II)

Andrew Brown ist einer der spannendsten und wichtigsten Schriftsteller Südafrikas und auch bei uns inzwischen bestens eingeführt (CrimeMag-Rezension zu „Schlaf ein, mein Kind“; „Würde“, btb 2010). Seine Biografie ist mit der Anti-Apartheids-Bewegung eng verknüpft und mit der Polizei seines Landes, die sich vom Repressionsinstrument zu einer demokratischen Institution entwickeln musste. In seinem (unübersetzten) Sachbuch „Street Blues“ erzählt Brown unter anderem darüber. Exklusiv für CrimeMag hat Andrew Brown ein Kapitel daraus neu bearbeitet. Lesen Sie heute den 2. Teil.

From Convict to Constable (II)

Hier geht’s zu Teil I

In June 1999 I was sworn in to the South African Police Service as a constable in training. I was issued with a grey-blue uniform. I signed an oath to protect our new country. I underwent training, legitimate this time. Z88 9-mm parabellum; shotgun; R5 automatic rifle. Lethal toys. Familiar smells. I was deeply uncertain about my decision to join the police service. The first time I entered the station as a constable, I walked around the counter – to the other side – and experienced another life-shifting moment, crossing what had stood as an absolute barrier before. In an instant, my position in the world was redefined. Standing behind the counter, in uniform, surrounded by other policemen, I looked out towards the doors, watching people come in and wait patiently on their side. I was fascinated by the prisoner who was sitting in the holding cells. I had sat there so many times before, head bowed, waiting for my fate to unravel. How would I relate to my new colleagues? What would I say to the young man handcuffed to the bars of the grated cell door?

The first six months of training were spent in the charge office, learning the seemingly endless contortions of paperwork. Forms for this, reams for that, each with individual codes. Regulations, directives, nuances on practices. It was a difficult and confusing array of new information. Yet the office was populated by ordinary, likeable people, each with their own story, their own history and their own reasons for being there. Late one uneventful night, I was trying to fill out an accident report with the help of the young and pretty desk sergeant. She was always vibrant and funny in the face of drudgery, happily and permanently part of the police force. She sipped her coffee coyly and laughed at my baggy trousers and loose belt.

‘So, what made you join the permanent force?’ I asked. I stopped the question short, holding back my comment that it seemed a waste, that she could’ve taken up a better job elsewhere. But perhaps she heard my comment without my saying it.

‘Ag, it’s not a bad job,’ she shrugged. ‘Some of the time. And for me, now, as a woman, there’s always a good chance of promotion. If I get off shift work, then, you know, as an office job, the hours are okay, if I want to have children …’ She smiled a little embarrassedly, as if she was divulging something too personal, but continued: ‘And as you go up the ranks the pay is better. It’s a career, you know, not just … like a short job. But anyway, I was always going to be in the force, you know, it’s just a part of who I am. And you, why are you here, Engelsman (Englishman)?’

‘I’m just mad, I think,’ I replied, grinning foolishly. She snorted, but not derisively. ‘I have wanted to try and give something back … I know that sounds a bit lame, but I just wanted to help out, you know, not with money or something like that, but really get involved, really try and help people …’ My reasons for joining were complex, and I wasn’t really sure that I understood them myself. Whenever I tried to explain my motives, it sounded unpersuasive or self-indulgent. I steered the conversation back to her. ‘But what do you mean it’s just part of who you are … that you were always going to join the police? How come?’

The young sergeant inclined her head. ‘I don’t think as an out-sider you can really understand what a community the police force is,’ she replied. ‘And if you grow up as a part of that community, it’s like growing up … I don’t know … as part of a Greek community, or growing up Jewish … it sort of defines who you are; it gives you your identity as a child and then later on as an adult.’

During the course of that quiet shift, interrupted only by occasional visitors to the station, the sergeant started to tell me about her experiences growing up as part of such a community, with its solidarity and sense of purpose. She described her father, her uncle, her cousins, all part of the overarching police world. When she was little, she had grown up in police barracks; then they had moved to a separate house. But her family’s friends were all officers. Since she was young, her father had been a senior policeman who had never accepted a desk job. He set an example for all those around him and was respected among his colleagues. A brave and dedicated officer, he was committed to preserving the rule of law. She described a man who was a role model for his peers, a man whose expectations were high and sometimes unforgiving. She explained how the police community used people like her father to resolve disputes, keeping and solving problems among themselves. He would be asked to intervene in conflicts between members, to bring an abusive spouse into line, to advise, help, support.

But she also told me about him as a father, of his love and dedication to her, how he always had time to talk to her, to help her. She told me how she had always waited for him to come home, sometimes late at night, the smells of the day lingering about his uniform. As I listened to her talk, I saw his figure before me. Strong, dependable. My heart felt sore for her love.

And then she told me of her devastation. She had been a young teenager, listening to music one balmy evening, waiting, as always, for him to return. Her mother came into her room, red-eyed, her face sodden. He had been killed. Shot in the chest with a shotgun. Shot dead. By a madman in Sun Valley.

My heart clenched. I heard again the stomping feet, dancing in the celebratory firelight, sparks arcing like stars. I felt tears run on our faces. My feet. Her tears.

People are not one thing or another; people are not always what you expect. They disappoint you, and they surprise you. Yet here, in our scarred and half-healed land, life seems somehow to come back full circle; things have a way of coming back to where they started (for better or for worse). South Africa is almost Zen-like in its completion of cycles of time and being. That which hurts us now comes back to heal us later, that which remains unlearned returns to be taught. Sometimes it takes on the elements of the bizarre, but often for us, living through it, it seems commonplace, perhaps even mundane. The banished terrorist becomes the constitutional court judge; the persecuted murderer, the minister of security. The condemned become our leaders, the exiled become our patriots, the terrors of the state become the upholders of justice, our enemies rise up as fathers before us.

*    *    *

There is a sequel to this story. I said nothing to the sergeant at the time and simply sat dumbstruck by the awful coincidence. I did, however, tell the story at the launch of my novel Coldsleep Lullaby. A number of police colleagues had come to the event and the story spread like a bush fire through the station. My cover was blown and I spent the next few weeks fielding a wave of questions about my past.

One evening shortly afterwards, I was smoking in the police yard with a few permanent force members. One of them, Inspector Munk, had taken me under his wing when I had first joined the reserves. A solid policeman with a keen eye for detail, he had taught me the invaluable lesson of observing things without making assumptions. He was a respected member of the force and an asset to the station and the community it served.

‘So,’ the burly inspector said, a slight smile playing under his moustache, ‘so you were involved in the struggle. An activist, hey?’

I nodded nervously. The scowling detective standing next to me dropped his cigarette and ground it meaningfully into the tarmac with his heel. ‘So were you busy with the others at UCT in 1986?’ the inspector continued.

‘Ja,’ I told him, I was involved. I did not want to say more than that and looked away.

‘Ja, you see,’ he persevered, watching me keenly, critically perhaps, I am not sure, ‘because I was in the public order unit—’

‘You mean the riot squad,’ I interrupted, unable to stop myself. The conversation had wandered onto uncertain ground; I was not necessarily among friends.

The detective snorted through his nose. Yes, the riot squad, the inspector replied. ‘’Cause, you know, I was stationed at Rondebosch in 1986. And you … you were busy at the University in ’86.’ He said nothing further for a while, letting this information sink in. Someone else lit up a cigarette, offering one to the inspector in a gesture of solidarity. The tobacco sizzled in the quiet evening air as the heat burned the exposed end. Aromatic smoke drifted between us, curling in the stillness. We all waited a little longer, watching the smoke dissipate.

Then the inspector grinned at me. ‘Ja, you were throwing half-bricks at us cops in the squad.’

I half-smiled back. ‘And you guys were shooting teargas canisters at us students right on campus. In fact …’ I hesitated, but was encouraged by the twinkle in his eye: ‘In fact, some bastard shot me in the leg with a canister at close range and nearly tore my bloody calf muscle in half.’

The inspector laughed widely at this, shaking his head. ‘Ja, but I got hit on the helmet by one of those bricks you threw.’

I laughed now as well, but not too loudly.

‘Next time, aim a little higher,’ I heard the detective mutter to the inspector under his breath.

The inspector and I looked at each other, both grinning like naughty children.

Andrew Brown

Hier geht’s zu Teil I

Aus: “Street Blues: the experiences of a reluctant policeman”, published by Zebra Press (Random House South Africa) in 2008.
Informationen zu Andrew Brown gibt es hier und hier. CULTurMAG über südafrikanische Kriminalliteratur.
Andrew Brown: Schlaf ein, mein Kind (Coldsleep Lullaby, 2008). Übersetzt von Mechthild Barth. btb Verlag 2009. 382 Seiten. 9,00 Euro. Zur CULTurMAG-Rezension von „Schlaf ein, mein Kind“ gehts hier.
Andrew Brown: Würde (Refuge, 2009). Aus dem Englischen von Mechthild Barth. btb. Juni 2010. Gebundene Ausgabe. 384 Seiten. 19,95 Euro.
Andrew Brown bei KrimiZeitBestenliste

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