It’s easy to get caught up in the splendor and beauty of South Africa’s Garden Route along the N2. This is wine country. The fields are lush and green, the earth bountiful. And yet despite all the plenty that surrounds and inundates us, there is intense poverty everywhere you look. People lack jobs, but more to the point they lack skilled labor. The Garden Route is the perfect depiction for Miles Monroe’s definition of poverty: Being in possession of resources and yet lacking the skills or knowledge to convert them into wealth.
Poverty along the Garden Route is just one of the many things that saddens me about what really ought to be a paradise and a safe haven. I am convinced that there is no reason anyone should live in fear or want in an area that offers so much pleasantness to the senses and the soul. And yet it is the nature of man to foul even then most exquisite of God’s creations in the name of domination… as a celestial birthright afforded to him for the sake of his maleness alone. Why else would someone have raped and murdered Jelica* on Sunday night?
It’s tempting to blame poverty for the demise of this 27-year-old township beauty, but we know from the headlines that wealthy white men rape, molest and rob people every day. The only difference being that it’s deemed a “temporary lapse in judgment” or “white collar crime”. Criminal behavior is not a consequence of socioeconomic class. One’s environment does not determine one’s predisposition for criminal activity. Your character does. Defenders of the man who committed this heinous crime and is yet to be apprehended will certainly try to use his circumstances and environment as an excuse for his actions. These suppositions must be rejected soundly.
So what happened?
On Monday morning I set off to Kurland village to pick up our housekeeper. As I pulled into the township around 8:30, I saw a crowd of people milling around a stretch of road called “Animal Alley”, named so for the number of animal sanctuaries concentrated in the area. All up and down the road, people stood in clusters engaged in private conversations. The women looked particularly upset. There’s always something going on in The Crags. Just last week a woman was sitting on the side of road in the rain, so completely drunk that it didn’t occur to her to seek shelter. A patron at the same tavern she had left earlier got into his car and ran over her. Twice. I figured something had happened to cause the townspeople to gather so early, but nothing had prepared me for this.
Jelica’s mother passed away two years ago, and since then she’d been responsible for her own upkeep. Jobs are few and far between in this area, and I have no idea what she had to do to survive. Folk can live in their parents’ house well into their 30’s. The little I’ve uncovered about Jelica is that she was gorgeous, that she had many “boyfriends” and that her death was absolutely gruesome. Following her rape, her private parts were chopped off of her body, ostensibly in an attempt to conceal the identity of her attacker(s).
There are some who have tried to assign blame for Jelica’s death on Jelica herself. Because she did not belong to any one man, and had the audacity to formulate relationships with several men – whether romantically or not – she was therefore responsible for her rape and mutilation. It’s a popular (and stupid) idea that is not peculiar to this part of the world. From New York to Kwa-Zulu Natal, there will be both men and women who espouse these beliefs. The fact is, the other person responsible for Jelica’s death is her murderer.
The circumstances and the methodical execution of Jelica was eerily similar to LaVena Johnson. Johnson, some of you may recall, was a solider who had enlisted in the US army in 2003. Her body was found with a broken nose, loose teeth and acid poured on her genitals. She was raped and murdered by her comrades. The army ruled her death a suicide.
Like LaVena, I highly doubt that her attacker(s) will be brought to book. With so much damage done to Jelica’s body, there is little hope that there is enough evidence to lead to an arrest. Unless someone saw or heard something, her assailant is still on the loose, and that is not a comforting thought for anyone on the Garden Route. For all we know, there is a serial killer on the loose. That this brutal attack took place in an area called Animal Alley in not an irony that is lost on me.
As the holidays draw near, it is sobering to hear that more of these stories will become more frequent. December brings warm weather to Plett, but it also brings rape, robbery and death. It’s the dark side of paradise.