#30 - Knifepoint
Jeff Willner - 13 March 2002
(Durban, SOUTH AFRICA) - The attack came on Commercial
Street just past the convention center, no traffic, deserted in the night.
It was stupid really. I know better than to walk down a dark street in
a big African city. But Durban is South Africa's beach town renowned
as a place to hang out and relax. And with the exchange rate with the
Rand so ridiculously low I was staying in pampered luxury in a four star
hotel for only $32 a night. Besides, I had just watched the movie Black
Hawk Down and was feeling militant. So against good sense I decided to
forgo the cab and walk the eight blocks from the city center to my beach
I left the theatre and was three blocks into the walk when I heard footsteps
approaching from the rear. That's when I realized that despite being on
a major road there was no traffic. No witnesses. At the next intersection
I decided to cross over onto the median, I felt a bit paranoid but figured
what the heck, just be safe. I turned to look back behind me. Both guys
were in their twenties, young black punks. They scanned the deserted road
and then crossed after me. I had the sudden sense that I was in trouble.
Eyeing them, I backed slowly away. They split up, grinned, and circled
"Hey mon, do you have any..." Before he finished the guy on my left pulled
a knife. Black handle. Flip knife I think. The blade was about four inches.
He moved in fast, the other on the right followed in hard. I've often wondered
what I would do in knife fight. I know you should stay calm and just hand
over the money when you are mugged, but I was carrying a big wad and my
digital camera plus the all important VISA card. And these guys weren't
negotiating they were coming in with the sharp end first. I clutched the
bottle of water in my right hand and swung hard catching the left mugger
square on the jaw. It was a one litre bottle half full, and he crumpled
in a spray of water. As he fell the other one paused for a second. I wheeled
and took off like a flushed rabbit. About fifty meters away I turned and
looked back for pursuit but they were moving off. They'd had had enough.
I gave them the finger. Jerks.
Going back to the hotel I was jacked on adrenaline. Every ratty looking
dude seemed a threat. To be honest most of them were, but normally I would
just stare them down. This night after the drama I was on edge. One guy
moved at me and I spun at him instantly. He was probably just trying to
cross the road. I gave up being a hero and walked the rest of the way down
the middle of a crowded road. The traffic seemed very understanding. It's
been an hour since the attack and I've been considering my reactions. Some
people are elated after a fight, some are paranoid. I'll admit that I was
jumpy all the way till I made sure there was nobody inside my hotel room
and then locked myself in. But the emotion that lingers is sadness.
Over the last week I have seen some of the worst of Africa. I came back
to pick up our repaired Max (the Land Rover) and take him down to South
Africa's main port of Durban to be shipped to China. While I was waiting
in Victoria Falls for the repairs to be finished I crossed into Zimbabwe.
They have had no rain this year, the crops are failing, everyone is disgusted
with a government that has caused so much ruin to the economy. Even in
the rural areas where the President had support, the people were changing
their minds leading up to the Saturday elections because they were starving.
There is no food. Yet despite pre-election polling in Zimbabwe that showed
a massive majority for the opposition party, Rober Mugabe the incumbent
President of twenty years still won the election. A classic example of
vote rigging and voter intimidation. So a chance for change has been lost.
And the government of South Africa, one of the last bright lights on this
continent ringingly endorsed the tampered results. That kind of suspect
leadership can't bode well for the people. I grew up in Zaire, one of the
most corrupt countries on earth, a country now embroiled in civil war.
For those of us with Africa in our blood, even ugly Africa, hope springs
eternal. We hope because if we did not the reality would be too much to
bear. But at times like these, Africa breaks my heart.
Ok, for those of you who have emailed asking what is
going on here is a quick update. We have finished Africa, Middle East,
Russia, Europe, and South America. The Land Rover has been completely rebuilt
by Foley Africa and is in a container on it's way to Beijing, China. Gulin
Akoz, the woman from Turkey, has left the team - but there are several
friends that will be joining us to fill the fourth spot for the rest of
the trip. Over the course of the next month the Junglerunner team will
be traveling independently through South East Asia (Singapore, Malaysia,
Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam) and we will all rendezvous in Beijing
on April 15 to begin the next overland portion of the trip. The final leg
will take us across China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey,
and through the E.U. to finish in London, England. Yes, Sally and Mike
are still together and going strong. And to her growing fan club, I promise
to get more pictures of Jody in future journals.
Over 10 months, 40,000 kilometers, and 41 countries
on 4 continents. Junglerunner is still going strong. We have three months
left and plenty of stories coming your way.