Thieves like cheetahs too
After being away on holiday for 11 days, I came back to my farm house tired and in desperate need of a good night’s sleep. On the long 700 km drive home, one of the things that I was longing for was a square of the “Niki” brand (no jokes) of dark chocolate with coconut. However, as I got back, I could not find the two bars that I was sure I’d left behind. “Strange”, I thought, “maybe I ate it all or took it with us on the camping trip and forgot”. I was sure, though, that I had left these bars of chocolate on my shelf. I decided to look for them in the morning when I was more with-it.
As I got ready for bed, I went to turn on my small battery-operated bedside lamp. Weirdly, it was not there. “Maybe it has fallen from the table onto the floor”, I guessed, and made a mental note to also have a search for it the next day.
Morning came and I went on a search for my missing belongings. Sadly, I did not find either items, and what’s more, I also discovered that my watch that I normally keep on my bedside table was also missing. “Now hang on a minute”, I said to myself, “I definitely keep those things on that table”. After a thorough search around my table to no avail, I went to my wardrobe to see whether or not the things may have been stored in there whilst I was away. What I found was not my lost possessions, but a number of other things that were gone: a spare phone, my SD memory cards, 2 pairs of headphones, my Dictaphone, around £150 cash, and possibly a few other items that I hadn’t quite discovered yet. I went to my bathroom to check what else was missing: 2 necklaces that were hanging from my cabinet. Outraged, I stormed to the main house to talk to Bianca, the farmer’s wife.
As I arrived, I asked her “Did anyone go into my house whilst I was gone?”. “No”, she said, “why?”. “Because a number of my things are missing”. Instantly, a knowing look came over her face and she said she would speak to her husband about this, because evidently there had been a theft in my house whilst I was gone. Her husband, who had also recently suffered from the hands of thieves (of the cattle rather than personal kind), had the mobile number of an officer at the local police force, so promptly gave him a call. Surprisingly, especially from what I have heard about Namibian police officers, they arrived on the farm not more than 20 minutes later. They searched around my house, and within a matter of minutes found footprints in the sand next to one of my windows. Gladly, it had rained a few days beforehand, and therefore the sand made great impressions from any being that had walked over it. Now, these police officers obviously had attended many a theft incident before, because they quickly guessed who the culprit may have been. A new farm worker, ironically called Gift, had been employed a week before I’d left. They went to find both him and his shoes and brought him to the scene of the crime.
Once there, they placed each shoe next to the footprints, and lo-and-behold, his Wellington boots fit the imprints perfectly. He apparently made up some excuse that he was sent to pick up litter next to my house, which was later denied by Hans, the farmer. With an extremely shifty air about him, I never quite liked this guy. Also, when arriving back on the farm the day before, I had given him a wave as I drove past, and instead of a usual smile and a wave in return, all I received was a look of concern. “Funny”, I thought, but did not consider it any more, until now.
As the police officers diligently did their job, Hans chatted to me, happy that the officers were of the same “tribe” as the presumed thief. This helps, apparently, because they have a similar mindset and can therefore imagine more easily the steps taken during the theft. Hans was also pleased that these officers were the old-school kind that did not mind using violence against the suspect to gather more information. Apparently in the past they used to shove the heads of the potential criminals into a bucket of water until no more bubbles came up, upon which the suspect was so shaken that they would talk the truth. The good thing about this form of torture, he said, was that it left no marks. Interesting…
The officers had handcuffed the suspect and were busy scouring the farm for clues. They searched his house and found a few of my possessions, which had been partially buried in the sand, including some items I didn’t even know had been taken! Weirdly, the thief had also stolen a rather tacky metal key chain saying “I love cheetahs” on it (it was a present). Why on earth would someone steal that?! Unless thieves like cheetahs too…
|The recovered stolen goods|
The officers proudly brought these items back to me and asked if anything else was missing. “Yes”, I said, “my phone, Dictaphone, and the cash”. They told me that if I bargained with the thief for him to tell me where the rest of the items were that I was willing to drop the charges. He wouldn’t even look me in the eye, avoiding even staring in my general direction by facing 180 degrees away from me. In a calm manner, I explained that I did not want to press charges, I just wanted my things back that had been stolen. He stood for around 20 seconds without saying anything, and then agreed. He took the officers back to his house and showed them the secret place he had stored my other items – in a bag that had housed my mosquito candles – so more items were stolen!
I was very relieved to have all my possessions back, but unfortunately the police could not recover my money. “He has probably drank it all away”, they told me. I was just glad that my things were returned to me. I asked Gift why he would steal from me and all he said in return was “sorry missus”, again avoiding any eye contact with me. The officers took him away from the farm and told me I must come and formally collect my possessions tomorrow from the station, after Gift had officially handed them back to me.
The officers came back the next morning to take photographic evidence of the crime scene, and once they had finished, they started asking me about my car. Hiluxes are apparently a hot commodity in this country, especially amongst the indigenous population, who presumably aspire to own the same items that the rich white commercial farmers have. I told them I was selling it in a few weeks as I was returning to the UK, and they said I must have a going away party and invite them!
|Police desk with no computer in sight!|
Later that day I drove to the police station to collect my belongings (sadly, the chocolate bars had also not been recovered but instead had partially melted all over my things – the annoying thing was that the thief had not even eaten my chocolate bars but left them to waste!). I arrived to find one uniformed officer sat outside chatting with what I presumed to be a few members of the general public. I went into the dilapidated offices with paint peeling from the walls and old furniture that looked like it had been donated from a jumble sale. I was directed to one large room with four desks where one of the officers sat, writing up my file notes. Out of the whole office, just one old, dusty PC sat in the corner of the cobwebbed room. Apparently all records are handwritten at the moment – crazy!
As I waited for the paperwork to be finished, another police officer entered the room and sat opposite me. He started talking to me about my tattoos, and then the sergeant came in and joined in the conversation. He walked over to me and, without prompting or asking for permission, started to stroke the tattoos on my arms! I’m pretty sure the officers in the UK are not allowed to touch victims of crime….
Then one of the presumed citizens who had been sat outside entered the room. Turns out she’s also an officer but doesn’t like to wear her uniform as she doesn’t find it attractive; instead she wore a flowing baby pink dress and jewellery. Apparently although it is a requirement to wear your uniform at all times, the rules can be relaxed at times….
The male officer who had been sat opposite me started asking me about whether I had a boyfriend. He then said that I should marry him because then I can live in Namibia forever and we can make beautiful brown babies! Again, something else I’m sure British police officers tend not to say to victims of crime…
|Inside the police station|
Just before I was about to leave, I asked the plain-clothed female officer where the nearest store was as I wanted to buy a cool drink after being sat in the greenhouse of the station with no ventilation. She said she’d take me there. After a 2-minute walk, we arrived at a shack selling fizzy drinks. I asked for a Diet Coke and they looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. The officer laughed at me and said they only have normal Coke here. “Strange”, I thought, although then I realised that the police station was housed in a refugee camp and refugees probably don’t have to watch their weight. She then took it upon herself to bum a Coke off me and off back to work she sauntered.
As I got in my car to leave, a uniformed officer came over to the vehicle. He started idly chatting with me and said that maybe he will come and visit me on the farm. Again, probably not normal protocol for a British police officer, but hey, this is Africa. A day later, I got a call from an unknown number. I answered, and it was that same officer, who had pilfered my private mobile number from my police records to call me about offering to buy my car from me, as he’d heard I was selling it! I’m not sure whether officers are allowed to go through confidential records to get personal information from someone in order to make private business with them, but maybe things work differently in Africa.
Amusingly shocked at the casual treatment I’d received from the police force in Namibia, but very happy that, despite their relaxed way of doing things, they had recovered all my stolen possessions (apart from the cash), I look upon this as a slightly bewildering experience that shows that there are many ways to skin a cat.
Oh, and for the record, the ironically named Gift was indeed charged in court the day afterwards and fired from this farm.