When the law is not there to protect you and is blatantly unjust, is it okay to take it into your own hands?
My friend, Basil, who grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, as a person of colour, recounts this incidence of gross injustice in his adolescents in the 1960s.
Basil’s desire for wanting more out of life than South Africa’s apartheid government threw at him stems from when he was a boy. He took on a paper delivery route to financially help out his family as well as squirrel away a bit in his post office savings book.
One day, on his paper run in a “White” area, a teenaged white boy about Basil’s age, came charging after him knocking him down and giving him a beating for the simple reason that Basil was a different colour. Adding insult to injury, he flung my friend’s newspapers in the canal. Basil limped home, dejected, battered and bruised lamenting to his mother what had happened.
As the days passed, anger welled up in Basil bubbling just below the surface.
A couple of weeks went by when Basil saw his perpetrator coming to one of the shops in the “Coloured” area. “Man,” Basil said, “When I saw that boy, I just saw red. He was now in my territory and it was payback time.”
Basil tore into the White boy, leaving him black and blue when he was done. He was duly arrested and taken to the local police station to which his mother was also summoned. Basil knew the white police chief very well. In fact he had played with his children.
He explained to the commander what had happened to which he replied, “But you can’t take the law into your own hands. I’m sorry, but I have to punish you because you broke the law. It’s illegal for a Non-white person to hit a White person.”
Basil was told to bend over so that the seat of his thread-bare short pants tightened over his buttocks. The police chief sent the bamboo cane whistling through the air culminating in a painful landing on the boy’s rear end.
Basil’s mother was a fiercely proud woman. When they got home, behind closed doors she lashed out at her son. “Why did you go beat that boy?” she shouted at Basil. “Our family never had anything to do with the police, up till now. Here I am being dragged out to the police station. How could you embarrass me like that? What must the police think of us now, eh? And what will our neighbours think, you getting in trouble with the law, eh?”
Although Basil felt badly that he had disappointed his mother, inwardly he felt good about meting out justice for himself, even if it meant taking the law into his own hands.