The ‘Death Wish’ Reality of South Africa

by Ranbir

When it was released in 1982, Death Wish 2 was panned by many critics. Vincent Canby described it thus in his review for the movie in the New York Times, dated 20 February 1982:

”Death Wish II,” which opened yesterday at the Loews State 2 and other theaters, is even more foolish, more tacky and more selfrighteously inhumane than the 1974 melodrama off which it has been spun by the none-too-nimble fingers of Michael Winner, who directed the original film.

The original Death Wish was a commercial success back in 1974. This helped it generate a movie franchise and four sequels and made Charles Bronson into an American movie icon. Death Wish received mixed to extremely negative reviews upon its release, due to its support of vigilantism, but it had an impact on U.S. audiences and began widespread debate over how to deal with rampant crime. The film’s graphic violence, particularly the brutal rape scene of Kersey’s daughter as well as the explicit portrayal of Bronson’s premeditated slayings, was considered exploitative, but realistic in the backdrop of an urban U.S. atmosphere of rising crime rates and the inability of police and politicians to combat it. Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is an architect with liberal political leanings until one fateful day when gang members (led by Jeff Goldblum in his first ever on screen appearance) murder his wife and gang rape his daughter who turns catatonic as a result. Winner was heavily criticised for the rape scene in the sequel, the extremely nasty home invasion sequence that to this day remains this film’s most infamous legacy. Heavily censored on its American release (and still censored today) and a real hated sequence by UK censors, to this day it remains a shocking piece of footage in its original uncut form. The screams plus the horrified and pained reactions of Rosario (a disturbingly convincing performance by Silvana Gallardo) as she is gang raped by laughing and gloating gang members are not just unpleasant viewing but the most disturbing aspect is the way Winner shoots the rape. Many of the shots look they are straight out of a rough porn movie as Rosario goes through multiple abusers and sexual positions all shot with plentiful full frontal nudity. This is extreme stuff and goes much further than is necessary to simply portray what is happening to the victim.  It contrasts with the rape in the original Death Wish which was no more explicit than it had to be in order to convey what abuses were being carried out. The rape scene in the sequel however actually makes the abuse part of the film, going far beyond simply showing the audience basically what has happened (again like the first film) and instead turns the abuse into an actual set-piece event. Hence it is utterly crass, exploitative and gratuitous.In November 2010 DB Bates, editor-in-chief of the Parallax Review explained it thus ( ):

The only possible way to enjoy the Death Wish films is to imagine they take place in an alternate universe where the paranoid fever dreams of the elderly have all come true. They’re the relentlessly cynical antidote to Cannon’s Breakin’ films, which paint Los Angeles slums with the sunniest possible brush. However, even the elderly’s paranoia can go too far, which is why Death Wish 2 feels like an exercise in depravity rather than a satisfying revenge thriller…..Director Michael Winner leers eerily as the thugs take turns brutally raping Paul’s maid (Silvana Gallardo). When Paul and Carol interrupt them, they kidnap her and take her to an abandoned warehouse, where they giggle like 12-year-olds as they fondle her breasts, then rape her. The reenactment of her earlier trauma causes Carol to jump out a window, impaling herself on a wrought-iron fence…..Much of the film is an orgy of graphic violence and gratuitous (and rather unpleasant, considering the endless amount of rape featured throughout the film) nudity. Watching Paul track and kill the thugs is mildly satisfying, but the whole movie is bound to leave any moviegoer with a shred of decency feeling vaguely ill. Add to that the typically shoddy Cannon production values, and the whole thing comes off like an over-the-top snuff film.

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The gang of murderers and rapists in Death Wish 2: From left to right: Stomper, Jiver, Cutter, PunkCut and Nirvana.

It was nevertheless an early sign of how society is being desensitised to such abuse and trauma. Winner hit the mood back in 1974. But the sequel reflects not just rising crime in America but the embryonic normalisation of pornography against the backdrop of social breakdown, dysfunction and the atomisation of individuals which was happening at the time, and only now is rearing its ugly head in the form of an inescapable Leviathan. Modern South Africa is only the most glaring example. But due to the continuing legacy of apartheid every issue is heavily racialised. Any criticism of the ANC government is deemed to be racist. Merely stating the problems with power supply, roads, erosion of meritocracy, the continuing of racial quotas, and the exodus of highly skilled people of all races is crushed with Stalinist political correctness. Nowehere is this more true with violent crime, especially where whites are the victims. Here the ‘Death Wish’ is not merely a set of violent movies, but often the brutal and disturbing reality, the elephant in the china room which nobody wants to recognise even exists. Apart from war zones, South Africa’s murder rate is surpassed only by Latin American nations embroiled in gruesome battles between drug gangs. An average of just under 44 people a day are murdered there.

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On 26 July 2012 the Daily Mail reported on the murder of a family in South Africa that was so brutal that it shocked even the most desensitised people who had become hardened to atrocities and crimes in that country ( ). Aislinn Laing, the Southern Africa Correspondent for the Telegraph titles, based in Johannesburg, also wrote about the horrific murders on the following day ( ):

A 12-year-old boy was drowned in boiling water after seeing his mother raped and killed and his father hacked to death by three men who broke into his home south of Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Viana family’s very own gardener Patrick Radebe, 24, confessed to being part of the gang which broke into their home in October last year. Along with Sipho Mbele and David Motaung, Radebe waited for  engineer father Tony Viana, 53, to arrive home. When he walked through the front door, they attacked him with golf clubs and a  panga before tying him up and ordering him to tell them how to open the family safe. They had broken into the house, in the suburb of Walkerville, to steal the family’s possessions and seek revenge for their alleged mistreatment by their employer, Tony’s wife Geraldine. But the level of brutality revealed in the Walkerville case, heard at the regional court in Vereeniging, an industrial city 40 miles south of Johannesburg, has sent shock waves through the country. When  Geraldine, 43, and her son Amaro returned to the property, they too fell victim. Tied up in separate rooms, Geraldine was raped before both she and her husband were shot dead. Describing the sexual assault, the criminals’ lawyer lawyer Charmaine Castleman said:

First Mbele raped her while Radebe helped him by standing on her head. Then Radebe raped her while Mbele held a pillow over her face.

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Amaro with his mother Geraldine and father Tony, who were shot to death by the robbers, along with Gabriela Correia, Mr Viana’s daughter by his first marriage

The family dog also fell victim as it had its stomach slit open with a knife. But it is what happened to Amaro that is most disturbing. The sobbing child had been forced to watch as his father was tied up and assaulted with a panga hunting knife and a golf club before his mother  was raped and then shot with his father’s gun. His father was then also shot dead. In a statement made to the Beeld newspaper, Radebe and his co-accused Sipho Mbele, 21, realised that the couple’s son, if left alive, may be able to identify them to police:

We went to the bathroom and turned on the tap. We gagged him because he was crying. We forced him into the bath face down, knowing that he would drown.

The twelve-year old boy was therefore drowned in a bath of scolding hot water. Fortuitously Tony’s daughter Gabriela was not at home when the gang struck.
Dianne Kohler Barnard, the country’s shadow Minister of Police in the opposition Democratic Alliance, said the murder of the Viana family was ‘awful’.But just as in the Death Wish films the criminals showed not an ounce of remorse as they were led back to their cells, smiling.
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From left, Sipho Mbele, David Motaung and Patrick Petrus Radebe smiled in court as they admitted to their sick crimes.

The day before in the Telegraph, Laing had written a piece where former president FW de Klerk warned that the ruling ANC of exacerbating racial tensions by blaming the country’s whites for continuing poverty and inequality as a “smokescreen” for its own failures in office ( De Klerk was speaking at a Johannesburg conference organised by his eponymous foundation to discuss the policy options facing the ANC. He warned that some elements in the ANC were pushing “dangerous, radical and divisive” communist-style policies that would plunge the country into deeper poverty, especially with calls by Julius Malema, the expelled ANC youth leader, for mine nationalisation and forcible land grabs from white farmers:
Since Nelson Mandela’s retirement, there has been an exponential moving away from the emphasis he put on inclusivity and reconciliation — that spirit has faded and is almost entirely gone now. I would imagine that in as much as reconciliation has faded and in as much racism is again prevalent, he would be sad about it.

Nevertheless the politically correct lobby excuse such horrific crimes blaming apartheid. If that was the case then what was the point of bodies such as the Truth and Reconcilation Commission? Is apartheid also not being retrospectively justified because what the white minority (and indeed other minorities) feared would happen with one person one vote is exactly what is taking place? On this basis should some random English family be raped and drowned for the Boer War concentration camps? What on earth did the the Vianas do to deserve this? South Africa doesn’t even have the death penalty because of the “sanctity of life”, yet you find excuses for these psychopaths to act and judge, jury and medieval executioners. The criminals who did this had been 1, 3 and 6 respectively when Mandela became president and therefore all products of the “New” South Africa. These horrific crimes therefore did not originate from some undefined past hatred stemming from a system they can’t even remember, but much rather as the direct result of the ANC government’s relentless propaganda against minorities. Therefore to blame apartheid is dishonest, insulting and inaccurate. Such propaganda is intended to rally the masses while obscuring government corruption and incompetence. Not unlike the vilification of minorities by the Nazis. While blaming all Afrikaners for apartheid just because it was implemented in 1948 by the Nationalists, or even all English-speaking whites for the segregation imposed by Cecil Rhodes would be consistent with the present blame culture to excuse the present spate of atrocities, the Vianas were neither. They were of Portuguese descent. Analogies with the LA riots of 1992 would not go amiss here. After the police officers were aquitted for brutally assaulting Rodney King, the resulting violence was excused as an expected reaction to centuries of racism by whites. Yet most of the victims were Korean merchants and store owners. Death Wish was fast becoming a reality in the city where Winner’s sequel was filmed back in 1981 and 1982.

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Eudy Similane, South African soccer player who was gang-raped, beaten, and stabbed twenty-five times in the face, chest, and legs in her hometown of Kwa Thema near Johannesburg in 2008 for being openly lesbian

It should  be remembered what dynamics led to the end of apartheid. It was not sanctions as South Africa had become sufficient in most raw materials, even making its own oil from coal. It had the lion’s share of the world’s gold and diamonds, commodities that were hardly going to fall in value. When apartheid was implemented back in 1948 the Nationalists came to power by just one vote in a franchise system which weighed heavily in favour of rural constituencies. By the 1970s white society had changed vastly. Even formerly rural Afrikaans-speakers had become increasingly urbanised and cosmopolitan, and hence keen to be part of the developed world which had long shunned racial segregation as being uncivilised. If anything in terms of sanctions had an effect on the psyche of whites it was being shut out from competing in international sporting features. They could not become self-sufficient in that. It was not just English-speaking whites that pushed for the demise of apartheid. After all My Traitor’s Heart was written by the Afrikaans-speaking Rian Malan. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert was from the northern Transvaal and a graduate of Stellenbosch University. Yet as an MP for the Progressive Party he worked for a non-racial democracy. But he was no socialist considering how he  also worked as regional facilitator for the George Soros-backed funding organisation, the Open Society Foundation of Southern Africa, which identifies and invests in worthy projects in nine African countries. In addition, he co-founded Khula—a black investment trust—in 1990. Van Zyl Slabbert was appointed as chairman of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) listed Adcorp Holdings in 1998 and also sat on the boards of several other JSE-listed companies such as Wooltru, Investec and Radiospoor. Breyten Breytenbach left his home country in the 1960s and was betrayed by the ANC on his return to the country – from which he was banned for marrying a French citizen of Vietnamese descent. So when are faced with trying to examine the crime and social dysfunction in South Africa let us remember the words of Helen Suzman, who for years was the lonely voice in South Africa’s whites only parliament prepared to openly challenge apartheid:
It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers.
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Helen Suzman with Nelson Mandela, whose release she campaigned for tirelessly

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