Louis Theroux – Law And Disorder: Johannesburg

by Lisa McGarry

Louis Theroux travels to Johannesburg, where the residents find themselves increasingly besieged by crime, as he concludes his look at the issue of law and disorder in two volatile and crime-ridden cities (the other being Philadelphia).

Despairing of the capability of the police and the courts to protect them, many have turned to an industry of private security offering protection for a price. Are the sometimes brutal methods of these private police really a solution, or just another part of the problem?

The first stop for Louis is a meeting with William Mayangoni, the local co-ordinator for a security firm known as Mapogo. Based on the outskirts of Diepsloot, one of the squatter camps that rings Johannesburg, William investigates thefts for his mainly white clients. When he catches a suspect, he gives them “medicine”: the alleged offender is beaten with a leather whip known as a sjambok.

Although his clients seem to support what they see as “an African solution to an African problem”, William’s methods alienate the people of Diepsloot. Finally, their patience snaps, and William has to call out the real police in order to protect himself from the vicious threat of the mob.

In the centre of Johannesburg, a security company called Bad Boyz works in an area called Hillbrow, notorious for its high crime rate. Louis meets company director Hendrik De Klerk, who explains that much of their activity involves reclaiming and securing buildings that have been taken over – or hijacked – by criminal gangs who illegally take rent from tenants. Louis watches dramatic evictions unfold, in which the police and security companies aren’t afraid to use force to kick out the protesting residents, and progress often involves turfing families out onto the streets.

While on patrol, Bad Boyz introduce Louis to an unseen Johannesburg underworld. Here, he meets the gang boss known only as “The Chairman” and is escorted into a hijacked skyscraper to meet residents who have lived for years without electricity or water. As he watches Bad Boyz protect their buildings and tenants, Louis begins to wonder about their readiness to use violence, and witnesses the compromises that are made to keep order in a violent city.