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"Put everything in writing" and nine other hot tips for property management from David Beattie

You have a residential investment property. Perhaps you are already renting it out. But are you doing it like a pro and do you know how to maximise your return from it? In this book, property management expert David Beattie distils two decades of experience into easy-to-implement steps and shows you how to manage your property like a professional landlord. His goal is to help you make more money in less time and with fewer hassles, by showing you how to run your property investment like a business; navigate and comply with South African rental laws with ease; attract, screen, place and keep high-quality tenants; ensure successful and consistent rent collection; and maintain your property with the least effort and money. The book also includes templates for all the documents the prospective landlord needs.

DAVID BEATTIE is a well-known property expert in South Africa. He is the founder and director of Chorus Letting, a leading residential property rental agency managing 2000 properties across Cape Town and Johannesburg. More recently, David has turned his attention to the growing market of private landlords. He is also the founder of PocketLet, a tool for private landlords to effectively manage their own properties.

My Top Ten Tips for Expert Property Management

Residential property management is perceived to be a road filled with potholes. But it can be actually quite simple in practice. If you arm yourself with the right skills and tools and team there is no reason why you can’t succeed in managing your own property well.

There are loads of books, websites and experts who can assist you every step along the way. Once you have pushed through the initial lack of confidence and uncertainty barrier, you’ll be confident to make your own way.

To help you start on your property management journey, I have put together my top 10 tips for property management success. These principles will be your beacons along the path, and will act as a solid framework in which to operate.

1. Know your why. Knowing why you own property as an investment will affect how you respond to challenges and how you persevere through them.

2. Your property investment is a business, so treat it like one. A professional and organised approach to property management means better, more consistent performance for your property and a better home for your tenant.

3. Screening your tenants thoroughly is critical. Placing the right tenant who will pay their rent in full and on time each month and look after your property is the foundation for property management success.

4. Always do a joint move-in inspection. A written move-in inspection, done correctly and with your tenant, will mean you have a leg to stand on if your tenant causes damage to your property.

5. Treat your tenant with respect. A happy tenant is a better-performing tenant.

6. Stick to the rules. Be consistent in holding the tenant to what they agreed to in the lease agreement. Keep your side of the bargain too.

7. Put everything in writing. Arguing about who said what creates problems. Written agreements and written communication keep things simple and reliable.

8. Maintain your property properly. Be proactive in looking after your property. This will mean better growth in your asset over time, and will attract better-quality tenants.

9. Be consistent. Property management is about doing the simple things consistently month after month.

10. Always keep learning. Having a learning attitude will mean you’ll constantly get better at being a property manager, and you’ll stay up to date with changes in the market and legislation.

Book details

 
Also available as an eBook.

"Know what you really care about, and don’t piss money away on stuff that you don’t." A Q&A with Sam Beckbessinger, author of Manage Your Money Like a F*cking Grownup

We never get an instruction manual about how money works. We never have to pass a test to get our Money License before we can take a new credit card for a drive. Most of what we learn about money comes from advertising or from other people who know as little as we do.

No wonder we make such basic mistakes. No wonder we feel disempowered and scared. No wonder so many of us just decide to stick our heads in the damn sand and just never deal with it.

I wrote this book, because so many of the people I spoke to told me that they wished someone would.

In this clear and engaging basic guide to managing your finances, Sam Beckbessinger covers topics from compound interest and inflation to “Your brain on money”, negotiating a raise, and particularly local South African phenomena like “black tax”.

The book includes exercises and “how-to’s”, doesn’t shy away from the psychology of money, and is empowering, humorous and helpful. The book you wish you’d had at 25, but is never too late to read.

Sam Beckbessinger is a writer, user-experience designer and entrepreneur who is on a quest to help the emerging middle class understand how to take charge of their finances. She is the cofounder of Phantom Design, a company that has helped to build bitcoin wallets, cryptocurrency exchanges, smart credit cards and more. She also lectures extensively on online culture, marketing and behavioural economics. Sam holds a BA Honours Degree from the University of Cape Town, studied Strategy Design at the Gordon Institute of Business Science and was a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow at Yale University.

Q&A with author Sam Beckbessinger

 
What’s your financial background, and how did you get into the field?

I don’t have a background in finance; I have a background in talking to people and trying to make stuff easier for them. I’ve been working in user experience, research and design for about 10 years, and a lot of what I worked on focused on financial apps and tools. Over the years, I’ve done work for most of the banks, and local money management app 22Seven, which is part of Old Mutual. I co-founded Phantom Design, a fintech product design studio because I wanted to shake up this industry. I’m obsessed with making money management simpler, because finance bros like to make it all sound a lot more complicated than it is. Not having a background in finance helps, because my approach is a lot more human-centred. I don’t have any patience for the nonsense jargon or questionable money-making tactics that infect so much of the industry.
 

What made you particularly interested in personal finance and how people spend?

Money is about a lot more than money. It’s about your choices, and what kind of life you want to live. Being in control of your money means being an active steward of your own life.

In my early twenties, I had so many self-limiting narratives about money. I chose jobs I hated because I was terrified of being broke, and then I went and overspent and got into debt, to try to fill the hole of how miserable those jobs were making me, and so somehow I ended up poorer than I started when I took those supposedly lucrative jobs! Past-me was a dumbass.

Think about how much money you’re actually going to earn over the course of your lifetime. Really picture it. If you earn just R10 000 a month from age 25 to 65, getting just a 6% raise every year, that’s nearly R20-million. There’s a lot of big, audacious dreams you can turn into reality for R20-million. You have a lot more choices than you realise.

I want to help people take control of their spending, and put their money into the things they really care about, the things that matter to them. I want more people to live the lives they truly, fiercely want to live.

What prompted you to write How to manage your money?

I’ve spent a lot of the past decade talking to people about money, and so many of them told me that they wished a book like this existed: a no-nonsense, no-jargon, no-bullshit guide to the basic principles of money management for people in their twenties. No-one else seemed to be writing this book, so I did.

Also, I did it for the fame and riches.

What interests you most about the field?

Human brains are weird, yo. We like to think that we’re these rational creatures that make logical decisions all the time, but really we’re all just primates with pants on. Getting better with money is hard, just like quitting smoking or taking up exercise or any other kind of behaviour change. It’s not enough to understand what you should be doing. Actually figuring out how to trick your primate brain into doing that smart stuff is the tough part. I’m fascinated by behavioural science and helping to shape healthier cultural narratives around money and choices.

What’s the one thing that people across the board just can’t seem to get right when it comes to managing their money?

We delay saving, because it seems hard and we think now’s a bad time and we can’t really afford it and there will be plenty of time later and it will be easier when we’re older and earning more and and, and, and…we have a million excuses. But the thing about compound interest is that what matters most is time, so starting early is so important. Compare someone who saves for their retirement for just five years between age 25 and 30, with someone who starts saving at age 30 and saves all the way until they’re 65. Who ends up with more money? The person who started younger. You don’t have any time to waste.

Also, we’re not scared enough of debt, in this country. Debt will almost always grow faster than your investments, so while you’ve got debt, the smartest thing you can do is to get rid of it as fast as humanly possible.

What are your top five tips for getting your financial act together?

1. Automate everything, because human brains are no good at willpower. Just set up an automatic payment on payday to move money to your financial goals (whether it’s saving or debt repayments). That way, you don’t save what’s left after spending, you spend what’s left after saving (that’s a tip from Warren Buffet, and that guy is SMART). Aim to save 30% – it’s easier than you think.

2. Know what you really care about, and don’t piss money away on stuff that you don’t. I find it helpful to have one really chunky, audacious goal in mind that has a real price-tag attached to it. This helps when you’re trying to remind yourself why you’re NOT going to buy that new gizmo you don’t actually need, even though it’s shiny and on sale.

3. Put your day-to-day spending money in a separate bank account (I call it my fuckaround fund). Top it up once a week, and never spend more than you have in that account.

4. Free up money from the boring shit, not from the stuff you love. Don’t fret over every piece of avocado toast you order – rather find cheaper car insurance, or move to a lower-fee investment fund. Be frugal with the big stuff like housing and transport costs, not the small stuff that makes you happy.

5. Don’t waste money on cars unless you actually really love cars.

Book details

 
Also available as an eBook.

"I still do not know how we managed to escape serious harm - or even death - that day." Read an excerpt from Blood Money

Blood MoneyJohan Raath and a security team were escorting American engineers to a power plant south of Baghdad when they were ambushed. He had first arrived in Iraq only two weeks before. This was a small taste of what was to come over the next 13 years he worked there as a private military contractor (PMC).

His mission? Not to wage war but to protect lives. Raath acted as a bodyguard for VIPs and, more often, engineers who were involved in construction projects to rebuild the country after the 2003 war. His physical and mental endurance was tested to the limit in his efforts to safeguard construction sites that were regularly subjected to mortar and suicide attacks. Key to his survival was his training as a Special Forces operator, or Recce.

Working in places called the Triangle of Death and driving on the ‘Hell Run’, Raath had numerous hair-raising experiences. As a trained combat medic he also helped to save people’s lives after two suicide bomb attacks on sites he then worked at:

Two weeks after I arrived in Iraq, I was due to lead a team on a reconnaissance mission to the Musayyib Power Plant, about 120 km south-west of Bagdad. Our mission was to set up a base to receive and secure the first engineers and other workers from Southeast Texas Industries Inc., the engineering firm building the plant on a contract from the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity. We were a six-man configuration – three local nationals and three expatriate security contractors.

The route there and the area that we were to reconnoitre were in the so-called Triangle of Death (not to be confused with the Sunni Death Triangle, which is north-west of the city). The Triangle of Death got its name from the heavy combat activity and sectarian violence in the area between 2003 and 2007.

Our team members were all armed with assault rifles – we had five AK-47s and one M4 between us. We all also carried 9-mm pistols. When we set off that day, we weren’t initially wearing our body armour, as the idea was to blend in, low-profile, with the locals. But, after a while, I got a bad feeling about the area and asked the team to put on their vests. (Later, wearing body armour would become standard operating procedure and it was mandatory for all team members to wear body armour vests with ballistic plates in the front and back carrier pouches.)

We were travelling in two unarmoured (known as soft-skin) vehicles. Two of the Iraqis were in the front in a Pajero SUV and the rest of us followed in a BMW 740. The customary procedure was that the local guys would drive in front, so they could speak in Arabic to the Iraqi security forces, who manned most of the checkpoints. At many of the major checkpoints, the US forces had a greater presence, in which case the vehicle with the expat contractors would approach the checkpoint first to liaise in English and to present our US Department of Defense cards (commonly called DoD cards) or Common Access Cards. The DoD or CaC card proved that you were security vetted and cleared to work on US government contracts. As a private military contractor, you couldn’t move anywhere in Iraq without one.

We headed south on National Route 6 (known in Coalition Force jargon as ‘route Bismarck’). At around 10:30, shortly after we had turned onto a secondary road, we approached a checkpoint where the men in our lead vehicle showed their paperwork to the security forces and we followed with our DoD cards.

Not long afterwards, I spotted an old black Opel that was occupied by a group of young men. The strange thing was that they were trying to overtake us on the right – Iraqis drive on the right-hand side of the road. They then pulled off the shoulder of the tarmac road and onto the dirt.

I thought it odd but just wrote it off to bad driving, which I’d heard was typical of young Iraqi men. By then we were driving at about 140 km/h, a standard practice for private security teams in those days – the idea being to drive faster than the normal traffic to prevent too many vehicles from passing your convoy and to thwart rolling ambushes from the rear. But despite our speed, the Opel eventually managed to pass us on the outside, kicking up a massive ball of dust in the desert. Seconds later, the vehicle started swerving left aggressively and was back onto the asphalt road, pushing in front of us. They were clearly trying to split up our convoy.

As they overtook, the Opel driver glanced at me fleetingly and I can still vividly recall the look in his eyes. He was just a few metres away when they passed us. His pupils were dilated and he had an intense look of hatred and anger in his eyes. For a moment, I thought he might be under the influence of narcotics, but later I realised I was staring into the eyes of a mujahideen fighter who was drunk not on any substances, just emotions of hate welling up from his religious and sociopolitical convictions.

The next moment, I saw two men lean out of the front right and rear left windows armed with AK-47s. They opened fire on our lead vehicle. Bullets smashed the rear windscreen of the Pajero.

‘Contact front!’ I yelled immediately.

One of our team members in the back of the BMW, Ali Tehrani, wasted no time. Positioning himself at the back window, he opened fire on the Opel with his M4. The attacking vehicle was in the line of his two o’clock. The attackers immediately turned their attention to us and fired back at our vehicle before they slowed down and veered off the road.

I remember the cracking sound of the AK-47 bullets as they tore through our windscreen. A friend’s Garmin GPS and my digital camera were on the dashboard – the bullets pierced both. A piece of a bullet struck my bulletproof vest in the chest area, and another piece broke off and lodged in my left forearm (which is still there to this day). That’s how close it was.

In the midst of all this, our Kurdish driver drew his pistol and started firing back at the attackers through the windscreen, now destroyed by bullets, while at the same time trying to control the speeding vehicle with his left hand. We were doing 160 km/h, taking incoming fire and some of us were trying to return fire – it felt like I was in a Hollywood action movie, but one with a potentially lethal real-life outcome.

Our driver got so carried away with firing his pistol that at one point I had to block his right arm when he pushed the gun in front of my face in an attempt to fire at the attackers sideways. I leaned over and grabbed the steering wheel of the BMW, which had swerved dangerously across the road and in the process I dislocated my left shoulder. At the time the adrenalin numbed the pain. (I had to get reconstructive surgery for this a couple of years later.)

I remember very clearly seeing how the attacker shooting at us from the rear window slung his AK-47 over his shoulder, pulled a pistol from his belt and started spraying lead our way again. In hindsight, this showed a level of training and proficiency because it is a tactical drill to sling your assault rifle when you are out of ammunition or have a jam, and to continue shooting with your handgun.

By this time the Opel had disappeared from sight – presumably Ali’s return fire had hit their vehicle, but then we heard shots being fired from our rear as another car with shooters pulled in behind. Our rear window shattered. Brian Smith, one of the expat team members and our project medic, was bleeding from his forehead but, thankfully, he was not seriously injured. He and Ali even managed to fire a couple of rounds at the second vehicle.

By now, our speeding convoy was fast approaching another checkpoint and the attackers disappeared into the desert on secondary roads. When we arrived at the checkpoint, we reported the ambush and realised that the driver of the front vehicle had been shot through both arms, close to the elbows. Brian stopped the bleeding. Fortunately, the bullets had not hit any bones or arteries, which meant the driver had managed to keep control of the Pajero.

After swapping drivers and trying to make comms with our people back at the hotel, we drove like hell for the rest of the way. We were soon at our destination at the Musayyib Power Plant. The US forces there had a forward operating base with a small medical bay, where we got help for the injured driver. Brian and I weren’t seriously injured, it turned out; the bleeding was caused by some grazes from flying glass and debris. Brian organised a medevac helicopter and our driver was airlifted to Baghdad for medical treatment . . .

I still do not know how we managed to escape serious harm – or even death – that day. After less than two weeks in Iraq I had had my first eyewitness experience of what it was going to be like. It was an eye-opener, a real baptism of ‘fire’. Welcome to the Sandbox, I thought to myself.

Book details

Also available as an eBook.

Read an excerpt from Tracy Going's searing memoir, Brutal Legacy

Published in Sunday Times: Insight (26/02/2018)

Brutal LegacyWhen South Africa’s golden girl of broadcasting, Tracy Going’s battered face was splashed across the media back in the late 1990s, the nation was shocked.

South Africans had become accustomed to seeing Going, glamorous and groomed on television or hearing her resonant voice on Radio Metro and Kaya FM. Sensational headlines of a whirlwind love relationship turned horrendously violent threw the “perfect” life of the household star into disarray. What had started off as a fairy-tale romance with a man who appeared to be everything that Going was looking for – charming, handsome and successful – had quickly descended into a violent, abusive relationship.

“As I stood before him all I could see were the lies, the disappearing for days without warning, the screaming, the threats, the terror, the hostage-holding, the keeping me up all night, the dragging me through the house by my hair, the choking, the doors locked around me, the phones disconnected, the isolation, the fear and the uncertainty.”

The rosy love cloud burst just five months after meeting her “Prince Charming” when she staggered into the local police station, bruised and battered. A short relationship became a two-and-a-half-year legal ordeal played out in the public eye. In mesmerising detail, Going takes us through the harrowing court process – a system seeped in injustice – her decline into depression, the immediate collapse of her career due to the highly public nature of her assault and the decades-long journey to undo the psychological damages in the search for safety and the reclaiming of self.

The roots of violence form the backdrop of the book, tracing Going’s childhood on a plot in Brits, laced with the unpredictable violence of an alcoholic father who regularly terrorised the family with his fists of rage.

“I was ashamed of my father, the drunk. If he wasn’t throwing back the liquid in the lounge then he’d be finding comfort and consort in his cans at the golf club. With that came the uncertainty as I lay in my bed and waited for him to return. I would lie there holding my curtain tight in my small hand. I would pull the fabric down, almost straight, forming a strained sliver and I would peer into the blackness, unblinking. It seemed I was always watching and waiting. Sometimes I searched for satellites between the twinkles of light, but mostly the fear in my tummy distracted me.”

Brilliantly penned, this highly skilled debut memoir, is ultimately uplifting in the realisation that healing is a lengthy and often arduous process and that self-forgiveness and acceptance is essential in order to fully embrace life.

Read an edited extract from Chapter One…

“You’re not allowed here,” I warned him.

“I. Don’t. Give. A. F**k.”

Those were his words as he lumbered toward me with that loose, loping gait of a tall man. One who has spent a lifetime trying to shorten his stride so that others can keep abreast. He was not a man who could be quiet. His hands were lashing at the air, his shoulders twisting like shifting puzzle pieces. I was trying to put the pieces together, trying to make them fit, not quite certain how. My hands were still suspended, fixed in mid-flick, adjourned, a deferred gesture indicating that he may not enter, when I pressed the remote and soundlessly closed the garage door.

Perhaps he heard my silence because suddenly he calmed, the tension draining from him as his shoulders dropped. He ran his fingers through his tousled fringe and looked down at me with such tenderness.

“I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through,” he said, tilting his head. “Is there any chance of us getting back together?”

I was quiet.

“Please give me another chance.”

I said nothing as I absorbed his now familiar words.

“Don’t make me beg … But I’m asking you to give me another chance.” His voice a little harder, more determined. He was looking down at his feet.

I watched him. I wanted to see the truth in his eyes. I wanted to see whether I could believe him, whether I could trust that this time he truly meant what he said. I wanted to see my pain reflected there. But I couldn’t. He was still looking away.

Then suddenly something deep inside me shifted.

I was no longer lost in his dark, brown eyes with their thick, solemn brows. I no longer saw the definition of his chiselled jaw, his high cheekbones or the endearingly flattened tip of his broad nose. As his words melted and morphed, and the last five months moulded as one, his boyish nonchalance, his charm, dissipated.

All I could see were the lies, his disappearing for days without warning, the screaming, the threats, the terror, the hostage-holding, the keeping me up all night, the dragging me through the house by my hair, the choking, the doors locked around me, the phones disconnected, the isolation, the fear and the uncertainty.

I realised that it was never going to change. Never.

As I stood there in my own stillness, I knew that I had been holding onto something that never existed. I finally understood that this could no longer be my journey. I could no longer give credence and value to his distorted perspective.

Was there any chance of us being together? No, there wasn’t. There would never be. Not any more.

It was finally over.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said softly, trying to find my voice. I didn’t want to anger him.

It took a moment for my words to register, then his face contorted in fury and his rage erupted in a deadly torrent of vile.

“You bitch! You f**king c**t,” he screamed. “Give me the f**king air tickets.”

He’d bought two air tickets for me and my son to go away for a few days. It was supposed to be a healing getaway, to win me over after the night he’d driven me straight into my garage wall, shouting, “Tonight you’re going to die!”

It was an admission of guilt, a bartering for forgiveness, but I had preferred to accept it as a selfless and thoughtful expression of love and apology. He had also sent a bouquet of flowers, which had long since lost their allure and been discarded. The tickets were on my bedside table.

“I’ll get them,” I said quickly.

It was a short distance to my bedroom, but I moved slowly. I put one foot before the other and trod deliberately away from him. It was only once I was in my bedroom, out of sight, that I rushed forward and reached for the tickets. As I did so I snatched at the remote panic button alongside. I’d recently installed the alarm system and kept the panic button poised and ready just in case. I grabbed it and pressed down frantically, counting, one … two … three.

Not breathing. Four.

I hoped it was long enough to activate the signal, but not long enough to raise his suspicion.

I tossed the panic button aside and bounded back across the room, to the doorway, making up time before slipping back out into the passage. I was still trying to catch my breath as I glided back towards him, eyes lowered. The tickets were in my left hand, carefully caught between thumb and index finger, and I was holding them up high, presenting them ahead of me like a floating, paper peace offering.

But he was having none of it.

He was in the hallway shuffling from one foot to another, immersed in a private dance of rage, as he fuelled his own fury. Somehow, I met his rhythm, instinctively mirroring him, rocking ever so slightly from one side to the other, trying to make myself part of his harmony, trying to placate him, to send out a silent signal that I was not a threat and that I meant no harm. But it was a hollow synchronicity.

As my three-metre journey came to an end I didn’t need to look at him, to meet his eyes, to know that his huge, rough hands were splaying and fisting, that his jaw was clenched tight, his teeth grinding. But I lifted my head anyhow and as our eyes locked I saw the shine. I saw how his pupils had brightened with the icy glow of anticipation.

“Please don’t,” I said, my words nearly silent.

Please don’t hit me.

But he did.

He slammed his right fist into my eye.

The pain was instant. I screamed. My hands flew to my face and I spread my fingers wide as I tried to mask myself, but it was too late. He hit me again. I stumbled backwards, but quickly scrambled to my feet and fled to the lounge. I was in the corner, the curtain caught around me, when he upturned the coffee table. I was still screaming when he hoisted the TV cabinet off the floor and hurled it across the room. Then he lunged at me, his hand clamped over my mouth to keep me quiet. But I wouldn’t be quiet. He gripped my head and pounded it down into the floor.

He was over me, his face so close to mine that I could feel his spit on my cheek as it sprayed.

“You need your f**king face, don’t you?”

I felt the cold glass. A shard from the shattered coffee table, and he was holding it tight against my cheek.

Oh my God! He wants to cut me. Cut my face.

It took everything I had to twist myself from his grip. And then I ran.

It was my own dance of survival as I dodged him, the broken furniture, and my dog Garp.

I made it past the veranda, back out into the garden, before he caught up and I felt his hands slam down on my back and shoulders. He threw me to the ground and Garp moved in to protect me. I was caught, tied up in a frenzy of my flailing arms, his kicking feet, and a black furry body with a wagging tail. It was impossible to fend off the blows and recoil from wet dog licks at the same time. So I tucked my head in deep, curled up small and hugged myself tight. I left Garp to his nuzzling and him to his heaving, kicking and grunting as I drew my arms in to shield me. Each time I gave in to a strike from his foot I was grateful that he was wearing his brown suede and not his usual heavy, leather boots.

I was still screaming when I heard voices from over the wall.

My neighbours.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Shouting. Muffled voices. “Call the police.”

I heard pounding at my door, outside on the street. “Open up. Open this door!”

Thump. Crack.

I heard the wood splintering and I knew it was over. I was safe.

I stumbled to my feet and collapsed into the arms of my neighbour and his son. I sagged into them as they carefully lifted me and dragged me through the fractured wooden door. I dropped my head and brought my shaking hands up to hide myself from those who had already gathered on the pavement outside. My shouts had drawn passers-by. There were people standing on the other side of the road. The security guards had arrived and they too stood staring.

My neighbour and his son half dragged, half carried me past the gawking crowd, to the safety of their property. When they placed me gently on a chair it was only then that I looked up at them. They looked the same, both earnest and burly, just many years apart.

The kitchen was a cold, stark room, not the warm, cosy hub expected of a family home. It was immediately obvious there was no woman in the house. The linoleum floor was dated. So too were the chairs, with their spindly steel legs and black rubber tips. Remnants of an era long gone. But the kitchen was spotlessly clean, clinical almost, and I was glad. I didn’t want clutter. I wanted space and quiet so that I could try to gather my thoughts.

The son bundled a crumpled, wet dishcloth to my face, and I held it tight to my burning eye. The pain was throbbing through me and the cold cloth pressed against the heat of the swelling brought some relief. He then made sugar water but it sat swirling in the mug. I was unable to hold myself still enough to drink it.

Father and son had raised the alarm when they first heard my screams but the police were yet to arrive. I gave them my sister’s number. I knew my mother and her husband, John, were in Johannesburg for the afternoon and I wanted my sister to contact them so they could be with me.

There was no conversation between us as we sat there, waiting awkwardly. We just stared and waited.

I’d only met my neighbour a week earlier. When I’d knocked on his door, introduced myself and asked him to look out for me, it had been the first time I’d ever seen him. I had shamefully apologised for past disturbances and explained that I had a restraining order in place but that I feared for my safety.

As I sat there trembling, the pain stabbing at my temple, I wondered what would have happened had I not had that prefatory conversation. Would I even be sitting on his chair?

The police finally arrived and we made our way back to my home.

Again I kept myself tucked between my two neighbours. Passers-by still stood waiting and watching over the road and some of my other neighbours had come out too. I saw security patrol vehicles and police vans parked impatiently all along my grass verge.

The armed security guards had somehow prised open what was left of my door and had entered my property. They had also called for backup. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be men in uniform. I heard walkie-talkies and deep, unfamiliar voices.

My home had become a crime scene.

I didn’t want to go inside. I didn’t want to see all the damage. I already knew that the lounge was strewn with shattered glass, smashed picture frames and ornaments, the splintered remains of furniture. I stayed outside. I left it to my neighbour to manage everyone around me and collapsed onto a chair on the veranda.

I needed to sit.

Garp followed me, but this time, as he moved in closer, there was no wagging tail.

We were both still. His head against my knee, my hand limp against his ear.

I leaned forward and held him tight before burying my head in the cold dishcloth, trying to numb the drilling pain and the horror of all that had happened.

Book details

Take a visual tour of Paul Shenton's remarkable memorialisation of the great losses of the First World War

“The great military cemeteries found along the Messines Ridge and around the town of Ieper (Ypres) in Flanders, Belgium, are the last resting place of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died during the First World War…” – Regiments of the Dead

This locally produced title memorialises the great losses of the First World War with groundbreaking photography of the war memorials of Flanders in Belgium.

The extraordinary photographs were taken at different times of year to record the atmospheric and evocative memorials to the war dead of 1914–1918, in a manner not seen before.

Immaculately maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a lasting memorial to the fallen, the gravestones, when viewed from above, can be seen to resemble soldiers on parade. Paul Shenton’s interest in the battlefields and military cemeteries of the First World War began when he came across his grandfather’s medals representing his service as a sergeant with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards during 1914–1918.

This find prompted research into the engagements that his grandfather took part in and many trips to the battlefields and cemeteries of the Ypres Salient area in Flanders.

Paul Shenton has been a passionate photographer for as long as he can remember. Over the years he has captured a variety of subjects from extensive landscapes to intimate portraits. It was a natural step to combine his love of photography with his interest in the First World War. This has resulted in the spectacular portfolio of elevated mast photographs in Regiments of the Dead, which give a unique and breathtaking viewpoint of the Flanders cemeteries.

Take a look at a few of the awe-inspiring photos featured in Shenton’s remarkable book:

Bedford House, ©Paul Shenton.

 

Hooge Crater, ©Paul Shenton.

 

Menin Gate, ©Paul Shenton

 

Poelcapelle, ©Paul Shenton

 

Tyne Cot, ©Paul Shenton

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Fiction Friday: read the opening chapter of NR Brodie's Knucklebone


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Just because you can see it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

 
Sangomas and cops don’t mix. Usually. But this is Joburg, a metropolis that is equal parts flash and shadow, and where not everything can be easily explained. Ian Jack, a disillusioned former police officer, teams up with Reshma Patel, a colleague from his old life, to investigate a routine housebreaking gone bad. But when they uncover links to a possible animal poaching and trafficking syndicate, things go from complicated to dangerous to downright evil.

Set against the richly textured backdrop of a livewire African city, this fast-paced thriller offers a disturbing contemporary take on justice and morality. To be read with the lights on.

‘A cracking novel. Brilliant original writing, free of clichés. The pace is insane – in a good way.’ – Sarah Lotz, author of The White Road, Day Four and The Three .

NR BRODIE is a veteran journalist and best-selling author of five books.

Read the opening chapter…

ARMED RESPONSE

Ian Jack fiddled with the chinstrap on his helmet and tried not to think about how much of an idiot he looked. The bowl-shaped cap fit badly, and the padding smelled of someone else’s sweat. The bulletproof vest was the same, sitting too high on his shoulders and cutting into his arms whenever he reached forward. He had a cheap Chinese gun strapped to his right hip: a 9mm knockoff with rough workings and a safety that wouldn’t stay put.

‘Piece of shit,’ he thought.

But Myburgh had been firm: no gear, no going on patrol.

It was a warm evening, and Ian could feel damp patches growing under his arms. The inside of the car smelled of something artificially sweet and tropical. He looked at the dashboard and saw a stick-on air freshener in the shape of a pineapple. The fruit smiled at him.

The car was an underpowered Korean compact, branded with the name of the security company. It was parked near a copse of trees on the edge of an undeveloped patch of land between two houses.

‘You spend a lot of time here?’ Ian asked the man next to him.

There was silence.

‘What’s your name – Duma? Dumisane?’ Ian tried again.

‘Thomas,’ the guard said.

‘Thomas,’ Ian repeated with a sigh. ‘Sorry. I’m … I’m Ian.’ He’d been about to say Detective Jack and caught himself just in time.

Thomas gave him a funny look anyway. ‘Mister Myburgh called you ‘cousin’. You family?’

Ian shook his head. ‘It’s like a nickname. I used to be a cop. My dad was a cop. Myburgh knew him. Knew both of us. You know he used to be a cop, right?’

Thomas nodded.

‘Anyway, I got out a couple of years ago,’ Ian said. ‘Now I’m at university. This is for research.’

Thomas kept staring. ‘Which university?’ he asked, the words rolling into each other.

‘What?’

‘Which university?’ Thomas repeated, slower this time, like he was speaking to a child.

‘Uh, Wits,’ Ian stuttered.

‘Honours?’ Thomas asked. ‘Masters,’ Ian said. ‘Political studies,’ he added, aware how full of himself he sounded.

Thomas paused. ‘You look old for a student,’ he said. ‘My sister, she’s at Wits. She’s studying social work. But she doesn’t carry a gun.’

Ian looked down at Thomas’s waist, and saw the same gun strapped to his side.

‘What’s your story?’ he asked, hoping to change the subject.

Thomas gave a snort. ‘I was in MK. Nearly. I stopped school in the eighties. Wanted to be a revolutionary,’ he said. The last word seemed to linger in his mouth. ‘After 1994, I went back and got my matric. But this was the only job I could get,’ he said. ‘I’m helping to pay for my sister to study. So she can get a job without guns.’

Ian flicked his thumb over the butt of the 9mm again.

‘You want to be careful,’ Thomas said, looking down at the pistol. ‘They’re not like the Z88s you’re used to. Sometimes the safety clicks off. And they jam.’

‘Ja, I know,’ Ian said. ‘I saw a few of these … before.’

‘Piece of shit,’ Thomas said, and he chuckled.

Ian laughed too.

Just then the radio crackled into life. Ian jumped. A woman’s voice came through, unintelligible behind the static. The radio buzzed, then went silent again.

Ten seconds later a ringing noise came from the cubbyhole. Thomas leaned over, flicked open the latch, and pulled out a dull silver phone with the face lit up.

‘Car Two,’ he answered. His smile had disappeared.

Ian could hear a voice squawking from the phone.

‘Yes. Yes …’ Thomas nodded as he spoke, switching the phone from his right hand to his left, keeping the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he put the car into gear and turned on the ignition. ‘88 Forest. Corner what?’

Another squawk.

‘Protea. Okay.’ Thomas ended the call, dropped the phone onto his lap, and pulled off with a slight jerk.

‘Panic activation,’ he said to Ian as he accelerated, leaning forward and fumbling under the dashboard. A second later, the street around them lit up with flickering shadows from the orange and white lights on top of the car.

‘Don’t worry,’ Thomas said, keeping his eyes on the road, not looking at Ian. ‘It’s mostly false alarms. Dogs. Trees. Someone sits on the panic button.’ He sighed like it was an old routine.

The radio started issuing orders again – the line still crackled with static, but now Ian could make out what the dispatcher was saying.

‘Calling Two. They say someone jumped into the garden. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Eight is on its way. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Calling Eight. Over. Police have been called. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Calling Eight. Over. House has an easy lock. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Acknowledge. Over.’

Thomas lifted up the handset and clicked. ‘This is Two. Over. Roger. Over,’ he said.

‘What’s an easy lock?’ Ian asked as Thomas felt under the dashboard again, bringing the sirens to life. The sound was surprisingly loud and tinny inside the car.

‘It’s a lock with a special key,’ Thomas shouted over the noise. ‘All these houses with big walls and spikes, electric fences – we can’t get inside when the alarm goes off. So we give them a special lock, and then we have the key. It’s all the same key. For emergencies.’

Trees flashed past. Ian could feel his heart beating faster, adrenaline starting to kick in. He forced himself to slow his breathing.

He opened his eyes as the car slowed in front of a face-brick h Two large orange ceramic eights were screwed onto the wall. One of them was hanging skew. An outside motion sensor light came on as the car pulled to a stop.

Thomas switched off the siren, but left the lights flickering. ‘Don’t get in my way, okay?’ he said as he climbed out. ‘Maybe you’re a cop, but there are different rules for us. Just follow me.’

Ian nodded. He closed his door and hurried behind Thomas to a small pedestrian gate to the side of a double garage door.

Thomas pulled a bunch of keys from his jacket pocket. He worked one of them into the lock and turned it slowly before easing the gate open. He stood at the entrance, eyes alert. ‘Dogs,’ he whispered to Ian, looking around. ‘They can’t tell the difference between a good black man and a bad one,’ he said, giving a small grin.

There were no barks, nor any other noises. A few seconds later, Thomas stepped through, leaving the gate open behind him.

The house was close to the street front. Ian saw the curtains twitch. A face appeared behind the windowpane.

‘Top Force Security,’ Thomas called, loud so the person behind the glass could hear him. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

The face nodded. Then a hand was raised, pointing to the right of the house, jabbing with urgency.

Thomas took his gun out of its holster, keeping his arm low. Ian wondered if he was supposed to do the same. He decided he would wait for Thomas’s say-so.

They were about to start walking down the side of the house when Ian heard the sound of another vehicle pulling up. Car doors slammed, followed by the sound of boots on bricks.

Two more guards – wearing identical outfits to Thomas and Ian – stepped in through the gate, their hands already on the guns at their sides. They nodded at Thomas and looked at Ian with blank expressions. To Ian’s surprise, behind them came three police officers, two men in uniform and one woman in plainclothes. The first cop held a semiautomatic rifle ready, up against his chest; Ian knew the others would have their pistols out. He thumbed his own gun again, checked the safety.

Thomas pointed towards the narrow alley that ran along the side of the house.

The cops moved fast, going past the guards. Thomas and the others followed, Ian staying close behind them.

The alley opened up into a large back garden with a massive willow tree just off centre. A floodlight at the base of the tree cast shadows through the branches, spidering out over the grass. Near the rear boundary wall, Ian could make out a garden shed.

Something moved there.

Ian tapped Thomas lightly on the arm. The guard looked at the shed and nodded. He caught the attention of the largest cop, the one with the rifle. Thomas pointed towards the shed with his left hand, his right still holding firmly onto his gun.

The officer signalled the others and started moving towards the far side of the garden. He stepped softly despite his bulk. A few steps behind him, the plainclothes officer followed, her gun out, providing cover. The other uniformed cop began to circle from the near side, eyes trained on the shed.

Ian still didn’t have his weapon out. Even if he was allowed to fire it – and Myburgh hadn’t exactly been clear on that – he wasn’t sure what the deal was with cops on the scene. He didn’t trust the gun to do the job anyway, not if he needed to shoot from any sort of distance.

From the side of the shed, a shape detached itself from the shadows and darted towards the thin pool of light cast by the flood lamp.

Ian could see it was a slight man – young, maybe even a teenager. He was wearing jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt. There was a dark smear near the shoulder, and Ian wondered if it was blood. He couldn’t see the kid’s hands, or make out if he was holding a weapon.

‘Phakamis’ izandla!’ the big cop called. Hands up. The kid didn’t respond, or didn’t hear. He didn’t even turn his head towards the sound. He just stayed still for a second, hovering between the light and the dark.

‘He’s going to run for it,’ the woman shouted, as the youngster dropped into a half-crouch – then headed straight into the gap where Ian was standing.

Ian acted without thinking. He launched himself forward, praying his safety stayed on, and intercepted the kid with a thump, landing on top of him in the middle of a perfectly manicured piece of lawn.

‘Down,’ Ian yelled as he pinned the kid on the grass, holding the boy’s arms behind him as he knelt on his back. ‘He’s down,’ he yelled again. He could hear running feet, the kid on the grass panting, the cops calling out to each other.

Then there was another set of hands reaching for the suspect, someone else grabbing the kid’s wrists and securing them quickly with cable ties.

Ian felt a tap on his shoulder as he stood up. He paused to brush a patch of mud off his knee before he turned.

‘Hello Reshma,’ he said, trying to breathe normally. ‘Or is it Lieutenant Patel now?’ he asked.

The cop squinted for a second, then her eyes widened. ‘Jesus! Ian,’ she laughed, punching him hard on the arm.

Reshma barely came up to Ian’s chin. She had a short, neat bob and a square fringe that framed a slightly round face. She was wearing dark pants and a pale cream pullover, over which she’d strapped her vest. ‘Actually, it’s Captain Patel now,’ she said. ‘I didn’t recognise you when we came in. It must be the helmet.’

Ian was immediately aware, again, of how ridiculous he looked – dressed head to toe in shades of beige and brown. Even in a bulletproof vest and fleecy top, Reshma managed to look neat, professional, serious. Like a cop.

‘I thought you were supposed to be at university,’ she said, eyes narrowing.

‘I am. I’m doing research,’ Ian started. ‘On private security,’ he added, wishing he could say something that sounded a little more clever, or important. He could feel his arms and legs tingle as the adrenaline started to fade.

‘Look, that kid might be injured,’ he said, changing the topic. ‘I saw blood or something on his shirt. Maybe you should check it out?’ he suggested.

Reshma shrugged, as if to say she’d think about it.

One of the security guards was already up at the house, talking to the homeowners – a middle-aged couple, both in dressing gowns, both wideeyed. The wife stood with her arms tightly folded, hugging herself. Her husband nodded as he spoke. Something he said made the guard stop and turn away, leaving the dressing-gown man with his mouth hanging open. The guard – Ian could now see it was Thomas – made his way to where Reshma and Ian were standing.

‘Officer,’ Thomas started. ‘The client, he says he saw the kid jump over the fence from the neighbour’s house.’

They turned to look at the prefabricated concrete wall that ran between the house and the neighbouring property, a two-metre high wall that had been painted what looked like dark green.

‘The neighbour’s not our client,’ Thomas said, turning back to Reshma. ‘We can’t get in there without the owner’s permission.’

Reshma nodded. ‘No problem,’ she said. ‘We’ll go over and ring their bell, check it out. Thanks for letting me know. Jimmy, Gift,’ she called out, ‘we need to go to the house next door and …’

Before she could finish, two shots exploded from the neighbouring house, cutting through the night like firecrackers.

Ian saw Reshma flinch. The next second, she was in full control again. ‘Go, go, go,’ she screamed, as the policemen left the cuffed kid lying on the ground and raced in the direction of the noise.

Reshma was the first to reach the wall, hauling herself up and dropping down the other side, nimble as a rat. The others didn’t make the jump quite as easily. The big cop was still trying to pull himself up and over when Ian started running. He could hear shouting behind him and hoped Thomas was smart enough not to follow. He caught the top of the fence and flipped over, landing heavily on hard-packed soil on the other side.

The neighbour’s garden was almost completely bare, except for one patch of bushes and a few outcrops of lawn. Ian could see Reshma running towards the back of the house where an outside light revealed a wide-open sliding door. The inside of the house was in darkness.

Ian didn’t wait to see if the other two cops had made their way over the wall yet. He followed Reshma, snaking his way across the yard. As he passed the bushes, a small white shape burst out under his feet. Ian swore as he jumped mid-stride, trying not to trip over whatever it was. The shape let out a terrified squawk. A chicken.

He kept moving, hoping there were no more surprise animals on the way, thinking about Thomas’s warning about dogs.

As Ian got closer to the house, he could hear Reshma shouting. He slowed down to unclip his gun, keeping it pointed towards the ground. His own breath was coming hard and fast now. He honed in on the sound of Reshma’s voice, talking now, no longer shouting.

‘Step away from him. Step away,’ she was saying as Ian reached the open doorway.

Ian could smell the sour tang of burnt gunpowder, and something else. Blood. He looked inside and saw a woman – heavyset, with long dark hair and pale skin – crouching over a small body on the floor. The woman was wearing a sleeveless top, her exposed arms thick with flesh. In her left hand, she held a small snub-nosed pistol. It reminded Ian of the old Makarovs.

The two cops – Gift and Jimmy, Ian remembered – eventually caught up. Ian stepped aside to let them pass, ignoring their glares.

Reshma carried on talking to the woman, her weapon still held at the ready.

‘Ma’am. You need to move away from him, now.’

The woman stood up slowly, looking dazed. She was in her late forties, Ian thought. Her face was square, a hint of jowl peeking out beneath the chin.

The room was small, sparsely decorated. Blank walls, a tiled floor. An almost empty bookshelf and a vertical wine rack half-filled with bottles.

The body sprawled on the tiles was a carbon copy of the kid they’d caught next door: dressed in T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, his skinny limbs lay in a pile of unnatural angles that said it all.

‘Is there anyone else?’ Reshma asked.

The pale woman shook her head.

‘Gift, check his signs,’ Reshma called. ‘Jimmy, check out the house.’

The woman jerked her head up as the shorter cop, Jimmy, moved around the body and disappeared through another door.

Gift, the larger officer, knelt down next to the teenager and put his fingers on the skin between the kid’s jaw and throat. ‘Nothing,’ he said after a few seconds. He rose, shaking his head.

Reshma kept her gun trained on the floor, and her eyes on the pale woman. If she was aware of Ian, she gave no sign of it. With her right hand she pulled a radio from the utility belt around her hips and called for an ambulance. Ian always forgot Reshma was left-handed, until she wrote something down, or it was time for target practice.

‘It’s a P4,’ Reshma told the dispatcher. Priority 1 was urgent, lifethreatening, requiring immediate medical attention. Priority 4 meant the person was beyond assistance, or already dead. There would be no sirens for that journey, Ian thought.

‘Are you okay?’ Reshma asked the other woman.

The woman nodded, staring at the body on the floor, her arms dangling. Ian noticed she was still holding her pistol. He bit back the urge to tell Reshma.

Whatever the woman was feeling about having just shot and killed somebody, she hid it well. Her face was blank, almost featureless except for a dusting of freckles across her nose. In the bleak half-light, her skin appeared almost grey, and Ian noted that she did not appear to have any eyebrows. She looked somewhere between a clown and a ghost.

He looked back at the body and saw the faintest spatter of blood on the floor, tiny black dots radiating outward on the white squares of the tiles.

‘I killed him?’ the woman asked, an accent audible in the corners of her words.

Reshma nodded.

‘He was going to rape me,’ the woman said. This time the accent was more noticeable. Something European, maybe Eastern Europe, Ian thought, which might explain the Makarov.

From somewhere in the house, Jimmy shouted the rooms were all clear.

‘What happened?’ Reshma asked, her voice sharp and alert. She was working the crime, Ian knew.

The other woman paused and looked around her as if she didn’t recognise the space she was in.

‘I … I left the sliding door open. Is for the cats. Then I heard noise,’ she said. Her voice had begun to tremble. She shuffled from side to side and a foot poked out underneath the long, shapeless skirt she was wearing. Ian could make out her exposed toes.

It was one of the things he had hated about being a cop; the nakedness that came with crime. Seeing people at their most unguarded and unprepared.

The woman started rambling. ‘I heard noise. I went to get my gun,’ she said. ‘The one man, he ran away. The other, he stayed. He said he had a gun in his pocket. He was telling me I had to do what he said. He was talking to me. I don’t know what he said,’ she whispered, the trembling getting worse. ‘Does he have a gun?’ she asked, her large eyes contracting.

Ian looked. The young boy’s hands were splayed, as if he had been trying to stop himself from falling. They were empty.

‘Is he really dead?’ the woman asked again. Then: ‘I shot him,’ she said, without waiting for an answer. She stared at her own hands and saw the gun in them, as if she had almost forgotten it was there.

Reshma stepped forward, her own gun pointing away, wanting to retrieve the woman’s weapon. The pale woman started at the movement and looked up, past Reshma.

‘Who is he?’ she asked, pointing at Ian.

‘Security guard,’ Reshma answered without turning back. ‘Your neighbour pressed a panic button.’

‘My neighbours, they are afraid of so many things,’ the pale woman said, almost mockingly. She reached up to scratch her face. The movement left a dirty trail across her nose, smudging the freckles. With a chill, Ian realised they were blood spatters.

‘You should get that checked,’ Ian said. ‘You’ll need to go on ARVs.’

The woman gazed at him, her eyes almost glittering, even in the darkness.

Reshma turned to face Ian. ‘You should get back,’ she said, pointedly. ‘There’s no reason for you to be here.’ She waited for him to leave. Ian put the safety back on his gun and holstered it before turning and walking away from the dead room.

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