PEOPLE WHO HAVE STOLEN FROM ME: Rough Justice in the New South Africa

David Cohen, Author . St. Martin's $24.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-312-28869-3

London-based journalist Cohen (Chasing the Red, White, and Blue ) reports in this tight, perceptive study that crime—which has soared in the past 10 years—is now South Africa's biggest growth industry. Rather than taking a broad sociological approach, Cohen brilliantly uses one store—and its owners, customers, staff, thieves and swindlers—as a microcosm of the greater problem. Harry Sher and Jack Rubin own a furniture and appliance store on Johannesburg's Jules Street, where "crooked men thrive." The business endures armed robberies, defaulting creditors, theft by staff and a range of ingenious thievery schemes. Cohen cites the obvious reasons for the staggering crime rates, including the disparity between the haves and the have-nots (which still falls primarily along racial lines) and soaring unemployment. But Cohen, not satisfied with easy answers, persuasively contends that the problem is more complex. He argues, for instance, that South Africa had developed an apartheid township culture that saw crime (especially against whites) as honorable. More interestingly, criminal activity is not unique to the black population, a fact that Cohen makes clear through the case of Harry's younger brother, Ronny, who is fired after dipping one too many times into the company till. As a white security worker admits, "You look around in the new South Africa and you see people minting [money]. And you think—why not me?" While the book's subject may seem narrow and remote, the strength of Cohen's characterizations and narrative provide for a portrait of the new South Africa that many will find illuminating, fascinating and, sadly, universal. Photos not seen by PW . (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 02/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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