Disseminating Bar Talk

When prejudice gets the better of us

Social Media: When our prejudices get the better of us, we run around peddling bar talks. Should our freedom infringes on others' rights?

In Brief

  • A preliminary look into a Facebook post revealed deep holes
  • With this single post on Facebook, this freelance journalist undermined those in our profession that spend resources fighting for the right and freedom to disseminate information
  • Our investigation revealed that the first victim may have died of complications arising from an existing medical condition, while the second wasn’t dead at all, but recovering in hospital
  • The root of the brawl was drugs, which are supplied by a shadowy ‘untouchable’ figure in the area

In mid January, a heart-breaking post appeared on Facebook. Its author was an individual who professes to be a freelance journalist. The content, as reproduced in the image published herein, was bad enough to prompt some residents in a Cape Town suburb to either enhance their respective personal security or to consider moving from the area. Unbeknown to them, the entire post was made up of hearsay probably heard in a bar. The storytellers could have been a few moderately intoxicated individuals preoccupied with sowing seeds of anger and hatred.  When such lies remain unchallenged, we all become victims. The report below features various individuals; Mario and Whitey (supposed victims of discriminate attacks), two young men (perpetrators), Quinton (a known Sea Point drugs pusher), Jeremy (the freelance journalist who readily disseminated unsubstantiated bar talk) and social media users…

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” Eleanor Roosevelt...

It all started with a Facebook post that begged for further investigation. Two main questions needed answers: Who were members of the ‘hockey sticks or mini-bus taxis gang’ that was causing havoc among white homeless people in Cape Town’s Sea Point area? What were the chances that the incidents would be replicated in the rest of the Western Cape Province and ultimately nationwide? We were soon to discover that there were and are no such gang.

The story, as had been gravely painted by Jeremy (not his real name), the freelance journalist-cum-facebooker, required more than a quick fix. Even though the post was deleted from Facebook days after we commenced our own inquiry, the damage it may have caused in the period it remained online cannot be quantified. As mentioned in the editorial, the facebooker appeared to have made up almost all the information contained in the post.

This is what we found:

Not to BlameMario (a white middle-aged man) – It is true he was homeless and an alcoholic - a somewhat understandable situation for surviving the harsh street life. And yes, he died while nursing some head injuries. We can authoritatively reveal that his death had nothing to do with the claimed mini-bus taxi gang or any other for that matter. In fact no such gang exists. Another valuable piece of information missing from the post was the fact that Mario was epileptic.

According to Epilepsy Action, a leading UK-based epilepsy support organisation, it is not unusual for those suffering from the condition to suddenly die. This is called Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Epilepsy (SUDEP). While the organisation confirms that the causes of SUDEP are not known, it publicly advises on proven ways of reducing its risks. Two key things to remember are to take epilepsy medicines as prescribed (we haven’t established whether Mario was on any medication) and to avoid situations that may trigger seizures. Common triggers include not taking the prescribed epilepsy medicine, lack of sleep, stress and too much alcohol.

Mario’s death could therefore be attributed to SUDEP. During our investigation, we didn’t come across any evidence indicative of foul play. However, he reportedly had a minor fight with his alcohol and drugs supplier about a week before he collapsed and died at a friend’s living quarters. Jeremy’s contention and confidence that Mario was the first victim of this dreamt-up mini-bus taxi gang is therefore baseless.

Not all are blameless though on Mario’s death. The Western Cape provincial departments of health and social services should explain how their systems had failed to recognise Mario’s medical and social needs, especially with the existence of social workers in nearly every suburb. Maybe, just maybe, if the social workers in the area had paid a little more attention to Mario, the outcome would have been different.

Mark van Zyl A.K.A Whitey (exact age unknown, but could be in his late thirties or early forties) – before telling his real story as per our investigation, let us first discount the erroneous claims made by the facebooker. While Whitey sold fruits outside Adelphi Centre as stated, he was in fact previously an employee of the fruit vendor. However, by the time of his attack, he had long been fired from that job. Secondly neither was he homeless.

Jeremy further claimed that Whitey was in a coma, “He will not make it, that I know.” The only ‘coma’ mentioned in his medical file (which our team had sight of), was an induced one that enabled extensive head surgery. By the time Jeremy was disseminating his insight, Whitey had already been transferred to the New Somerset Hospital in Green Point to recuperate.

Napping OutAs we were finalising this report, Whitey (registered at the hospital as Mark van Zyl) had not died. The uSpiked team repeatedly met and conversed with him from his hospital bed, albeit incoherently. He spent most of his days either sleeping or castigating people he didn’t particularly admire including hospital nurses who nicknamed him 'Mr. F*ck-off' - his favourite words.

We must add that on Wednesday February 4, 2015, Van Zyl was transferred to Ward F at the Western Cape Rehab Centre, a government run specialised facility that rehabilitates patients with disabilities, including head injuries.

Whitey – the entrepreneur:

He was truly a fast worker and seemingly quick to identify opportunities. What the facebooker didn’t disclose or may not have known or simply didn’t bother to establish is the fact that other than selling fruits as an employee of the vendor, Whitey developed means of selling his own ‘special’ goods on the side. He identified the needs of street families in Sea Point area – drugs (cannabis, tik – meth) and alcohol, which he exploited to the max. Among his clients was Mario. The fight Mario reportedly had a week before his death was with Whitey allegedly over payment for previously delivered supplies.

When we asked him about the fight or whether he felt responsible for Mario’s death, Whitey incoherently confirmed the fight, but hastened to add that he just kicked his legs “...he was my friend... we argued everyday... not killed each other.” This version has also been confirmed by other homeless people in the area.

His entrepreneurial spirit went further than just supplying the homeless with drugs and cheap alcohol. We have collaborated tales of some of his victims. If one opted to buy fruits from ‘his stall’ and paid with large denominations that required change, the chances of getting back the exact change were slim. The short-changing became so rampant that the owner of the stall started losing customers and subsequently had to let him go.

When we asked him about skimming off customers, he denied it alleging that some customers saw him for a fool and always wanted to con him. “...I am a businessman for many years and I can tell when a customer wants to chance with me (sic). Whitey knows his work and I would tell them to f*ck off.”

Our final visit at the hospital was cut short when we enquired about his supplier of drugs. After a brief hesitation, he told our team member to f*ck-off and not to return. Despite his silence, collaborative information acquired from multiple sources identified a thickset Sea Point resident called Quinton as Whitey’s main supplier of cannabis (dagga) and tik (Methamphetamine). [See Preying on the Homeless]

The R170 that led to Whitey’s attack

His clients weren’t only the homeless people in Sea Point. Various sources that talked to our team members mentioned other users who procured from Whitey. We further learnt that he sometimes took advance payment from his customers when he didn’t have stock. This is how two brothers aged around twenty (complete identities known to us) and residents of Sea Point, allegedly handed him R170 for dagga, which Whitey failed to deliver.

The spot where Whitey was attacked for failing to supply drugs worth R170 he had been paid for

Our sources including three police officers confirmed that the brothers, after being repelled by Whitey and verbally abused, decided to ‘teach him a lesson’. Would they report him to the police for failing to supply cannabis? Definitely not! The brothers, probably craving a fix, reportedly returned to their home, armed themselves with hockey sticks, hired a meter taxi (cab) – not a mini-bus taxi – and cruised around seeking Whitey at his usual hangout places before finding him near Frere Road Park. They allegedly jumped out and hit him repeatedly and then got back into the waiting cab.

Regardless of Whitey’s illegal activities, crime detectives at Sea Point Police station swung into action and as Whitey was undergoing surgery for multiple body and head injuries, the two brothers were arrested and charged. They were still in remand as we prepared to publish the report.

We have further learnt that the same brothers were persons of interest in a stabbing case that had occurred in the area a few days earlier.

We shall closely monitor the cases of the brothers. No person deserves to be assaulted or nearly killed, regardless of his or her lifestyle. We are also watching to see if the cops will follow-up on the major dealer who used Whitey as a runner – [see Preying on the Homeless]