A need for atonement

11 April 2005

Professor Roger Hunter, who holds the Mally Chair of Organic Chemistry at UCT, recently fought off an intruder in his home in Stanley Road, Claremont (behind Villagers Rugby Club). Here he reflects on the attack and the karmic implications of violent crime.

Early Saturday morning of April 2, I'd fallen asleep in front of the TV watching some B-rated movie to wake up seeing fleeting images of someone in our adjacent kitchen. The next minute, a knife-wielding man, approximately in his mid- 20s, stood next to my chair pointing a knife about a metre from my face and demanding money. I still hauntingly remember the strained tones of "Give me the money", repeated over and over. It took me a little while to wake up sufficiently to appreciate the gravity of the situation.

That amazing surge of adrenaline, which alerts you to such horror, eventually woke me up to the nightmare to follow. I slowly got out of the chair, and managed to stay calm probably as a result of my sleepy state. As I continued to promise to come up with some money, my wife appeared from our bedroom down the corridor. Our uninvited guest repeated his demands and started telling us that he would kill us if we didn't cough up. By this stage I was waking up and mindful of our 22-year old daughter sleeping in a bedroom near to the bathroom, via which our intruder had entered the house.

What followed was one of those life-defining moments, which you carry with you near to the surface of memory for the rest of your life. We began to move to the bedroom to get some money and as we entered the corridor, which was a bit dark, I took, what I had always told my family exists in violent crime, "my window of opportunity". I realise now that I was sort of pre-programmed by several things, one of them being from a discussion I'd had with my son some time before about confronting someone holding a knife. Quite simply it's that if you hold the wrist (not lunge for it) attached to the hand holding the knife, it makes it very hard for the knife-bearer to stab you, so long as you don't let go. The intruder was quite surprised when I did this and then, of course, a life-and-death struggle ensued.

The next period is still a bit hazy, but certainly I was assisted by a stroke of luck. The knife that our intruder had selected from our kitchen was sharp with a serrated edge but it didn't have a strong connection to the handle. At some point in the struggle, I managed to hold the blade in my hand and break it off. Somewhat comically, I was left holding the blade and he the handle. At this point my hand was bleeding somewhat, although not too badly, and thus I was distracted. The intruder managed to make a break for the window through which he had come and made his escape. I've never seen a human lizard move so fast. By this time the alarm (ADT) had been set off and my wife was screaming in the front garden.

ADT were on the scene almost immediately and the police, who incidentally are stationed around the corner, followed minutes later. Fortunately, by their swift action, ADT were able to apprehend the intruder at the subway near Draper Road and the police carted him off to jail following our identification of him.

I'm indebted to the skill and swift action of both the ADT and police officers. Thank you to you all. I'm currently waiting for a court case, which I'm afraid to say I suspect is unlikely to mete out what I feel is an appropriate (jail) sentence. Anyway, we'll see what happens.

However, apart from the usual "crime in SA innuendoes" - for instance, I certainly can't tell my sisters in the UK about it; at least not until I go over there - I do ponder the karmic implications of the episode. It would be fantastic if there were some mechanism for alerting my intruder to the karmic implications of his deeds, and what message is perhaps being relayed to him. Something for our spiritual leaders and teachers, of which there are many in Cape Town, to push for, I feel. Put pressure onto the government and the constitutional courts that a forum needs to be developed for conveying the message that violence needs to be atoned for in a spiritual way. Court justice, in whatever form, just doesn't cut it - oops, still on the knife.

I am certainly not advocating my actions for any future victims of such crime. It's one of those things where an individual must make a choice for themselves at the time. Experts in this area do tend to advocate non-confrontment. I guess I didn't feel that the latter was going to work for me in this case. I always lock that window in the bathroom at the back of the house (there was barbed-wire, in true Stalag-style, on the fence to contend with), but in this case the lock-up came too late, it seems. I suppose the next step is Spanish burglar bars with some spiritual dictums embedded in the metal. Maybe I can start a business!

Grateful to still be with you.

Roger Hunter
Mally Chair of Organic Chemistry
Chemistry Department

Roger Hunter is known to the public in CT as an amateur singer, having played the role of Mr Snow in Carousel (2002, G&S, Artscape), as a member of the barbershop quartet the "Capetones" and as tenor soloist for the Cape Town Male-Voice Choir.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.