The recruiter was well spoken, his accent barely betraying that English was not his mother tongue. He had several deep scars across his hands and arms. I was sure that he had more, but his uniform shirt and trousers hid them. I was still high. The cocktail of uppers and booze not yet out of my bloodstream. I was 17 and had been provisionally accepted to law school, so this latest incident would almost certainly end my judicial aspirations. Not that I minded. I had made an artform of self-sabotage. I was usually better at hiding, as most addicts are. The deal that he offered me was directly out of a comic book and I recall asking him if I could be assigned to SHIELD. None of that. I think back and like to believe that I chose this. In truth I had run out of options.
To kill a human being, you need to be indoctrinated. Either you let them indoctrinate you and cling to your new religion or you self-indoctrinate. The person is bad. Justice must be done. Insert a suitable justification. Mine is that I am a high functioning sociopath. Sherlock Holmes without the silly hat. Without Watson. Although I have tried. It is all nonsense, and I would say that at least it helps me to sleep but then, I don’t. I have been doing this for 24 years. If you met me at the super-market, you would not remember me. Hopefully. For your sake.
Crow bags are new recruits. It is supposed to be an acronym dating back to the Great War. Combat Recruit of War. The indoctrinator in chief had trained at Hereford and so we were crow bags for twenty weeks. They thinned the herd quickly. The twenty that followed were more brutal than the first. We were crows, like in that show with the dragons and the incest. In just under a year, I had gone from being a devious substance abusing sociopath to being a professional sociopath. Ready to serve. My first assignment was in Richmond. There was a genie that needed to be put into a lamp. Sifiso Nkabinde had grown up like me, watching gangster movies. The National Intelligence Service (NIS) had funded and trained him in the 80’s and both the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and African National Congress (ANC) suspected as much. The problem was not that he was a warlord, it was that he had created his own empire in Zululand without a political master.
My guilty pleasure is watching interviews with the relatives and friends of serial killers and mass shooters. They all feign ignorance. Put on a show for the camera. Journalism died with Reagan, so there is no risk of the truth spilling out of their recalcitrant mouths. You always know. No need to check the bin for mutilated kittens. Most people just don’t want to look. They are afraid of what they might see. The truth is that we all have the capacity for good and for evil. They are not opposites. The absence of good is not evil. How do you explain genocide? The absence of light is not darkness. The world exists, whether we can see it or not. We are as comforted by our rules as we are imprisoned by them. Mutilators of children have the same rights as the chair of the PTA.
Nkabinde was born into a political family, his father a policeman and IFP functionary. He was exposed to violence and its ambiguity from a young age. The official story was that after matriculating he trained as a teacher and then joined an ANC self-defense unit, receiving additional training in the newly liberated Zimbabwe. Our folder had another version. After 1994 he was elected to a seat in the Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) legislature from where he directed his activities. Arms, drug dealing, prostitution, and child trafficking. The four horsemen. He publicly admitted to being a warlord, during a debate in the KZN legislature, but promised that he had never initiated any violence. Like an adolescent in a schoolyard brawl, he claimed not to have started the fight. He probably didn’t. He did have all the witnesses in his 1997 murder trial killed. It wasn’t until one of his many victims’ families whispered his association with NIS that the ANC ejected him. Warlords are tolerable, traitors are not. He was recruited by the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and was making significant inroads into the IFP and ANC voter base when we got the call at the end of 1998.
There are fictional accounts of clandestine operatives who move in the shadows of the global political economy in a never-ending game of cat and mouse. There is also the comic reality of Mark Thatcher funding an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. The private security industry was worth 78 billion US Dollars in 2011 and is currently estimated to be worth 132 billion US Dollars worldwide. In the Middle East and Africa that figure is up from 5 to 12 billion US Dollars in 2020. Most of the money is in the Middle East. The growth and legitimacy of this industry has enabled well trained operatives the opportunity to hide in plain sight. In an age where multinational corporations have more money and relative power than most governments, I am amused that global warming dominates the fears of many and headlines of most nations. Perhaps that isn’t an accident.
I think about Nkabinde often. It looked like an assassination, although in hindsight perhaps we should have missed a few times. He stared defiantly at us and said: “sengikulungele”. I am ready. The simplicity of being a warlord. In retaliation for his killing, 5 members of his inner circle ambushed and killed 12 members of Ndabazitha family. The president cancelled his trip to Uganda and blamed a third force for instigating the violence. He was partially correct. Violence begets violence. Murder is a collective noun.