/ 4 June 2024

The Nigerian Mafia Johannesburg: Gripping crime drama in South Africa

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The new novel by Nigerian writer Onyeka Nwelue tells the story of a Nollywood actor who finds himself involved with the Johannesburg crime underworld

“They said you just arrived from São Paulo. Is that true?”

“That’s true.” 

“I know that life isn’t too expensive there. And here, I bet you, life is so much cheaper. And definitely, that scum’s life isn’t worth a tenth of the fee you mentioned. But then, I won’t demean your profession. So, let’s say I give you thirty-seven thousand. Rands.”

“And how much is it in dollars?” 

“Look around you, my friend. This is South Africa. Everyone fucks and gets fucked for rands. Not dollars.” I didn’t yet know the conversion of the currency, but I knew that the Chinese was offering a pittance. 

“Seventy thousand. Rands. We have a deal.” 

“Forty-five thousand. And that should be a deal.” 

He reached for my hand and shook it. I didn’t resist even though the limpness of my handshake signalled my unwillingness. Yet it didn’t mean a thing to him. We’d had a handshake and so the deal was sealed. 

It was all that he wanted — the end, with no regard for the means. He handed the folded newspaper to me. In its fold was concealed a brown envelope. 

“Everything you need is in there, including an advance on your fee,” he said. “I will want it to look gruesome so that everyone gets the message.” 

I nodded. 

He stood up. “Nighttime is coming and I will advise you to enjoy it with your eyes peeled for any eventualities.” 

I watched him walk away, across the park and onto the road to join the trickle of human traffic and disappear into it. He was a small man, quite all right. Presumably insignificant. 

There was nothing about his demeanour that suggested that he was anyone of note. Yet he was about to take out a man who apparently stood in the way of his aspirations. Who would think that human society even in its most civilised form is still every bit a jungle?

Every hitman knows not to seek a moral angle while taking out a target. But then I was to kill a clergyman. A Pentecostal pastor, actually. They called him Pastor Tim Cletus. 

The picture in the file which Chin had given to me was almost an exact physical replica of Pastor Tim. But when I went to scout out Pastor Tim the next morning, I immediately had a dislike for him at first sight. I think it had to do with the perm. 

Why would an African man perm his hair and make it look all greasy with oil and gel? And the way he talked when he addressed someone! His accent, his mannerisms, were forced. 

It would appear that he had his head elsewhere and wished for his physical body to exist in the same place as his head. That morning, I’d gone to his church in the rundown part of town. His church was a small warehouse converted for the purpose of holding church services. 

I think he had finished conducting a morning midweek service and the auditorium was almost empty. I watched him in his grey three-piece suit talk to a man who looked to have slept in his threadbare clothes. 

Now and then he would dab his forehead and his neck. Of course, he was not dressed for the weather. It was too warm to be layered in a three-piece suit. 

Pastor Tim […] walked up to me. “Bless you, brother. How are you? Jesus loves you. Were you present for this morning’s midweek service? Because I am sure I didn’t see you.” 

“I came very late … I was just passing by.” 

“Oh, that is wonderful. The Lord be praised. What is your name?” 

“Uche Mbadiwe.” 

“Of course, I knew you’re Igbo from merely looking at you,” he said, shaking my hand and settling into a seat which he turned so that it faced me. “Always good to see a fellow Nigerian in any foreign land. I can tell that you are new to these parts.” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“You just came to South Africa or you were living in some other city?” 

“I just came to South Africa.” 

“Oh. The Lord be praised. He surely has directed your steps. You are welcome to South Africa, my brother. I hope you are finding the place good. And I am sure you have been told to be careful with the way you move around these parts. One has to be watchful, you know.” 

The man in the threadbare clothes came around and signalled he was about to go. Pastor Tim took the man’s hand, uttered some half-hearted words of blessings and bid him farewell. The man walked away, apparently dissatisfied. Certainly, he would have valued some alms than the words of blessing that he received. 

“Ehe, my brother. For how long have you been in the country?” 

“One week.” 

“Oh okay. That means you are in need of residency papers. That is what I do. I have my contacts at the Home Affairs and they are very reliable. You have nothing to worry about where I am concerned. 

“This is my church and everyone knows me. And should you need visas for people to come to South Africa, especially women who want to come here to work. You know what I mean, I am sure. 

“You look like you have seen the world. I feel it in my spirit. The Lord has whispered it to me. So, there is no point hiding anything from you. So, should you be in that line of business, I am your sure plug. 

“It doesn’t matter where the women come from in Africa, I take care of everything. And make sure not to go to the Chinese. Their fees are just expensive for no reason and yet they don’t understand the needs of Africans. 

“I charge less than half of what they charge and I deliver twice faster than them. This is because I am African and I understand Africans. Africans have to stick to themselves around here, you know. 

“It is good we don’t trust other races, much more the Chinese, to handle our businesses for us.” 

Oh, that was it, I thought to myself. It was all about the visa racketeering business. The pastor must have posed a fierce competition for the Chinese and they needed to take him out. He would have gone on selling me on his business had he not seen the knife that I got out from my sleeve. 

“Brother. What is that for?” 

He made to scamper to his feet but I was on to him, pinning him down by the shoulder. There was a certain wildness in his eyes and I would have made the mistake of feeling absolute in having the upper hand had my eyes not caught sight of his hand reaching for his boot. 

In that instant, I drove the blade of the night into his shoulder. He cried out in pain and from his boot drew out a small silver revolver. But I did not give him time to put it to use, for I slit his throat there and then and watched as blood from the gash in his throat seeped about the floor. 

His leg twitched and so did his arm. There was a look of derision in his eyes, which appeared to be in a struggle to focus on me. And then he began to move, attempting to crawl. What was it about the man and the desire to cling to life? 

I plunged the knife into his heart, as deep as it could go, and then I yanked it out. Pastor Tim wheezed and fell still. He was very much dead, and satisfactorily so. I pried the gun from his hand. It was a little beauty. My first gun in South Africa — got off my first target. What a way to a fresh start!

The Nigerian Mafia Johannesburg is published by Jacana Media.