89 Bags & Counting by Steve Chart

Stopping the bag thieves

Daniel Matthews reviews 89 Bags and Counting by Steve Chart

BY DANIEL MATTHEWS

At first glance I could not have thought of a more boring book. Luggage lost or stolen while flying is the fodder of a suburban braai discussion, and the idea that a book telling us it was much worse than we thought and that the little prayer we say when we check in isn’t nearly enough to keep our holiday-wear safe did not excite me in the slightest. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Author Steve Chart is a fascinating man, having served in the Metropolitan police (in the UK) before starting his own security company in apartheid South Africa. Recounted in the opening chapters of 89 Bags and Counting, his stories of police corruption and security work behind the scenes in both the new and old South Africa are as entertaining as they are harrowing. Then we reach the main focus: rampant baggage theft at OR Tambo. In 2007, Chart was appointed by ACSA to stop the thievery at the airport — a task he was committed to until his contract with the company ended in 2011.

The story of his tenure at OR Tambo sheds fascinating light on the way our airports work — or don’t. Chart unpicks pilfered luggage in far more than facts and figures (which are frightening enough). His recollections truly make you wonder how the airport managed to function at all, never mind transferring luggage to and from planes. As Chart attempts to bring the pilferage under control, he butts heads with everyone from SAA executives to the policemen charged with protecting our airports. These tales, combined with the descriptions of the ingenuity of those who seek to steal our holiday souvenirs, makes this a surprisingly easy and informative read.

89 Bags and Counting is published by Jacana, R165.

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