Thoughts on My Trip to South Africa – Security

My first few weeks in south Africa to publicize my children’s book were spent in a state of extreme culture shock. Nothing was as I had been led to believe – not even the weather. It was winter in Andalucia, Spain when I left for what was supposed to be mid-summer in South Africa. The first few days were so cold I ended up wearing the same winter clothes I had arrived in. And it rained and rained and rained.

Though I had lived and worked in West Africa I knew that South Africa was very different. One of my misconceptions was that I would be able to take public transport and travel around on my own. It was soon made clear to me that this did not come into question. It was far too dangerous.

At this point I must emphasize that anything I write is based on my experiences in a suburb of Pietermaritzberg. What I describe may or may not be representative of of South Africa in general.

Security is everybody’s overriding concern. I had expected security to be an issue but not to the extent that it is. Every house seems to have strong fencing topped by razor wire and most have electric gates. Prominently displayed signs reading “Twenty Four hour surveillance. Armed response” are standard.Armed response means just what it says. In addition most people in the area have terrifyingly large guard dogs. My hostesses neighbour has two ferocious mastiffs. Apparently before buying or renting a property the first consideration is the security arrangements.

I know that I am going to really upset many people by using the terms “White”, “Black”, “Indian” etc but the fact of the matter is that it is not yet possible to describe the situation in South Africa without employing these terms. There are no value or moral judgments attached to my use of these terms.

All the shopping malls have tight security. Armed guards are positioned outside banks and ATM’s. Security personnel in the malls are well trained and have found themselves involved in shoot outs. A shop in a mall with bullet damage which was pointed at to me. An outlet in a mall was selling guns and had the most vicious-looking , large knives on display. I noticed one guard was wearing navy combat gear who was standing with his arms held clear of his torso like a cowboy in a film at the start of a shoot out. He reminded me of a perfect, efficient android. The steely watchfullness in all the guards eyes made my hair stand on end. South African security personnel are much sought after in the Middle East.

The police are also much in evidence. They are very well paid and enjoy benefits such as good health insurance, generous housing mortgages and the use of a police vehicle.

The local paper seemed to regularly feature details of robberies (mostly with violence). While I was there a shoot out occurred in Pietermaritzberg which caused two fatalities. The incident was suspected to be connected to “taxi wars”.

One afternoon we were all sitting at home when there was a sharp report from further up the road. When I enquired what it was Donnette replied completely unperturbed that it was a gunshot.

People seem to take the violence calmly and fatalistically . They avoid certain areas of town, take all security precautions knowing full well that really determined burglars will get in anyway. Such times bring out the best and worst in people.

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