Living with Crime in South Africa

March 12, 2012

I unlock the front door, pull back the screen door, and then unlock the security gate. After making sure they are all secure again, I unlock the garage and make my way towards the car. Unlock the door, sit, unlock the gear lock, disarm the immobiliser, and start the car. Out the garage, I quickly lock the garage again before making my way towards the electric gate. Using my personal remote, I open it and finally I am free to go into town for some shopping.

While driving, I make sure my handbag is out of site as people are known to smash windows at traffic junctions and steal handbags. I arrive at the shopping centre making sure I park in the light. I greet the car guard (car guards are people who patrol the parking garages making sure everything is okay), and make my way inside. I clutch my handbag and make sure that nothing is hanging out or open and exposed.

crime in south africa
Crime in South Africa

After some shopping, I stop for some tea. I never just place my handbag under the table; instead I loop my arm through the strap and drink my tea with my bag securely on my lap.

This might seem extreme but it is life in South Africa. I grew up with this so it doesn’t seem to bother me anymore but if I look at it with a foreigner’s eyes, I can quite understand why everyone thinks this country is so dangerous. But the truth is, it is only dangerous if you aren’t careful. Knowing where to go and when, keeping valuables covered, not flaunting expensive camera equipment or jewellery, keeping all car doors locked when travelling, not exposing a wad of notes in your purse when paying for something–it’s all common sense really.

I am a firm believer that every country has a bad side. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to avoid that country altogether but rather, to learn about the problems and how to either cope with them or avoid them altogether.  My friend puts it nicely, “Every jungle has its lions.” I think it’s quite apt.

I have girlfriends who still live here in South Africa, one in particular who travels a lot on her own for business. She knows which roads not to take at night, which areas to avoid at certain times and if put in a difficult situation, she exudes enough confidence so the potential attackers know she would be too much of a handful and slink off to pick on someone who looks more vulnerable.

The majority of houses have burglar guards (essential if you want household insurance), dogs with attitude (big or small) or some type of alarm system. Some alarms just go off annoyingly if they detect something (I can hear one now as I am typing) but others have an armed response which dispatches a car complete with men and guns, to attend to the disturbance. This costs roughly £34/$55 a month–well worth it if you ask me…

But don’t let this put you off. Like I say, you just need to be prepared and aware of your surroundings. South Africa is a beautiful country and I am not just saying this because I was born here.  I really mean it.  There are deserts, beaches, mountains, forests, vineyards, sugar cane, banana trees, vibrant cities, extensive outdoor activities including scuba diving, bungee jumping, abseiling, hiking, canoeing and fishing–just to mention a few, the most incredible selection of safari parks with lions, buffalos, elephants, leopards, rhinos and more, incredible bird life, sunshine, genuine friendly people, a diverse culture and food to go with it.

Where else can you buy Afrikaans milktart, Zulu samp and beans, Indian curry and English lamb shank all in one place. The fusion of cultures, traditions, foods and people are what make this country special.  it really is a world in one country.

About Colleen Setchell

Colleen Setchell is a writer, photographer and enthusiastic explorer. She exchanged her stressful corporate job for a few years of travelling. She is at her happiest when she is learning and discovering new things, eating food and drinking cocktails on the beach. She is now a writer living on Koh Samui in Thailand and teaches English part time.

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