Friday, March 06, 2009

Just how dangerous is South Africa?

Honestly? Johannesburg is Milton Keynes with thunderstorms. You go out. You eat some lovely ostrich. You drink some delicious wine and you walk back to your hotel, all warm and comfy. It’s the least frightening place on earth. So why does every single person there wrap themselves up in razor wire and fit their cars with flame-throwers and speak of how many times they’ve been killed that day? What are they trying to prove?

Jeremy Clarkson may scoff at South Africans, and invite his mates here in droves, but a few weeks in the country may not quite be enough to understand what it is like to live here, to grow up here, to raise children and go to work.

Granted, it is easy to believe that things here are actually quite good. It helps, obviously, if you avoid certain areas, and certain headlines. But let's step away from the jaded cliches, and look at an out-take. Out my life.
So let's see:

Earlier today I received a call from a private investigator who specialises in fraud cases. He told me that someone had opened an account in my name with Cellular Service provider Cell C using my identity number and banking details. See, earlier this week I noticed R1300 had been debited off my account. The P.I. says it is in all likelihood a other words...they do this for a living. No big deal.
So anyway, that was my experience of being defrauded by Johannesburg's tranquil citizen's TODAY.

Last week I was at a police station in Rosebank to report my Oakley Juliet Fire glasses missing. True, I may have left them on my desk at work and they may have accidentally tumbled into the trash can as a result of a minor earthquake (mining activity in the vicinity, blasting for the Gautrain, an exec upstairs jumping up and down because the power had gone as he was about to save his PowerPoint presentation to the board) and then were carried away innocently and inadvertently by the cleaning lady.

Cellphones and sunglasses? Is that the best I can do? Well, my landlady was beaten to a pulp and locked in her safe by three armed thugs - that was...let's see...about 6 months ago. The thugs gained access thanks to the gardener providing them with the keys and a treasure map to her jewellery. Oh sorry, is 6 months too long a gap. Two weeks ago today - er...I'm not making this up...I got up before 5am to go cycling with a friend of mine. He lives 1km from me. No answer on his cellphone. Lights on in his home, but perhaps his family were celebrating his birthday. I later called his wife because I found it odd that the lights were on and he hadn't answered his phone... Turns out his wife had woken up in the middle of the night and found a burglar in their bedroom. No harm done, he jumped through the bathroom window but he was close enough to my buddy to steal the cellphone from his bedside table. That's brazen.

How about a broad sweep. Have I had my car stolen? Yes. Twice. Recovered twice too. My sister has had her car stolen, so has my girlfriend's mother, and my father has had his green pickup stolen. Have I ever had my car broken into? About 4 times. Car radio stolen, sometimes they break into without checking whether there is one. Two year's ago my girlfriend had her car broken into. Her brother was mugged recently; his wallet and phone stolen.

My father and my sister were attacked on the Wild Coast and robbed and stripped at knife point. We're really grateful that she wasn't raped.

Over the years I've had a lot of clothing disappear - caps,t-shirts, that sort of thing. When I lived in Cape Town I arrived home to find almost all my clothes - most of them bought overseas - gone. If I hadn't taken my laptop to work, that would almost certainly have been stolen too.

You can go through the list above and you can see how often crime rubs shoulder's with the average South African. Ordinary theft, assault, burglary. Now I'm not a careless person; I don't go wandering out at night at every conceivable opportunity. Just think about it. Someone who lives effectively in the same house as I do got attacked by three men and beaten to a pulp. I was here when that happened. Up the road, a kilometre away, my closest friends found a stranger walking around in their bedroom. My father and sister have been physically attacked.

So why does every single person there wrap themselves up in razor wire and fit their cars with flame-throwers and speak of how many times they’ve been killed that day? What are they trying to prove?

Fact is Jeremy, most South Africans ignore the threat they face every day. They beat back their insecurities and their fears with a stick.
South African bloggers don’t whine about crime
The government ignores it too, and tries to massage the statistics. The police are a mixture of corrupt cops and those who do an incredible job against all odds. Actually, in a country where crime is rife your chances of getting away with it are so much better. That, and no death penalty mean there's not much stopping you from going on a free-for-all.
Gang on horror rampage of shooting and rape

Most South Africans ignore the threat they face every day from criminals until they are the violent victims of it. Crime in South Africa is not only common, but it's the most violent in the world. That's not really something to joke about.
Fourteen years after apartheid, why are the best and the brightest leaving Africa's most successful state?

So, does Clarkson have a point or not? He does. You can probably come to South Africa for the World Cup and enjoy a great experience. If you have a chaperon or a friend to show you around so much the better. If you get lost - and here's a grim truth - it is very easy to get lost in Johannesburg where road signs are not clear or absent entirely, there are potholes and dark run a risk of getting into trouble. Also, the longer you stay here the better your chances of something untoward happening. I'm 37 years old and I've never been attacked. Not once. I know people who have. Dress appropriately, and be sensible and you'll be fine. Probably. One thing I will say for Clarkson - a sense of humor in this country is important. But also a sense of urgency. Most South Africans lack the latter, hence we have a number of converging crisis from AIDS, to crime, to poverty, to leadership.
Maybe if a number of visitors come to our shores we'll jack ourselves up a bit.

That had been my hope when I heard South Africa had been awarded the 2010 world cup. But has the crime problem even been addressed? Doubtful, beyond providing perfunctory security to stadiums.

Here's what's bizarre. Even those South Africans who do leave soon feel homesick. Those who stay feel vulnerable.

Lynette Chen, the ethnic-Chinese CEO of Nepad Business Group, is the only member of her family left in South Africa. Her parents departed in 2002 after being carjacked—twice. Her brother, also a victim of crime, followed suit shortly thereafter. "They're always getting homesick," she says. "But they won't come back unless the crime is reduced."

As for me, I'd leave if I could. I love the food, the weather, the environment. The problem is the people - the criminal element I mean. There are thousands more just like me, trapped in a country, filled with mixed feelings of enjoyment and dread.


Anonymous said...

[21yrs old- Korean Female, Attending World Cup 2010]

I somehow stumbled upon your page and I think you're the perfect person to ask some questions about Johannesburg.

I'm wondering what types of clothing I should bring for the 1 month stay at Johannesburg. Although I'm staying at one of the tents in the stadium area I hope to explore more of the city/surrounding cities. Is it safe in the area surrounding the stadium?

I am fashion design student so I normally dress pretty well. From what I've been reading it says not to dress expensive or wear jewelry? But to what extent I am wondering. So should I be wearing just t-shirts and shorts all the time?

And since its the summer is it necessary to bring long pants, jacket? Are there a lot of mosquitoes or biting flies I should be concerned about? How often does it rain during June-July?
Also would I get too much 'bad' attention if I wore any of the following...

High heels, Short skirt, Shorts, Short dress, Tank top, Strapless

Also what is Pretoria like? Is it the same as being in Johannesburg? If its safer, can I dress up more?
Where are the areas I can go safely and shop or look around? Preferably places with a younger crowd.

And whats the best way of transportation? I won't have a car.
How safe is the water? Not for drinking but even brushing teeth. When I went to Mexico I used bottled water for rinsing, people who didn't all ended up with a stomach virus.

Thank You!! =D And you can email me at

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous 21 year Korean Female
People who live behind high walls, barbed wire with armed response guards still live in fear. You plan on staying in a tent. I hope you have learned Tae Kwando or Hapkido in Korea and that you know how to defend yourself against multiple attackers at close range. A tent, please tell me you're joking.

Mosquitoes are the least of your worries.

My advice is wear a soccer top at all times. And maybe when not at a game, wear the South African soccer top, otherwise you might as well paint a sign on your back that says "mug me".

I don't mean to scare you, wait, yes I do, because I want you to return safely from your travels and i think the more you aware of the risks of Johanessburg, the safer you will be.