Wanted to let you know I loved your blog and your book. Very practical, without being over-the-top alarmist. Ilike that you live in the real-world, not some survivalist or pacifist fantasy land.
Thought you'd find this interesting. I was on a hunting trip recently and was talking with a Canadian who had livedin South Africa for 3 years. He lived in a gated community with full-time security guards, had a 10 foot wall aroundthe house with an electric fence on top. The house was divided into two "zones" with a metal gate between toclose off. His home was broken into 3 times over that period. He owned long-guns but I forgot to ask him if hehad a handgun in South Africa. The underlying cause of the situation is the same as in Argentina: too many poorand angry people who will do anything to get what you have. After 3 years this guy couldn't take the stress andrelocated back to the Americas.
Keep up the good work, and good luck with your relocation plans.
Sounds typical of the security needed in SA: Gated and guarded community, 10 feet high wall, electrified fence, dogs (plural) alarm, burglar bars, other barriers to protect the people at night, diving it into more zones to be breeched, bullet proof construction, guns and fighting training. Then you listen to people that think they’ll have security covered… “when SHTF” … just because they live in an out of town homestead, have a dog or two and some guns. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it only works well because you never had serious crime to deal with.
I posted a couple articles regarding how it is to live over there. Many of the those security measures are applied here as well in the nicest gated (and of course guarded ) communities. Burglar bars can be found in pretty much every house across Argentina.
Please keep in mind that these writers aren’t exactly the survival and preparedness type, but more of the politically correct Times correspondent that hates guns and is more worried about not looking paranoid than protecting their own lives.
I think the SA situation is a good example to be studied, where you can learn about advanced home security and how you simply can’t win when the entire country wants you dead and people willing to do that have an unofficial green flag by the government. It’s a no-win situation and leaving is the only option. Yet many of the security measures are worth learning.
(Before anyone starts, I’m posting this ONLY for the security aspect of the thread. Any comment that isn’t specifically about security will not be posted, so don’t even waste your time with other topics of discussion)
We carried panic alarms and slept in an anti-rape cage
April 28, 2004
South Africa's reputation for violent crime is unequalled, one in nine is HIV positive and poverty and unemployment are rampant. But as he prepares to leave after five tumultuous years as The Times bureau chief there, this correspondent explains why he will always find the country seductive
I HAVE SURVIVED cerebral malaria, several doses of amoebic dysentery and two near-fatal car crashes. I live with my wife and children in a fortified home inside a fortified compound, under permanent threat from murderous intruders. We can’t walk or take public transport anywhere for fear of attack; even when I drive, a carjacker could shoot me for less than £1. One in nine of the locals has HIV, and there are bent cops, massive unemployment and grinding poverty, with beggars at every traffic light.
It is, in short, a vision of hell. So why is it that, as I prepare to leave South Africa after five years to return to England, I have such a gut-wrenching feeling of loss? (FerFAL comment: Because you’re an idiot? Sorry, couldn’t help it, wont happen again)
This country is not for the faint-hearted, but somehow it gets to you. There are the obvious things, of course: the all-year sunshine, the sky that seems to go on for ever, the beaches, the barbecues, the big house with the huge garden and the swimming pool. And most of all, there are the people. Our children, Laurence, 5, and Emilia, 2, have grown up here. Laurence loves to get out his toy mower and help Sam, the gardener, cut the lawn. He won’t be doing that in London — there isn’t any grass. Emilia will miss being strapped with a towel to the back of Winnie, our domestic worker, the way African women traditionally carry their children, and which she adores. Sam and Winnie have become close family friends, and we could never afford them in London.
Of course, there have been bad times too. I still remember the day when our first domestic worker announced that she was seven months pregnant, and was going to give birth at the same time as my wife, Nicol. At first I thought nothing of it. Then a South African friend told us it would be too dangerous to keep her on after she gave birth. “It’s illegal to test employees for HIV,” he said. “But she ’s from a rural area, and no matter how many times you tell her not to, she will pick up your child and breastfeed it. Are you prepared to take the risk that she might infect your child? You have no choice. You have to pay her off.”
South Africa has the highest HIV rate in the world, so we had little option but to take his advice. On several occasions since we have read stories in the local press about domestic workers infecting the children of their employers with HIV. It was a sobering experience. But then, Africa is not the Home Counties.
In the fortified northern suburbs of Johannesburg, we have become accustomed to living behind an 8ft remote-controlled gate and sleeping in a special section of the house with steel bars on the windows and a steel gate in the corridor, known as an anti-rape cage. We all carry panic buttons so that an armed response team can be summoned in seconds if there is an intruder. Even Laurence understands this. “That’s for the baddies when they come, isn’t it Daddy?” he said once.
Nothing dominates dinner-party conversation in Johannesburg like tales of violent crime. Everyone has a story to tell, and they delight in telling it, terrifying the tourists, demonstrating how macho and fearless South Africans are and helping to orchestrate a collective hysteria in the process.
Our own experience was limited. Two intruders broke into the master bedroom while I was away. Nicol was in the adjoining bedroom putting Emilia to sleep. She heard a noise, and thought little of it. But for weeks friends and colleagues bombarded us with the possible horrible consequences had she walked in on the intruders. By the end of it, I was more frightened of them than the robbers.
Then one day we woke up to the news that an elderly couple near us had been killed when someone broke into their house and stabbed them in the head with a pair of shears. Nicol and I exchanged glances, tried not to panic and went about our day.
The image this extraordinary, if deeply troubled, country has in Britain as one of the most dangerous places in the world outside a war zone enrages the South African Government, which sees this as a legacy of colonialism and apartheid. Violent crime is only an aspect of South African society. It does not define it. If it did, no one would ever want to live here, black or white.
There is another side to South Africa, which keeps people here who could leave if they wanted to, and which pulls back many who have already left. The fact is that, ten years after the fall of apartheid, South Africa is the powerhouse of the continent. As one white South African who left and then returned told me: “This is a dynamic society. Everything is in flux. It’s a society trying to find its feet. There is no more exciting place to be.”
As representatives of more than 100 governments, including 40 presidents and ten prime ministers, arrive at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to celebrate the tenth anniversary of freedom and democracy, it is worth bearing in mind how much the country has changed in ten years.
Armoured vehicles no longer storm the black townships and fire on impoverished residents who object to being politically and economically marginalised by a white-minority government who saw them as sub-human because of the colour of their skin.
The Government no longer pays scientists to carry out research into race-specific bacterial weapons, schemes to sterilise the majority black population, or experiments with such notable contributions to warfare as chocolates laced with botulinum, cigarettes spiked with anthrax and bottles of beer adulterated with thallium.
At shopping complexes all over the country, blacks, whites, Coloureds and Indians casually sit next to each other in restaurants and bars, share a meal, a drink and a conversation — all of which were once criminal offences. It is hard to believe that only ten years ago South Africa was a totally segregated and intolerant society. Today, for the most part, South Africa’s people get along remarkably well.
Black political leaders periodically remind the white community that a little over a decade ago they actively or passively supported the violent oppression of the majority of the black population, turned a blind eye to the apartheid-era death squads and sanctioned the violent destabilisation of neighbouring black states. But there hasn’t been a hint of the vengeance that so many whites feared. White people whinge about affirmative action, falling educational standards and the lack of job and promotion prospects for their children. But that’s because the country’s resources are being used to benefit all its people, not just a privileged white elite. A decade after black majority rule, white people continue to dominate corporate South Africa.
Afrikaners, the descendants of 17th-century Dutch and French settlers who account for some 60 per cent of South Africa’s four million white people, and who erected the edifice of apartheid, complain that their culture and heritage are under siege. Their language, they say, is disappearing from schools, courts and government offices, and they feel threatened by affirmative action. But few whites would seriously argue that South Africa is not infinitely better now than under white minority rule. Most of those who think otherwise have already left.
Racial tolerance and reconciliation are the official government goals. That has bred a new climate in which words such as “kaffir” and “coolie” are beyond the pale. Maids are now called “domestic workers,” and non-whites are respectfully referred to as “the previously disadvantaged”.
South Africa, for all its shortcomings, is no longer the skunk of the international community. On the contrary, it is held up as an example of how apparently intractable violence and conflict can be resolved in an increasingly volatile and hostile world. The hate, fear and paranoia which characterised the country in the dying years of apartheid have all but gone. South Africa is now a much happier and relaxed place in which to live and work.
When Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson swore in Thabo Mbeki yesterday for his second five-year presidential term, South Africans celebrated the peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy at a time when the rest of the world was convinced a bloodbath was inevitable.
But they are also celebrating a decade of stability under black majority rule, which has been responsible for a dramatic turnaround in the country’s fortunes, the revival of the bankrupt apartheid-era economy brought to its knees by years of sanctions and the lowest rates of inflation and public debt for a generation. In contrast to the South Africa of a decade ago, today it is getting richer, not poorer, an achievement for which the ruling African National Congress is rarely given credit. South Africa is now regarded by the international financial community as one of the most disciplined of all the emerging markets, with low labour costs and a potential for economic growth that is among the most attractive in the world.
The fears of white people who stocked up on canned goods before the first democratic elections in anticipation of Armageddon now seem ridiculous, as do the predictions from white alarmists that once the ANC took power it would nationalise everything, from “swimming pools to children”.
Of course, despite many reasons for optimism, the country’s problems are far from over. The hopes and expectations of millions of impoverished black people who believed that the end of white minority rule would bring wholesale improvements in their wretched lives have not been realised. Unemployment is increasing, and now stands at more than 40 per cent. Fewer than 7 per cent of school-leavers each year will find a job in the formal economy.
For most people, life has got harder, not easier, under black majority rule. For the thriving black middle class, estimated to be up to 15 million people, who have been in a position to benefit from the transition to democracy, the past ten years have brought considerable gains. But the same cannot be said for the estimated 20 million of the country’s 45 million people who live outside the formal economy.
In the squalid squatter camps or “informal settlements” that have sprung up like festering boils, millions of people live in conditions of abject poverty, with little or no sanitation, water or power, and no visible means of support. Having lived in a tin shack in the Diepsloot squatter camp north of Johannesburg for a few days, I soon realised that the depths of anger over such conditions is the gravest threat to the country’s stability.
Few white or for that matter affluent black people ever venture out to visit these hell holes on their doorsteps. These are the people that residents of the wealthy suburbs, black and white, have fortified their homes against with all the latest that security technology can offer. Here, amidst the stench of human urine and faeces, the fury and despair of the poorest of the poor is palpable. It is here that South Africa’s answer to Robert Mugabe is most likely to emerge — a firebrand demagogue who could tap into the festering resentments against rich white people in their fancy houses, and mobilise millions of landless peasants to march on the shopping malls and golf courses.
This is where most of the crime comes from. Bringing this vast underclass into the mainstream of society represents the biggest challenge facing Mbeki in his second term of office. Unlike the black urban elite which has benefited from a decade of black majority rule, this seething underclass has little in the way of education or skills. It is unemployed, and largely unemployable.
It is going to be a Herculean task. Many critics think that it is beyond the ability of the ruling party, that the country’s social and economic problems are just too big to be solved. Mbeki does not share such views. He is adamant that the ANC has done more in ten years to improve the lives of the black majority than all previous white governments put together. Unemployment, he says, can be defeated, just like apartheid.
South Africa’s black electorate has just delivered Mbeki and the ruling party their biggest election victory since Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black President. Despite the ANC’s failure to rescue millions of them from poverty and despair, they seem prepared to wait a little longer for it to do so.
After five exhilarating years, our time here is up. Living in South Africa was always only going to be temporary. We are Europeans, not Africans, and must return home, despite flirting with the idea of becoming South Africans as some of our friends have done. It would be fascinating to see if the squatter camps can be removed from the landscape. That might just be the first step in ending Africa’s image as the “basket case” continent.
Sitting on the Tube or walking through a London drizzle at some point in the future, I know that images of South Africa and its people — from the Afrikaner farmers of the Free State to the impoverished residents of the squatter camps — will always return to haunt me. Perhaps I will return one day. On the other hand, perhaps I won’t leave at all . . .
Backstory: In South Africa, home sweet fortress
As I begin a new assignment in one of the world's most dangerous countries, I rent a house with electric fencing, burglar bars, and more laser beams than a Star Wars set.
By Scott Baldauf, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 6, 2006
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
Marius, a pot-bellied security-alarm technician, yells to his assistant up in our attic, who is staring at a box with flashing red lights. "OK, Boet, I'm going to arm the system," he says. As he presses the four-button security code, I hold my breath.
"Right, now step out into the room," he says to me, "and see if that sets off the alarm."
In theory, the infrared beams scattered throughout our rental house should trip a silent alarm that will bring an armed guard from the Stalag-17-style, electric-fenced community – with, I should add, a lovely duck pond, clubhouse, tennis courts, playgrounds, and walking trails – where my family and I have chosen to live. (I say in theory because I haven't the faintest idea how to turn the system on.)
I step into the room, and the eyebeam in our living room spots me. Just 2-1/2 minutes later, there's a sharp knock at the door, and a shout: "Security here! Is everything OK?"
In South Africa, nothing says "Home Sweet Home" like 10-foot walls, electric fencing, burglar bars, and at least one panic button wired directly to an armed-response team, licensed to shoot, if not kill. It's not the sort of thing you put in a tourist brochure. But South Africa, statistically speaking, is one of the most dangerous places in the world to live.
As recently as 1998, according to a report by Interpol, the country had the highest recorded per capita murder rate in the world – with 59 homicides per 100,000 people, followed by Colombia with 56. The US, by comparison, had 6. Also in 1998, South Africa had a high recorded rate of robbery and violent theft.
South African government officials like to point out that the number of crimes is declining – particularly murder, which they say has dropped every year since 1994. In a country of 40 million people, the number of homicides dipped from 21,553 in 2003 to 19,824 in 2004, for instance. Still, the US had 293 million people in 2004 and fewer murders (16,150).
It doesn't help that many of the homicides occur at home, which only fuels the paranoia of those who worry about that noise in the yard late at night (and no, dear, I'm not talking about you). Nearly 35 percent of males and 55 percent of female victims of homicide were killed in a private home or yard. The majority of murders continue to be black on black, with the townships being most at risk. The biggest fear of whites in the suburbs remains property crime.
The local press does its best to highlight the problem, telling residents about the latest military-style daylight robbery of an armored vehicle at a posh suburban mall. Dinner parties bring the sense of danger one step closer to home, with the inevitable game of "guess who got robbed this week."
Elite private schools get into the act, too. Our daughters recently took part in a "duck and cover" drill. The enemy wasn't Russian ICBMs like in the good old 1950s, but roving gangs of thieves. While the principal banged on the doors of every classroom, my daughters took cover under desks and inside cubbyholes meant for their backpacks and rubber boots. Teachers locked the doors and asked for silence.
Coming to Johannesburg, from New Delhi, has been a bit of a smelling salt. In New Delhi, the most I ever had to think about crime was to lock the door at night. That's more than our "night guard" ever did. He would fall asleep precisely at 10 p.m. on my landlord's garden furniture. Sometimes we had to wake him in the morning (but, ah, he did salute us smartly when he got up).
The first people we met in Johannesburg made a big impression on us. One, an ethnic Indian businessman, shocked us with a story of his home being robbed by armed men, who terrorized his 3-year-old child and the nanny.
Another, a Western journalist whose home was robbed twice, showed us the accordion-style gate she used to lock herself in the bedroom at night, in case she got robbed again. "This," she said, sliding the gate across to demonstrate, "is my rape gate."
Charming name, no? The rape gate became a feature in many South African homes in the early 1990s, in anticipation of lawlessness in a post-apartheid regime. The theory is that thieves can take whatever they want in the living room, but won't be able to go into the bedrooms. The rape gate fad has diminished over the years: It turned out thieves were more interested in electronics.
Today, specialized relocation firms, who help newcomers settle into South Africa, tell clients to focus on the essentials, and peddle easy-to-remember acronyms on protecting themselves.
My favorite is B-SAFE, courtesy of Xpatria Relocation Services.
Bars – iron bars on all windows that open.
Staff – preferably live-in housekeepers who are always present, even when you are at work.
Alarms – best bet is a motion-sensor system that alerts an armed-response team which arrives in three minutes or less.
Fido – dogs provide a deterrent, both through noise and through their incisors.
Electric fencing – preferably 220 volts, which can cause severe injury or death.
With all this talk of crime, it's a wonder anyone comes to South Africa at all. But as the continent opens up politically and economically, many businesses find the market too lucrative to pass up. And compared with other African cities, Johannesburg is seen as a dream post. In Lagos or Nairobi or Dar-es Salaam, the crime may not be as bad, but the roads and electricity and Internet access are decidedly worse.
Government officials, tasked with reducing crime by 2010 when South Africa will host the World Cup soccer tournament, have been appealing for a lot more patience and a little less griping. One South African official famously told those who constantly carp on the crime problem that they were welcome to leave. (He later recanted.)
Many black South Africans see the current white South African fascination with crime as veiled criticism of black majority rule. Crime always existed in the townships, where police visited only to break up demonstrations, not to protect citizens. Now, whites are just getting a taste of what blacks have been victims of for decades. Black taxi drivers blame crime on African immigrants from other countries, such as Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
Outside the house, I meet with the security guard who came to my rescue. He's wearing a black bulletproof vest, with a 9-mm pistol tucked in front. I thank him for coming, offer him some water, and ask if South Africa is really as dangerous as people say. "It's happening every day," he says. "These robbers are very well armed. You have to be careful."
Later in the week, during a pink and orange sunset, I take a dog named Lampo out for his evening constitutional. He belongs to some friends, who found him as a puppy at a local pound. I've agreed to housesit, in part because I want to find out if I'm still a dog person, and in part because of one of the letters in my security checklist: F for Fido. My friends tell me the dog is fine around children, but is skittish around men, especially black men. The people at the dog pound told them it had probably been abused.
As we walk past house after house, with barking dog after barking dog, I notice Lampo pays no attention. Instead, he's watching the stream of housekeepers and gardeners heading home from work. They eye the dog nervously back.
Great, I think, I'm walking a racist dog.