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Posts Tagged ‘Foreigner in South Africa’

All the security we use at our home in St Lucia. Think she could take on a hippo?

All the security we use at our home in St Lucia. Think she could take on a hippo?

Oscar Pistorius, his bail hearing and the pending trial for his alleged premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dominates not only my Facebook news feed, BBC Homepage and Twitter page – it dominates my life. I’m glued to the updates as the courtroom drama unfolds, and although I do acknowledge that it’s a little sick, I have a special connection to violence in South Africa as a foreigner living here.

The events that transpired on the night of Valentine’s Day at Pistorius’ house are without a doubt horrific and tragic, but as a Canadian residing in South Africa, some of the articles and comments I’ve read about the country I’ve lived in for the past two years have hit me the hardest. These pieces condemn the country I love to live in, calling it “crime-ridden,” “dangerous” “wracked by violence” and saying the people “live in constant fear” and are “paranoid about home security.”

The worst came today, when my Twitter feed brought me to an article in the Toronto Star by Cathal Kelly. Although it’s well-written, it truly embodies the hyperbole so many who don’t know what it’s like to live in South Africa fall victim to believing. One thing I can’t help but point out is that Kelly generalizes that all South Africans are obsessed with safety, when all of my Zulu friends and staff sleep behind what is probably South Africa’s most common security system – a dog in their yard.

Thankfully, since the Twitterverse provides no safe refuge from argument and ridicule, the Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York came to the rescue with a rebuttal that got me thinking about how South Africa, and my life therein, is perceived by outsiders.

Kelly is half right – living in South Africa is no easy task. Maneuvering security gates (not “rape doors” – I have no idea what the hell that is but it’s a disgusting name) is no easy task for someone who grew up in a house where we used to sleep with the door unlocked. Having to get used to opening and closing a driveway gate, or keeping a security button next to your bed is daunting at first. In the first months of living in South Africa, I found the security a bit suffocating. Why was it needed?

I answered my own question the hard way when my house was broken into on August 24 of last year. Ransacked and pillaged, my roommate and I luckily got the majority of our stuff back, but the damage to my psyche was done. I felt violated, and mostly betrayed by a culture and community that I was working so hard to help.

But Pistorius got me thinking – do I really live in a society that is so prone to violence that it excuses firing four shots through a closed door at an alleged attacker?

Surely not.

The break-in that happened in my house in August? The same happened to a friend of mine in Paris just two weeks ago.

That unlocked door of the house I used to live at in the Toronto suburb? My dad used to freak when he woke up to find it opened.

My Afrikaans boyfriend is moderately obsessed with my safety and security, but he has never gone as far as to keep a firearm in the bedroom, or even in his house. When I think back all of our conversations about locking doors, not walking at night and sharing each other’s insurance information, these are all discussions that would have been had anywhere in the world.

I tell the volunteers that living in South Africa is all about avoiding the temptation for people to take your things. Keep belongings in the trunk of your car, don’t flash money around or leave your purse unattended. Aren’t these things we do at home? I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have been robbed if our plasma flatscreen TV hadn’t been so visible from our yard – I miss that TV so badly I think I’d consider stealing one.

Of course South Africa can be dangerous – there is no question about that – but it’s no Mogadishu and it’s not a warzone. Like York says, there aren’t bullets zipping over our heads every day and although all the houses I have lived in in St Lucia have a gate and high walls, it’s mainly to keep out the hippos. In fact, the gate has no lock and the electric fence above it doesn’t work.

Being safe is the name of the game, and although it is more difficult in a place where crime is higher, it doesn’t mean that South Africans live in a constant state of fear from being raped, robbed or shot. We love living here despite the harsh reality that crime is a way of life – not a paralyzing black cloud.

The sad truth in all of this is that if someone in South Africa is a victim of crime, it’s usually by their partner or someone they know. The Institute of Security Studies found that 60% of violence against women in South Africa is committed by their own partners. The Department of Justice estimates that 1 out of every four South African women are survivors of domestic violence, and every 1 out of 6 women who dies in the province of Gauteng (where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located), is killed by an intimate partner.

Crime, and even violent crime, in South Africa is commonplace, but it doesn’t mean that those of us who live in the country live in a constant state of fear, as Kelly has told the readers of The Star. Of course there are times that I’ve clutched my panic button after hearing a noise, been thankful for my big dog sleeping next to me, or felt undermined as a woman.

That doesn’t mean that every day I don’t enjoy my life in this beautiful country. I only hope others will take the chance to experience the wonder of South Africa instead of being persuaded by the nonsense some people choose to write.

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