Security and Crime

If you’re moving to South Africa, this is probably your number one concern, so I’ll share the few insights I’ve so far gained. Not that I’ve gotten much of a sample yet, because any security problem you might encounter would happen when driving into a not so safe area, and I haven’t even been able to do that because I HAVE NO CAR, in case I haven’t told you. Actually, since this weekend I do have a car, even if a rather basic version of one, but it has wheels and goes places. Noisette’ dealer has finally given him a loaner because they are slow in getting the real deal to him, so I was lucky enough to inherit his old rental. A Toyota.

Anyway, getting back to security. Our neighborhood – Dainfern Valley – is very safe and boasts of never having been broken into. Like all security estates here, it is completely walled in, high-voltage wiring on top, with all traffic going through a security gate that his manned around the clock and checks everything going in or out. So, within your neighborhood we feel very safe. Other people who live in freestanding houses are typically not so lucky, as it is common for robbers to wait for you coming home, and then pounce while you wait in your car for the gates to open. Or it could happen to you while stopped at an intersection. Apparently, you have to know where you can safely go and where not, but I’m not entirely sure how to tell the difference. Having a GPS is also a good idea so that you don’t lose your way and never have to stop and ask for directions.

I’m a very trusting person so it is hard for me to imagine anything being dangerous, but in a country where the term “smash and grab” is a part of the common vocabulary, you probably do well by being careful. As it suggests, people will smash your windshield while you’re stopped at a light, threaten you with a knife or gun, then grab your valuables out of the car (or pull YOU out of the car and drive off with it). In a helpful gesture to listeners, the radio stations will send out periodic alerts, such as “smash and grab in operation at Malibongwe exit on the N1,” and then proceed businesslike to the traffic updates. What? The radio station knows about this but the police haven’t bothered to show up yet? Hello! I’m told that the police have actually gotten more responsive as opposed to before but that just goes to show how bad it has been.

In fact, your car should be outfitted with “smash and grab,” meaning some kind of film on all windows that keeps the glass from shattering, so that no one can reach in from the outside. If it’s not, you can have it added at any dealership. I was also advised to keep my purse somewhere down below between my feet rather than next to me on the seat, although I’m not sure I understand the wisdom of that? If indeed I was to be attacked at a red light, wouldn’t I rather have my purse right there ready to be grabbed so I could be on my way, instead of someone groping around between my legs or dragging me out of the car to get to the purse beneath? I sure hope I never find out! Another thing you might have to outfit your car with, for insurance purposes, is a stolen vehicle tracking service like Netstar, and perhaps a panic button. The Netstar website is also where I found the 10 POINTS TO REMEMBER IN A HIJACKING.

Have I sufficiently spooked you yet?

Please understand that I am writing all this purely based on hearsay. I have – thank God – no first-hand knowledge of any of this, and I do suspect that some of the horrific South African crime stories are exaggerated. I also find it rather amusing that South Africans are so preoccupied with security on the one hand (a quick google search reveals that private security is a huge business here), but seem to be much less concerned about safety in general, like wearing seat belts or bicycle helmets, or even washing hands. I won’t insist that washing hands is a safety issue, but I did have to chuckle the other day when I chaperoned a 2nd grade field trip and watched the entire grade being shepherded through portable toilets, with not one child washing hands because there was neither water nor soap. I could only imagine the American equivalent, where a battery of mothers and teachers would have been at the ready, each armed with a giganctic bottle of hand sanitizer.

But I digress. My only security issue so far involves our trash can (or dustbin as I have meanwhile found out it is called). It disappeared after the last trash pickup. Whoever took it had the good sense to wait for it to be emptied. I found it slightly amusing at first, but it has turned into a major project, like everything else. We first asked around at our neighbors’ houses. Maybe someone took it accidentally. But no luck there. So I went and told the security office about it. They were very nice and offered to call the City of Johannesburg trash service (Piki Tup) and get us another bin. It would be R38, I was first told, to get a new one. No problem, let’s get one of those, I said. But then when put through on the phone to give them our details, I was told that all I needed to do was send them a police affidavit stating that our current trash can was stolen. What else could I do but go to the Douglasdale police station as I was told (just up the road and turn at the robot!) and fill out said affidavit (my German and Dutch friends will appreciate that it was called a “Beedigte Verklaring” in Afrikaans). I dutifully brought it back to our security office and waited while it was being faxed to Piki Tup. Meanwhile I was gazing around me in the office, where pictures of the estate security team adorn the walls. And wouldn’t you know, there are tons of pictures of different team members all picking up snakes from the premises! I don’t know whether to feel comforted by the fact that they do indeed remove snakes from our neighborhood and that I now know who to call, or whether I should be freaked out that such huge snakes even live in our neighborhood in the first place?

The trash story is not finished yet. I went back to my house, happy in the knowledge that I could cross this one off my list and that within 7 business days I was promised a new trash can. But not 10 minutes later the doorbell rings, and my friend Lucky – that’s his name – the security guy is at the door, telling me that the new dustbin will be on its way just as soon as I call them and tell them what my account number is. Yikes! What account number? And who should I ask about that? And who the hell stole my trash can in the first place? Whenever I finally do get another one, I’m writing our house number on it in big bold letters, with maybe a warning to “KEEP YOUR @#$% FINGERS OFF MY TRASH!”