Apartheid officially ceased to exist in 1994. It was dismantled during a series of negotiations from 1990 to 1993, which culminated in the first universal suffrage elections in 1994. However, the vestiges of apartheid still shape South African politics and society.
In the aftermath of Apartheid a new socio-economic group emerged in South Africa. These are the “middle-class blacks”. They are the educated, and in some cases, the politically attached. However the majority of the “politically attached” would find themselves in the wealthy or upper-class. The non-politically attached are well educated and deserve their success and positions, and it is reassuring to see the change in circumstances for these people now that apartheid has been dismantled.
Some “middle class blacks” live in similar compound style environments as the “white” population, but a number of them still live in semi-township environments, in such areas as Soweto. Soweto has a number of middle-class areas cropping up within the more traditional environment. The people that live in these newer areas are educated and have earned the positions of employment that they hold.
They probably would not be given the opportunity except for BEE (Black Economic Empowerment). BEE is government social programme intended to improve the inclusion of Black African, Indian, Coloured and Asian people into the mainstream economy. It was created through the BEE Act. It allows companies in South Africa to achieve recognition for involving Black people in all levels of business.
With a rise in social stature comes a rise in security. Middle-class blacks inhabit the shopping malls along with the white population, but the malls are not the domain of the poorer blacks, unless they are employed there in some menial task.
The shopping mall is a way of life here in Johannesburg. This is the only place where white South Africans shop. There is no strip-shopping like you would find Australia, no suburban shopping street, everything is in malls.
The majority (if not all) white people live in secure residences, or compounds. They either live in freestanding houses surrounded by high walls, electric fences, and security gates, with “back-to-base” alarms and/or a twenty four hour security presence at their front gate (generally one of the poorer blacks who find themselves once again in a subservient role). Or they live, like I do, in a walled compound consisting of apartment blocks, or town houses, or freestanding villas. Again surrounded by as many security measures as it is humanly possible to install, and policed by the token guard on the front gate.
From these walled fortresses the white folk get into their vehicles, lock themselves in, and proceed out the gate to their nearest shopping mall. Don’t ever, not in your wildest dreams, consider walking to the corner shop for a litre of milk. Make sure you get into your car.
Shopping malls are large fortresses in their own right. They all have security car parks, and numerous security personnel patrolling the various levels. Even if the car park is outside, it is still within the secure perimeter of the shopping mall. So you can walk outside, in the open air, and fool yourself into believing that you are free to come and go as you please. Once you’ve completed your shopping return to your car, make sure you place all your purchases in a place that they cannot be seen from outside the vehicle, climb aboard, lock yourself in and return to your own little fortified bolt-hole.
OK, OK, so I’m overstating the situation a little here, but I am sure that there is a section of the population that exist by the formula above. The only other places they will go are to friends, who also live in secure cloisters, or to somewhere like the golf club, which too is surrounded by a security fence and has a guard on the gate.
Upon my first day of work I was exposed to a security briefing, to warn me of all the ills and dangers that awaited me during my period of residency. Shades of the 2002 campaign by the former Australian Federal Government: “Be alert not alarmed”, and this message is pretty accurate (but we weren’t given a fridge magnet!). You have to be a lot more “aware” living in Jo’burg than you would in Sydney.
As part of this security briefing I and my fellow new starters were told that the main perpetrators of crime were young black males between the ages of sixteen and forty five. Now one wouldn’t have to be Albert Einstein to work this out, as they make up nearly two thirds of the population. But what does this do to the average dumb Aussie (i.e. me)? It makes me suspicious and paranoid of every young black male and makes me feel scared.
Is every black male face I see on the street really out to rob me, shoot me, or generally make my life miserable? The answer, of course, is no. But your paranoia levels have been raised to such a height that you can’t seem to be able to help yourself, or see through the smokescreen.
And who delivered these pearls of wisdom? A middle age, Afrikaans, white security specialist. Now I have nothing against middle aged, Afrikaans, white security specialists, being middle aged and white myself, but this does seem to reinforce the stereotype. This gentleman also informed us that he carried a handgun wherever he went, and was not afraid to use it. However he did suggest a position of compliance if we found ourselves in any ‘dangerous’ situation. It should not be on our agenda to instigate a “Shoot-out at the OK Corral”.
There is an element of the “wild west” about South Africa. It must be quite acceptable for people to carry weapons. I wouldn’t say that the majority of folk do, but it appears that you are not looked down upon if you decide to do so. There are a number of places where there are firearm restrictions in place.
There are signs up outside some buildings which are reminiscent of the “No Smoking” signs you see in Oz. The ubiquitous red circle with a red line across the diameter, bisecting a lit cigarette. However, here in South Africa the line bisects the outline of an automatic handgun.
The first place I saw this was at the entrance to Montecasino, one of Johannesburg’s largest casinos and entertainment areas. They do however offer a gun locker service, where you can safely store your Glock while you set about losing your money.
The thought of strolling up to Wrest Point or Star City in Australia with a handgun in you pocket, and calmly handing it over to the cloakroom attendant is something so foreign to my psyche that I cannot comprehend it. I find the whole thing amusing, but then I stop and wonder how many of my fellow whites are “packing heat”? Don’t laugh, this is serious!
South Africa is a country that has a huge industry based around a culture of fear. The amount of razor wire and electric fences are just staggering.
Every month I receive a “Lifestyle” booklet included in the DSTV Program. This is basically just a book of advertisements for all home type products — floor coverings, furniture, bathroom fittings, electrical goods, etc. etc.
However, every second advertisement is for “armed response”, steel doors, alarms, electric fences, razor wire fences, 24 hour security. “Our doors are stronger and tougher than all our competitors.” “Our razor wire will slice deeper and more fatally that the cheaper, no frills brand.”
The magazine is full of this sort of drivel.
It is a situation that is self perpetuating. Certainly there is a higher level of “danger” in South Africa than in other countries I have visited. But here there is an entire industry that feeds off it. The more frightened and cautious they can make the average punter the more ‘security’ products they can sell. One does have to be cautious, but not terrified, which seems to be the intention of most of these companies. Let’s keep building on these paranoia levels.
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