On arrival at a friend's house in Cape Town the first thing we notice are the signs on nearly every property - Cape Bowl Armed Response. Showing us the keys he says, 'Whatever you do don't click the clicker on the left. You'll have armed guards here in three minutes.'
Later, leaving the house to go pick up our rental car, he slipped the Congolese street guard, armed with a big nightstick, a 50 Rand note saying, 'Remember, this is my car here. Here!'
The sign in the photo was in the garden of a modest one story house in west Montagu, a small town in the peach and apricot belt of the Western Cape. We stayed up the road in a cottage with a single lock on the door and minimal bars on the windows. I tied the fan light window shut in the bathroom with the cord from our electric toothbrush.
In his book, Ways of Staying, reporter Kevin Bloom reflects on the shocking murder of his cousin, kidnapped after a dinner party in Bakoven, Cape Town and reports in detail on the rape of a young white woman in Johannesberg. His book discusses the dilemma faced by white South Africans - 'with passports in their back pockets' - do I stay or do I go?
Is it safe? That depends on who you are, where you live, and how much you are willing to curtail your lifestyle to stay safe. If you are a tourist in Cape Town you can be shunted from the ultra-safe V and A Waterfront, to the Table Mountain Cable Car, to the penguins at Simons Town, and to Cape Point with little fear. If you are the black African woman coming to serve breakfast to the tourists you might be taking three mini-bus taxi rides to get to work from the township you live in where they have been more than 500 murders in the last five years, and where robbery, rape and assault are rife.
In 2010 there were 46 murders a day in South Africa. The equivalent figure in 2008 in the US was 39 murders a day, which has a population (313m 2012) five times greater than that of South Africa (50m 2011). In 1998-2000 the UN ranked South Africa number one for rapes per capita in the world and in 2009 25 per cent of South African men admitted to rape in research by the Medical Research Council.
In 1999 the South African Police Force employed 127,000 people while the private security business employed between 300,000 and 350,000 people (see Ivan Vladislavic Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked, 2006 p.73)
A report from the South African Institute of Race Relations in 2012 concluded that white South Africans were not more at risk of crime than the population as a whole,
South Africans of all races and backgrounds share in the experience of a police force that is sadly often unable or ill-equipped to effectively solve crime and convict criminals. Only 5% of so-called trio crimes reported (carjackings, and business and house robberies) result in convictions.