Safety comes at a price and the price escalates as your neighbours and you, and different neighbourhoods engage in a security arms race. In a country with 40,000 US dollar millionaires and 4 million people living on less that $1 a day and a 350 year history of brutal oppression it is hard to see where it will end or how it can end short of fantastical redistribution and development to eliminate poverty and gross inequality - South Africa is the second most unequal society in the world.
In his 1999 novel, Disgrace, JM Coetzee’s academic character tries to come to terms with violent crime in the immediate aftermath of a brutal assault where his daughter is raped and he is imprisoned, doused in meths and set alight by black intruders.He reflects,
‘Not human evil, just a vast circulatory system, to whose workings pity and terror are irrelevant. That is how one must see life in this country: in its schematic aspect.’ 98
Maybe in recognition of this 'vast circulatory system' muggers in Cape Town are referred to ironically as 'affirmative shoppers'.
In her brillaint account of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Country of My Skull (1999) Antjie Krog recounts tense full-moon nights on her family's farm in the Orange Free State. Cattle rustling is met by her brothers' armed response: "Then we shout: 'Staan of ons skiet!' ['Stop or we'll shoot!'] Or something in Sethoso', says Andries. 'But at this point you are full of sickening fears. The greatest fear is that the thief is armed; that he will shoot unexpectedly; then you also fear the moment they split and one runs for the farmhouse and the other to loot.'"
Their fear of being shot at and killed is balanced by their fear of killing - 'all the time petrified that I might kill him and then have to live with it, deal with it for the rest of my bloody life...' (p.17)
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