We made a joke of the fear. In order to live with it. Car doors locked. Windows opened an inch. But we didn't go out at night. Except once in Montagu. Except once with a Prof from Cape Town University in his car.
I slept uneasily in our big guest house, the only guests, and no live-in staff. Just us and what seemed a not-too-high wall and a complicated security system. But no bars on the all-too-easy-to-open sash windows. I just put it down to probability and left lights on downstairs as the squalling South-Easterly banged and rattled its way around the house.
My closest call with robbery was getting hassled into buying a dozen eggs for an agitated and desperate homeless black guy on Long Street. He said 'Bread, bread, bread.' So I went into a shop to get him bread. He pushed in front of me, first pointing at six eggs, then a dozen. Lucky it wasn't a jewellers! A Coloured woman street warden behind me mouthing, 'No, no, no.' Shaking her head in disapprobation. Later I saw him sitting by the curbside with his eggs and not much else.
Coming back from Franschhoek the traffic on the N1 into Cape Town was building up. We took an unplanned detour to cut across to the N2 on a dual carriageway. The traffic got thicker and thicker until we were crawling along. Black and Coloured workers were coming out of the factories and workshops along the road, heading for Khayelitsha and Mitchell's Plain. Now we're windowed up and locked down. Sitting tight as a sign comes up, 'Vigilance!' Then another, 'Smash and Grab Hotspot.' Past Voorbrug, Eindhoven, Delft South, scrubby sandy townshippy verges. A white guy broken down at the N2 junction, out of the car on his mobile, police to hand.
Going up the gorge behind Montagu the four of us, 'one man and three women' the woman who took our trail money said. Fanstastic scenery and the sun beating, beating down. Someone appears high above on a rock like in an EM Forster-ish movie scene. And I think, 'We're in South Africa, we're by ourselves, up a trail, haven't seen anyone else, three women and a man' and I make some excuse for not pushing on and heading back - fast.
I read somewhere before going that the anxiety created by the fear was more frightening than the reality. But hey, it only has to happen once.
Alan Paton wrote in Cry the Beloved Country way back in 1948:
For we fear not only the loss of our possessions, but the loss of our superiority and our whiteness. Some say it is true that crime is bad, but would not this be worse? Is it not better to hold what we have, and to pay the price of it with fear? [...]
We shall live from day to day, and put more locks on the doors, and get a fine fierce dog [...] and hold on to our handbags more tenaciously; and the beauty of the trees by night, and the rapture of lovers under the stars, these things we shall forgo. We shall forgo the coming home drunken through the midnight streets, and the evening walk over the start-lit veld.' (p.71, 1987)
Or maybe we'll get a big 4 x 4 and a security detail that picks us up as we come into our neighbourhood and follows us to our remote-controlled security gates and sees us safely in to our high-tensile steel-bound castle.