Chattering classes take to the bunker
Wednesday 22 February 1995
But with the pitch-black African night comes a sense of caution, a lack of stopping at street lights and a locking of bedroom doors. Nearly 200 Johannesburg homes were burgled one recent night. And the perpetrators are hardly ever caught.
Hit the panic button and the theory is that a hellish ringing of alarms will break out and within minutes my garden will be swarming with the promised ``instant armed response''.
Everybody has panic buttons but the burglaries go on and on. And everyone has a story to tell. A hushed period seems traditional during every dinner or party for the conversation to home in on close shaves, tips to defeat housebreaking and news of macabre murders. The relish in the telling is especially sharp for a tender newcomer.
"We're not talking neighbourhood watch. We're talking state of siege," a television commercial-maker told me. "Everybody's house in my street has been burgled, except ours. And then my car was stolen last week. There was violence twice and one person was killed."
A top Johannesburg columnist spoke of her "visual orgasm" at the sight of one of the new electric fences on top of walls. But doubters on a chat show said even high-voltage wire is no use against determined intruders armed with a rubber car mat.
Stopping for badly needed petrol in a district where I had recently seen a man dragging his woman home along the pavement, the pump attendant voiced surprise at my innocence as groups of apparently aimless youths drifted over the forecourt. "You don't want to stop here, man. No one does."
"But isn't that a mobile police station there on the edge of your garage?" I asked. "Sure, man. But they just watch," he replied.
A call to the Johannesburg police department elicited pleas for understanding when few statistics were immediately to hand to prove right or wrong a public perception of dramatically rising crime. "It varies by district, and reporting of crime is changing. In central Johannesburg, we don't have a crime crisis. We have lots of men on patrol," one spokesman said. But then he added: "outsiders bring crime in with them, you see, like when they bring in a handbag."
An insurance company found that theft of cars in South Africa rose 46 per cent last year. Political murders have declined since last April's multi-racial elections. But the guns no longer needed in regional wars have flooded in to be used by ordinary criminals: seizures of weapons have doubled in the past year. An AK-47 assault rifle costs less than £100, and criminal violence kills people every day.
The police are demoralised and undermanned. Few are visible outside stations in the crime-plagued townships and squatter camps.
In the place of police, private security firms are doing a roaring trade. All cars must be equipped with complicated immobilisers. Trucks are even tracked by satellite, in case they should be hijacked.
Rising crime is also plaguing the new black middle classes. A beauty product magnate, Herman Mashaba, told a magazine that in the past year he had lost three trucks to hijackers and a factory to apparent arson. ``Crime is destroying business. We need to bring back hanging and do away with the Bill of Rights,'' he said in an ironic echo of far-right white opinion.
A bank manager told how burglars were caught by an armed response team in his garden-and-pool property in a former all-white suburb. The burglars apologised when they saw he was black. ``The team asked what I should do with them. You know, they usually beat them up. I had a pang of conscience, but then I said, do whatever you want. Otherwise, this crime will kill us all.''
- 1 Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
- 2 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 4 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
Man who was struck and killed by lightning in Brecon Beacons 'was carrying a selfie stick'
Greece debt crisis as it happened: EU chiefs at loggerheads hours before Alexis Tsipras’s last ditch deal proposals
Bakery sends 'horrific' version of Frozen-themed birthday cake to unsuspecting customer
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy
£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...
£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...