Dion Chang
Dion Chang

Caught in the crossfire

My partner and I have been studiously avoiding a piece of paper sitting on the kitchen counter. It’s been days since it arrived, and it sits there, demanding our attention.

We both don’t want to deal with it, but somehow its presence muscles in on our conversations. So we discuss it half-heartedly; then, like all other unpleasant chores, we drop it and reassure each other that “we really must think about this”. Mostly, when we ask each other, “What do you think?”, the answer is always an indecisive “I don’t know …”.

The pesky piece of paper is a simple questionnaire, sent to us by a newly formed neighbourhood security association. Its objective? To turn our neighbourhood into “a safe and peaceful suburb, by coordinating an integrated security initiative”. Sounds perfectly acceptable, no?

The questionnaire is quite short and simple, but there is one question near the end that is causing the dilemma: “Do you support ‘proactive guarding’ (ie: armed street guards)?”

The latest security trend (yes, there is such a thing; it’s South Africa, remember) is to employ a private army — let’s call a spade a spade — to roam your neighbourhood streets, guns cocked and ready. They promise that they only patrol a limited number of households and never leave the area, so are therefore more effective than regular security companies. They are also impressively styled: black, bulletproof vehicles; black, bulletproof uniforms; crack commando shades; and, of course, very large and very visible weaponry. When you see them, they look slick and very intimidating, which I guess is the point.

It seems that an alarm system, electric fencing, panic buttons and a private security company are just not enough these days. Our street has even gone as far as employing an additional 24-hour guard, from our private security company, to patrol our block. The only problem is that the guard is not armed, so if the shit hits the fan, all he can really do is to radio the security company to call for back-up.

One’s first gut reaction to “proactive guarding” is: “Yes, sign up immediately. I don’t want to become another crime statistic,” but just as quickly, the counter-arguments come flooding in. Is this really how we want to live? Is this really how we have to live? We are already prisoners in our own homes, so will we feel better if we live in a semi-military state? Many would say they would.

But just how heavy-handed will the armed guards be with anyone strolling through the neighbourhood? They promise to interrogate anyone who is unfamiliar in the neighbourhood, and you can be sure that the majority of those decisions are going to be race based. To solve that problem, we may as well reintroduce the pass system. So much for ubuntu.

And is throwing more guns at the problem going to solve it? In Anthony Altbeker’s book A Country at War with Itself: South Africa’s Crisis of Crime, he says he believes that criminals need to show that they have the upper hand, so if it becomes more difficult to steal a car, they will resort to hijacking. If your house is more secure, criminals will have to put a gun to your head to prevent you from pressing the panic button. He has a very valid point. Violence promotes violence.

Throwing more guns at our crime problem is not going to make it go away. It will just make the already unbearable situation worse. Just yesterday, our deputy minister of safety and security made a call to all police officers to ignore procedure and just “shoot the bastards”. Naturally a large section of the population cheered her on.

It’s understandable, but not acceptable. It took almost a year to bring the criminals whose stray bullets were responsible for killing a baby strapped to the back of her mother, who happened to be caught in the crossfire in a downtown shootout. Imagine the mayhem if we nurtured the potential for more of those shootouts. We all joke that living in South Africa is like living in the Wild West. But no one laughs that freely any more, and the joke is fast becoming a very ominous premonition.

Be careful what you wish for …

  • JLA

    Dion, when you live in a semi-fsiled State you have no choice. Its like the need for a militia which every Medieval City_State required to fend off the Vikings and Saracen raiders. Thats why your suburb has reverted to the fortified palisaded village of Medieval Europe. But every fortified village needs its Militia, sp this “trend” is inevitable. As Napoleon said: “An army that sits inside its fortifications, has lost the war.”

  • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/khadijasharife Khadija Sharife

    Yeah, people who want to rob will find a way, extra armed guards only serve to make it appear more desirable…the people behind gated walls seem to trap themselves – the same crime occurring in suburbs happens in townships as well…gates don’t make a difference.its almost perverse but in a sense, the kind of cynical, indiscriminate destruction that we are seeing is a sort of wealth redistribution…..during the apartheid era, many criminals were apart of the resistance campaigns…they were encouraged by liberation parties to steal cars used by the resistance forces etc etc and for them maybe, an economic apartheid still rages..

  • MSS

    I hear you but I sleep better at night knowing there is a dedicated, armed gaurd walking around my neighbourhood.
    Sad but true.

  • http://www.glamourmechanics.co.za bethea

    its a catch 22.. but then again having recently moved from troyeville with very little security , to our new house with major more security , i sleep better at night …

  • http://http:/letpeoplwspeak.co.za Lyndall Beddy

    Good article.Wish I knew the answer. I don’t.

    Just know that at one place where I worked the security guards were part of the team and the family – we could all trust them.

  • Siobhan

    “If your house is more secure, criminals will have to put a gun to your head to prevent you from pressing the panic button. He has a very valid point. Violence promotes violence.”

    This is logic??? Pulleese! Security systems are now defined as acts of violence???? Dion, in your effort to be politically correct you could be offering yourself up as a martyr. How would that help to reduce crime?

    If you have no security system do you think a well-mannered burglar will politely leave his gun outside before illegally entering your home and stealing everything he can carry? Did you really believe that ad where the burglar breaks in on the TV-watching couple and everyone is so polite??? Come on, mate. Pull the other one.

    Security systems did not precede crime; crime led to security systems. Do you really think that crime would lessen if we turned off our alarms opened our homes for a National Wealth Re-distributuon Day, Khadija?

    This of course begs the question of who truly holds the keys to the ‘national treasure’? It is you or I, Dion and Khadija. It’s Thabo the Tentative A president who is so deeply in denial of any reality apart from the one in his head that he can say with a straight face: “There is no crisis in Zimbabwe”. Duh??? Inflation of over 900,000% ? Between 500,000 and a million Zim people already living as refugees (legally and not), with South Africa propping up Mugabe’s regime with electricity, food aid, and a refusal to condemn his tyranny? No crisis, Mr. President? Do you need a new dictionary?

    Or is Thabo the Tentative playing word games with us again? As in ‘no one dies of AIDS’. Right you are, sir: they die of opportunistic infections that they would not have contracted but for the fact that they contracted HIV first. Are we being fed a similar semantic argument with regard to ZIM, and the Scorpions (not disbanding, just re-organizing), and CRIME(not increasing, just being sensationalized by the press). Right. Tell you what, Dion and Khadija, we’ll all turn off our alarms when Mr. Mbeki does. Duh.

  • Siobhan

    Typos above: “…and opened our homes for a National Wealth Re-Distribution Day…”

    “It isn’t you or I…”

  • Stewart

    “We are already prisoners in our own homes, so will we feel better if we live in a semi-military state?”

    It will feel a darn sight better than having your throat cut in yur own home!

  • Cynic

    Dion has a point – albeit it that it flies in the face of logic, but what is the logic here? The logic common to every beleaguered South African is that we cannot rely on the cops who are outgunned, outmanned, outwitted and out of sight, so in order to survive the crime war we need to outgun the criminals ourselves.
    It becomes an “Us” vs “Them” scenario – innocent law abiding citizens vs the criminals. We would have our high walls, electric fences, dogs, armed patrols and the criminals would have – well let’s see:
    1. Constitutional protection.
    2. In the absence of anything being done about crime by the “There is no crisis in Zimbabwe” ANC Government, the tacit encouragement, endorsement and approval of the Government.
    3. Absolute freedom of movement in and around your suburb and your house and if you’re home,
    4. The moral authority to effect retribution against yourself and your family for apartheid if you are white and if you’re black, well you had it coming for being a coconut.
    5. The inalienable right to shoot to kill without any thought, consideration or warning, with or without reason.
    6. The right to torture, maim, brutalise, mutilate, rape and murder according to their disposition at the time.
    7. The choice of an arsenal of automatic weapons of war such as AK47, R5 against 9mm pistols and shotguns.
    8. Free tax payer paid world class medical care at a flagship Netcare hospital in the event of being wounded.
    9. Hero or Martyr status, whatever the case may be, with the “One settler, one boo-lett” brigade, liberals and a variety of western governments, if the victims are white – which in the decaying South Africa is the preferred victim of choice.
    10. We won’t even discuss the fair trial, comfortable prison component…
    Needless to say, from a statutory and constitutional point of view, the rights of the criminals far outweigh the rights of the victims and on the strength of that fact alone, the more savvy criminals will simply assemble bigger gangs to take on the street patrols.
    South Africa is in a state of anarchy with crime daily becoming more militant in it’s characteristics and execution, thereby lending itself to a subtle transition to urban warfare in short order.
    We have reached the point of militant criminal gangsterism, the next phase is militant warlords controlling sectors of towns and cities and after that, full blown civil war, which is already bubbling under the surface and any attempt by whites to defend themselves against that will be met with screeches of “Racism” and “Apartheid” and as for the blacks – well they’ll just blame the whites.
    The ANC has totally lost the plot, they have no control over crime which is out of control by any civilised standards. They are doing nothing about crime except to entrench the “rights” of criminals and they would find it a lot easier to suppress any attempt by anybody, especially whites to protect themselves against crime than they would to tackle heavily armed militant criminal organisations who largely enjoy the support of the bulk of the population for their perceived redistribution of wealth.
    Let’s see how long these armed street patrols last before they are branded racist and insurrectionist by the ANC and ordered to cease operations.

  • Eagle

    @ Dion

    I’m sorry; the time for pc libbers like yourself is also over. Political correctness has been the curse of this country for many years and has in the past 14 years, after causing the situation we find ourselves in, only succeeded in making the situation worse.

    The problem I have with libbers is that they always speak for everybody, not just for themselves, because privately they know that they are just blowing smoke and should things go wrong like they will, they do not want to be the only ones taking the flack. In fact history has shown that they would rather flee the country and leave other to sort out their mess like Brink and Gordimer.

    Pc lib all you want, we are not here to control each other, but speak of I rather than we and us, I for one have had enough with other people speaking for me and defining my politics and my future.

    On my farm I walk around with a gun every day. We have already had 9 break-ins or attempted break-ins, three of them armed, as we saw on the cameras. I am taking no more chances.

  • Andrew Dicks

    The following passage is a copy of the Mission Statement from the Black Lawyers Association in SA (http://www.bla.org.za/)
    “The BLA – LEC is dedicated to providing the legal community and allied professionals with the most up to date and relevant information and techniques which are critical to the development of a professional competitive edge necessary for the realization of equality of opportunity.
    These goals will be achieved through high quality continuing legal education programs.
    The objectives of the BLA – LEC are:
    • to build the capacity of lawyers and expose black lawyers to areas of law from which they were previously excluded
    • to provide continuing legal education and services to the black community at large
    • to increase the number of black lawyers”

    How about if a “White Lawyers Association” was to be formed with the following objectives:

    • to build the capacity of lawyers and expose white lawyers to areas of law from which they are currently excluded
    • to provide continuing legal education and services to the white community at large
    • to increase the number of white lawyers……

    David Bullard’s article, whilst racist in the eyes of those afrocentric people who still wear Italian suits and ties, drive German BMW’s, shop at Woolworths and have given up the hunter, gatherer with a touch of subsistence farming economic mode of production, must surely look deeply within to see that it is the current structures (such as the BLA above), along with quotas and the entire BEE regulatory environment that continues to drag the colour of ones skin into every aspect of our natural waking existence.

    Why is it that to become a SA athlete (runner) for the Olympics requires an accepted qualifying time, but to be a SA hockey player at the same Olympics requires differentiation based on skin colour?

    As long as there are any legislated rules of engagement, there will be legislated differences and any chance of creating a rainbow nation will be foiled.

    Merit is the only way forward – based upon an accelerated education plan to create the equal springboard from whence all have an equal start.

  • Adriano

    Dion, interesting post, but how having a secure house is an act of violence begetting more violence is beyond me.

    From my personal perspective knowing that the ultimate goal of our Government and most around the world is to create a police state. For that, fear has to be part of our daily lives and it must increase in intensity over time. Violent crime is just what is needed. It also requires for this crime to be out of hand and seemingly impossible to control.
    Sooner or later at some point in future the general public will become tired with the crime situation and start to take the law into their own hands; just what the Government wants at which time marshal law will be declared which would give the Government a free hand to instigate and institute all the draconian laws, rules and regulations that they have always wanted. They will promise us a better life after that, if we would for just a while trade our liberties and freedom for “peace and security” but just forget to tell us that our liberties and freedoms will never be returned.
    Don’t blame them though, they are under orders from higher powers and not conforming to their plans might be even worse for all of us.
    Believe me not? These same “higher powers” have been planning for decades to create massive famines and water shortages that will eventually lead to wars between nations and even neighbours which would eventually lead to the depopulation of our planet according to their so-called magic maximum total allowed. Somewhere around 500 million I believe.
    Still believe me not? What is most pressing in the International News arena these days. Riots, fighting and deaths because of lightning fast rising food prices putting basic foodstuffs beyond the reach of millions. Now step back a few years: Zim commercial farmers removed from more than 90% of Zim farms, Zim being the breadbasket of Africa, followed by the killing of thousands of productive food producing farmers in South Africa. Are you getting it yet?.
    Our Government is orchestrating and controlling all this so whatever we do, it is like farting against a thunder storm. Me thinks it is time to realize that the small 4×2 carpet next to my bed was not meant to warm my feet but rather to protect my knees from developing blister due to my continuous, persistent prayers, for God to put a stop to all this as He has promised. Is it time perhaps that we we go back to our roots?????

  • Alisdair Budd

    Just thought you ought to know:

    A Spade is an offensive racial term for black (As black as the Ace of Spades) equivalent to “nigger” in the uk.

    Calling a Spade a Spade has two meanings, the traditional no nonsense and also the offensive “let’s call a Nigger a Coon”.

    because of this it’s use is usually avoided in Modern English by those who have any knowledge of living in a Multi-cultural society in order to avoid possible offence.

    Or it is used as a provocative example of how modern views on race can instil new meaning in traditional language by avant garde or new wave writers.

    Which one are you, or didn’t you realise what you wrote?

  • amused reader

    @ Adriano

    Did you get a weekend pass from the asylum, or did you just escape?

    Apart from anything else, what have seen to even start to suggest that our government has the intellectual capacity to plan anything on the scale you suggest?

    Is is certainly not the ideal, but, last time you looked how much crime do strict Muslim counties have to put up with? Saudi Arabia, Iran , pre-war Iraq.

    There was a political slogan in the UK whch went “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”

    In SA we are “Soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime”

    Tough policing, tough sentencing, victims rights before criminals rights, amazing what happpens.

    Anyone for public floggings of burglars & armed robbers & hi-jackers, public castration of rapists? Would have to be after prayers on a Sunday for us.

  • Claire

    The only reason why additional security is necessary in this country is because the police are not fulfilling their responsibility to protect the populace.

    Therefore it is arguable that these security companies are only doing what the police should be doing in the first place.

    If this argument is valid, then what you are saying is that, according to your violence-begets-violence logic, the police, by ordinarily doing their jobs correctly, would themselves be begetting violence.
    We know this is not true.

    Police are necessary to maintain security and order.
    In the absence of police we have to find alternatives.

    (And pay for them ourselves. Despite the fact that we pay tax, and plenty of it, to SARS, the most (in fact the only) efficient government agency in the country).

    I do worry about these security companies. Who controls them? Who will hold them accountable if they use unnecessary force? But then again, who is supposed to hold the police accountable for the same thing? Could it perhaps be the same minister who just told them to “shoot the bastards”? Perhaps we’re safer trusting the security companies. At least we know that if we don’t like them we can get rid of them or stop paying them.

  • IF

    I lived in SA for more than ten years. It’s been six months I returned to the UK for good, but reading articles like this chills my blood. It’s so easy to forget the that life in South Africa, for all the sunshine, is like living in a prison camp.

    I’d forgotten that security in SA is a constant background noise in your soul, like elevator Muzak from hell. Not having this constant nagging worry anymore is priceless.

  • Owen

    In my simple view, the security companies are the local mafia. We have had too many instances where the staff of the security company or the insuarance firm are suspected of selling information to criminals.

    So yes, the more people you get involved with what is on your property the more chance you have of criminal activity.

    Some 30 years ago a Kenyian friend of mine said that one should not have much material wealth as it will be stolen from you. We have now joined normal africa.

    Live simply or move to where your tax money does work.

    @Adriano – Never attribute events and actions to some greater conspiracy theory if they can be explained by sheer incompetance.

    That is, the reason why a lot of governents end up as ‘jackboot’ governments is because that is all they are capable of. It takes brains not brawn to more than a dictatorship.

  • Na

    Hey Dion
    I’m sorry to hear you live in such a rough neighbourhood. I too am living in SA but where I live we don’t even bother with burlglar bars and the locks on our front doors would not hold against a determined shove but we all sleep snug and secure at night. Maybe cos we’re the only whiteys that our neighbourhood is so safe . . .

  • Consulting Engineer

    Its is liberals like you who brought about this problem in the first place by your constant wailing about ‘apartheid’, its pass laws, its omnipresent police etc. Now you want it back but are to PC to admit you want it back under another name. or do you wish a black government would impose apartheid against its own?

    There is another solution. get rid of this cANCer government and get a serious one that takes their mandate seriously. the first priority of a government is to protect its people.

    We have a safety and security minister who says :

    “Whites are not welcome in the Police! According to transformation figures as many as 25,4% white people has to be out of top and middle management position by 2010. On the lowest levels 7,4% white people have to be out.”

    It is a clear sign that whites are not welcome in the Police and no white person in his right mind will choose the Police as a career because there is no future for whites in it.

    If you want a change and a no nonsense group then why don’t you vote Vryheids Front+

  • bleeding heart

    i find the consulting engineer comment today insulting and nearing blatant racism , i am offended

  • Max in Hove

    Calling a spade a spade is used all the time in the media here in the UK, a country with a very diverse multi-cultural society. No-one has ever objected to it….