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Living in present-day South Africa

I don’t believe in generalisations when it comes to experience, except in the natural sciences. In fact, philosopher Hans Reichenbach, in The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, goes so far as to claim that “generalisation” is what is distinctive about science – in the language of the philosophy of science, it is science’s “demarcation criterion”. Because one cannot justifiably generalise about everyday experience, for instance about what it’s like to live in a specific country, let’s get down to some concrete instances of particular personal experiences reflecting the differences between living in South Africa and living elsewhere in the world. Perhaps this could function as an experiential touchstone for others.

One can choose among many different experiences, so my selection of these, below, probably derives from them being uppermost in my mind at present, partly because the Christmas season makes one reflect on these things, and partly because they are related to recent events in my life. Firstly, when I was climbing one of my favourite mountains on Monday, in pouring rain, drenched to the skin – I was only wearing a T-shirt, shorts and climbing shoes – I felt so close to Mother Nature that Lévi-Strauss might have suspected me of incestuous enjoyment. Because it was raining, I could not do one of my usual rock-climbing routes (that would be suicidal in the rain), so I had to follow the path, and everywhere tiny (what we call) rain-frogs – 3cm-long amphibians with a pinkish-orange patch on their heads – were wriggling out of the underbrush to get to the puddles and streams forming in the path.

This is just one of many variegated experiences in a natural setting that one can have in South Africa, and I love living here for that reason. Others include sleeping in caves after a long walk, looking forward to the next morning’s descent into a steep gorge to dive into a pool so deep that its depth has never been gauged, according to the forest wardens in the area. Or climbing the rocky promontory of a mountain, with the mist rolling in from the sea, swirling around you, and a rock kestrel or two hovering on the wind a few metres from where you are hanging against the mountain side. Or swimming in mountain pools that are so clear that you can drink the water as you swim.

These experiences are irreplaceable, and may be possible in other countries, such as New Zealand, Bhutan, North Carolina in the US, South American countries such as Peru, and other African countries, but this country is still infused with a wildness seldom witnessed abroad. I recall a hike that my ex and I went on about 90 kilometres outside of Beijing, and being surprised about not seeing any sign of wildlife, except for the odd bird or lizard. No trace of antelope, or of snakes, like in South Africa. I asked our guide why there was no indication of wildlife, and she smiled sardonically. “It’s all been eaten”, she replied. A saddening situation, rapidly getting to the point where our descendants will have to look at David Attenborough’s BBC-Nature films to see what wild animals look(ed) like.

The South African experiences that I treasure mostly have to do with nature, which is more accessible here than overseas; cities in South Africa, if and when they offer something enjoyable, are much the same as cities elsewhere in the world – shopping malls (which I avoid because of the unadulterated, in-your-face commercialism), a glut of motor cars, the odd museum (which is pleasant enough to visit, I guess) and so on. I must also admit that I like teaching at a university in South Africa, where one’s efforts at imparting knowledge are usually rewarding regarding the majority, if not of all of the students in one’s classes.

Then there are the “other” kind of South African experiences – those that one does not cherish, unless you are a confirmed masochist. I am talking about the kind of experience that will readily come to mind as soon as one mentions certain “code words”, such as “security” (as in “security door”, “security system” or “security alarm”). We have all had these experiences, but let me start with a recent one that stood in stark contrast with our experiences in European cities immediately preceding it.

My partner and I had just returned from a two-week conference visit to Germany, France and Switzerland, and had experienced that familiar sense of relaxation that infuses one’s being as soon as you realise, at a subliminal level, mostly, that you don’t have to cling to your rucksack or camera, or watch your back as you walk down the street, which is, sadly but undeniably, endemic to living in South Africa (not in other African countries, by the way), regardless of what culture or race you belong to. Walking around late at night, with many people in the streets, in Basel or Freiburg, (or in Seoul, Osaka, Istanbul, Rome) there is never any feeling that you are in danger of being mugged, or worse, summarily shot for your cellphone or wallet. Accordingly, going to bed there is not accompanied by a nagging worry that, although you have set the alarm, checked that the security gates are locked, and so on, you are not safe; there you can simply surrender to the arms of Morpheus.

Perhaps the likes of President Jacob Zuma and ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa can do so here; after all, they have millions of rands worth of security installations, plus an army of bodyguards protecting them. Alas, not so the ordinary citizen. On our return we had to take care of my disabled son (his mother had gone overseas to visit our other children) – the victim of South Africa’s hunting culture: his neck was broken when a kudu jumped the 5ft fence (!) between a hunting farm and the N2 to Grahamstown and landed on his car the day the hunting season opened 12 years ago, and he has been in a wheelchair since that time.

During the second night at his house, around 4 o’clock in the morning, the alarm went off – a chilling experience in South Africa – followed by all the usual activities: checking the house, the windows, answering the phone when the security company calls, etc. Nothing; it must have been an insect that set it off. Twenty minutes after going back to bed the same thing again, followed by the same South African ritual. This is especially disturbing when you have come from a place where such a threat does not constantly hang over your head, like a Damoclean sword. And when, just after your return, friends of yours down the road were attacked in their house at night by someone that had worked in your friend’s gardening company about a year before.

During the attack, when defending himself against his assailant, he was stabbed, with a screwdriver penetrating both arms, so that, weeks after the attack, he still cannot drive his truck. It is small consolation that the attacker was arrested and convicted; when released from prison he will probably return to a life of crime, partly because it is something he knows, and partly because there is little else he can hope for in a country that spends millions of state funds on politicians’ so-called needs, while its population languishes in an economic malaise that shows few signs of abating. But if there is one thing that law-abiding South Africans have every right to blame the present government for, it is for utterly FAILING in its duty, to provide SA citizens with a SAFE, civilized environment in which to pursue their life-goals.

While one can feel sorry for people with few legitimate economic expectations – after all, the community-oriented principles of the Freedom Charter have been swept under the carpet in favour of dog-eat-dog capitalism – the fact remains: there are some South African experiences one can relish, and then there are others every South African has reason to dread. Besides, one is far safer here in the mountains than in cities; I don’t fear the leopard, snakes and other wild creatures that populate the mountains, gorges and plateaus I know well, and criminals usually don’t venture there.


  • As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it were, because of Socrates's teaching, that the only thing we know with certainty, is how little we know. Armed with this 'docta ignorantia', Bert set out to teach students the value of questioning, and even found out that one could write cogently about it, which he did during the 1980s and '90s on a variety of subjects, including an opposition to apartheid. In addition to Philosophy, he has been teaching and writing on his other great loves, namely, nature, culture, the arts, architecture and literature. In the face of the many irrational actions on the part of people, and wanting to understand these, later on he branched out into Psychoanalysis and Social Theory as well, and because Philosophy cultivates in one a strong sense of justice, he has more recently been harnessing what little knowledge he has in intellectual opposition to the injustices brought about by the dominant economic system today, to wit, neoliberal capitalism. His motto is taken from Immanuel Kant's work: 'Sapere aude!' ('Dare to think for yourself!') In 2012 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred a Distinguished Professorship on him. Bert is attached to the University of the Free State as Honorary Professor of Philosophy.


  1. aim for the culprits aim for the culprits 27 December 2013

    How about living in fear of men with thick and/or hot potato accents and woman with self-righteous voices and/or pointed up noses? Fear less of random violence anymore “just for kicks” (not driven by economics or a poverty upbringing) but of total exclusion from economic life. Most areas being “owned” by corporates or individuals. Public areas patrolled to keep them nice looking. Isn’t true philosophy a reflection of everyone’s reality? The old worn whinge about politician /government official self-serving. while to an extent true, only masks the far far far far far far … greater self-serving wealth grab and hold of a self-righteous group. Guess who philosopher? I think Socrates would have nailed it, unfortunately he is dead. Try the New Testament.

  2. bernpm bernpm 27 December 2013

    I grew up in a European cite and many decades ago. I became city savvy. Looking after yourself and being on guard. Moved to SA and in the city. New times, new needs.
    Latest -some 8 years ago- in Jburg (where else?) attacked for cellphone and computer by 2 guys (one back, one front). Managed to keep my laptop. Busy street but no help from anybody.
    3 years ago I moved to a “dorpie” in the Northern Cape. No security gates, doors open during the day. Feeling so safe that I have bought a bicycle and am ready to tour around between the soon coming Namaqua land daisies and other species. Drinking coffee on my stoop I am in the middle of birds coming for the honey and seeds in the flowers.
    BTW, I do lock my doors in the evening before going to sleep.

    I think I understand your feelings of sadness when you come back from a mountain hike. Keep well

  3. Rod MacKenzie Rod MacKenzie 27 December 2013

    Superb article. Thanks Bert.

  4. Maria Maria 28 December 2013

    I can sense that you were angry when you wrote this, Bert – angry at politicians who put their own interests first, despite the pretense of giving a damn about the people whose votes they want come the next elections. I prefer your more thoughtful approach to the scourge of crime in your country, which you penned years ago on TL, and which I believe is still one of the most convincing explanations of the “causes” of violent crime in your country:

    I have recommended the lengthier version of this, the chapter in Aydan Gulerce’s book, (Re-)Configuring Psychoanalysis (Palgrave-Macmillan), to many colleagues, and they concur.

  5. Walter Walter 28 December 2013

    Your story is a very sad one and one must feel with you in respect of your son’s permanent disability. Your love of nature is a very happy one, a bit like a song of Ossian perhaps but genuine. There are many places of paradise still left in the world, difficult to access like the tropical rain forest in the middle of Gabon and under threat. The other experiences you talk about should not be generalised because for every unhappy one there are happy ones to balance. There is just as much crime in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Where ever you choose to live you have to take the good with the bad. That is, I think, the general bottom line and should not distract from our ability to enjoy life.

  6. Balt Verhagen Balt Verhagen 28 December 2013

    Dear Bert

    Having read many of your entries, some admittedly somewhat technically-philosophical but always readable, I settled down to read on after the vivid and graphic description of your hike in the mountains in the rain, clad with minimal nonchalance as is so typically South African. What other delights were you going to present to us?

    ….a dreary dinner table litany of security woes followed. And that was that. What a let-down.

    Far be it from me to minimise the pervailing scourge of crime and our rather puny attempts at safeguarding ourselves. And of course, the rich and powerful can encapsulate themselves in elaborate protective shields – at taxpayers’ expense and even profiting from the very inflated cost structures.

    Is that REALLY all there is to life in South Africa apart from hiking in the rain and the privilege of teaching? Where is the wonder at the rich patina of encounters that await us in daily life? The joy of seeing young people blossom in spite of hardships – a black youngster of 20 qualifying for medicine. Our glorious sunshine after rain.The ongoing enormous challenge to us all in achieving a truly democratic, productive state that can employ all of the rich and largely dormant talent surrounding us.

    These are blessings unknown to much of the safe ‘developed’ world where the main concern is about personal living standards. That can lift us above our sense of personal insecurity by giving us purpose and direction. Security is a state…

  7. Balt Verhagen Balt Verhagen 28 December 2013

    …of mind

  8. Rory Short Rory Short 28 December 2013

    @Bert as is usually the case I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful post. The Chinese people obviously long ago lost any collective sense that there is more to human life than human survival. If they had not lost this collective sense they would surely not have been happy to just eat everything that came within their grasp without recognising that as part of Nature it was also incumbent upon them to ensure the continuation of the life forms that they were consuming. Hopefully such collective amnesia will not befall South Africans.

  9. aim for the culprits aim for the culprits 28 December 2013

    @Balt, you da man

  10. Anne Anne 29 December 2013

    The current situation in SA is indeed very sad,, but more so because of the greed of so many. Crime seems to become a normal activity on a daily basis but no criminal seems to know that thieves never seem to own anything it passes through their hands like wet soap. How does one teach them to realize that no form of crime pays. Is this perhaps not being done with an agenda to try and scare some away?? as criminals seems to receive more protection then the public.

  11. Jan Jan 29 December 2013

    So true Bait. Thank you! Remember,~ Attitudes are more important than facts!

  12. Bert Bert 30 December 2013

    aim for the culprits – If you read my post carefully, you would have seen that I am quite aware of the economic circumstances under which we live, and which are conducive to the ‘state of insecurity’ I touch on above. If you want to read a more detailed analysis, follow the link that Maria so kindly provided (Thanks, Maria!). It is an invidious economic system that empowers some, and disempowers others, that sets the scene for endemic crime. But the connection is complex, so read that post.
    bernpm – I understand why you have moved to the dorpie, and I am aware that things are better in many such small places (I could only say so much in a short blog post), but even in small places one witnesses creeping insecurity. We often visit Greyton, a beautiful town not far from Caledon, where it used to be as safe as your dorpie, but lately this has changed.
    Thanks, Rod – coming from an expat South African who misses his country, I know you can identify.
    Balt – As I said above, one can address only so much in a post, so I readily grant that there are many other things here to value, and appreciate, such as those you mention. The big BUT is that, if the ANC government really wanted to, it could use its police force to create a much safer urban environment. Look at SARS – it is one of the most efficient tax collection systems in the world, because the political will is there to collect as much money from citizens as possible, but is there a will to combat crime? NO.

  13. Bert Bert 30 December 2013

    Walter, thank you for that. To a large extent I agree with what you say, except that you fail to note that there is a qualitative difference between crime elsewhere and in SA. I’ve lived in several overseas countries, and nowhere is the crime characterized by so much brutality and violence as in SA, and on such a mind-numbing scale. Even in Namibia, our neighbour, there is petty crime, but not the inhuman thing we experience here.
    Rory – I can only express the same hope, that things will not reach the ‘Chinese’ levels of animal-extermination here. Some time ago I wrote something on animals as our close relatives or something, if I recall – that sums up my feelings.
    Anne – the greed factor is a crucial one, but where does it originate? Where money-wealth is valorized above everything else.

  14. Balt Verhagen Balt Verhagen 30 December 2013

    # aim for the culprits

    Hokai Boetie! I, one of your feared ‘culprits’ ‘ with thick and/or hot potato accents and woman(sic) with self-righteous voices’, I am not that easily co-opted.

    I have been embedded in South Africa for 75 years since WWII; living through the ascendency of Afrikaner Nationalism, the growing horrors of the apartheid years, lost many friends preaching non-racialism and national solidarity, rejoiced at the hoped-for liberation in 1994, even cast the only vote I ever had for the ANC, was by 1996 thoroughly disillusioned seeing the growth of the new corruption. I warned against its corrosive influence on our fragile and nascent institutions, its dire consequences now glaringly obvious in the stuttering economy, failing law and order, the judiciary under siege, chaotic education, grossly disparate health services, plummeting moral standards, our gradual return to being the polecat of the world now that the extent of this decay is becoming obvious globally.

    The crime at grassroots level finds its (a-)moral justification in the big’uns getting away with it on a grand scale.

    Our fragile institutions cannot flourish or even survive without a selfless and dedicated leadership. As a mlungu largely free of paranoia, I have a pleasantly simple lifestyle, and share this with increasing numbers of black brethren even if on a modest pension. But there remains a frightening and growing gap between me and the vast majority.


  15. Balt Verhagen Balt Verhagen 30 December 2013


    More and more are now calling for the national convention never held following CODESA and 1994. That could have taken stock of ALL the country’s assets: its immense mineral wealth,its productive soil, the best infrastructure in Africa and, above all, its people and the worth of every single priceless person. All having signed on the constitution’s dotted line, every individual, every institution, would have been bound to work together towards finding solutions for our unique set of circumstances. Even a call for reparations at that time might have found amazing resonance.

    Instead we saw the wholesale ideological discarding of qualified and experienced manpower, closing basic training colleges, abolishing rigorous supervision of schools, discarding the RDP for GEAR, then AGISA etc. and utterly missing the brief open window of national inspiration. Everyone retreated into their self-seeking lagers with the vast majority experiencing poor and deteriorating services with the excuse of ‘lack of capacity’.

    It will require a monumental effort to recoup the immense loss of opportunity and much-needed goodwill over the past 20 years. I for one believe in this country’s people and that it deserves and needs desperately a competent, well-educated, inspired and – I repeat – selfless leaders to serve and guide it to prosperity.

    This is my declaration of faith.

    I leave stuck in his faithless racist fears my ‘aiming’ friend. I am not your man.

  16. Balt Verhagen Balt Verhagen 30 December 2013

    @ Bert

    Thanks for the acknowledgement, Bert. As you see my comments tend to overshoot the rather user-unfriendly format provided by ThoughtLeader.

    Re-reading my first comment I felt that I had been less that sensitive to your specific set of experiences. If I feel perhaps not particularly insecure now, in spite of close proximity of violent crime I have to admit to the possibility of becoming paranoic were I to have a bad personal experience. I would hate to develop a victim mentality.

  17. aim for the culprits aim for the culprits 30 December 2013


    Do you want a restoration of pre-1994 when white areas had an over-whelming police presence and other areas very little? I am in a mid-size USA city at the moment and living in the downtown bubble of pleasant walks etc. Noticeable are the police cars parked to protect the tourist face of the town and where all the whiteys hang out. The city itself is one of the most crime-ridden in the country with the black areas dominated by gangs and the violence that is associated with them and drug dealing.

    In Cape Town you have a number of suburbs created by the NP government whose legacy is over-crowding and gangsterism. The lack of economic opportunities perpetuated by business prejudice against accent, background, language, schooling, social networks etc results in the gangs having the upper hand within these communities. They provide a path to the material aspirations that are rubbed into their faces by the privileged minorities with an inflated sense of self-worth.

    The government policy solutions are part of this but have limited capacity. What is needed is more real engagement from the white population. The rich who control resources have a duty to use their skills and position to provide opportunities for all. Failure to do this leaves 2 choices: living in perpetual and escalating fear or re-imposing the draconian policing methods of the 1970s to ensure bubbles of Hobbit-land exist for “us nice people” to live happily ever after.

  18. Marie Marie 31 December 2013

    Sadly and happily, I can agree with you on the your article. Sadly, it is the reason my two highly succesful children live and work in Europe. Happily, I can leave my home almost anywhere in the country and be in the beautiful countryside within 15 minutes. Lets pray we can find a solution to our problems and everyone will live happily ever after (and my kids& grandchildren may return and continue their succesfull careers here)

  19. john b patson john b patson 31 December 2013

    The security threat is insidious, and can and does make life nasty, brutal and short.
    It can though, be turned around relatively quickly as the transformation of New York has shown — all it takes is political determination.

  20. Keith Hart Keith Hart 31 December 2013

    Bert, I thought your writing during the Mandela memorial interlude was magnificent and I circulated it widely. The problem with the present post is not a lack of space, it is the structure of the argument which conforms to a model that Jean-Jacques Rousseau would recognize — romantic reaction or love nature, hate society. Even J-J satirized himself sometimes, as in Reveries of a Solitary Walker, where he imagines himself to be the first person ever to have set foot in a deserted wilderness. His reverie is interrupted by a peristent clacking sound. He moves on round the next bluff, only to discover a knitting factory — at 3,000 metres in the mountains!

    I once spent two years in Jamaica during the 80s which I found to be a brutal colonial society redeemed mainly by its older women who were to be found disproportionately in remote rural areas, certainly not in Kingston. The scenery was breathtaking and I took a lot of photographs. Only when I got home did I realise that they had no people in them.

    There is so much that we agree about and I am profoundly grateful for your outpiut in Thought Leader. But there is an anti-social streak in green thinking and I do believe that it found expression in this piece.

    One more comment. It is not the government’s job to provide safety. Only people themselves, coming out of their self-imposed prisons in substantial numbers with social purpose, can do that. And I mean take back the streets as peaceful citizens, not as armed…

  21. Bert Bert 31 December 2013

    Balt – You’re right: personal experience changes everything, which is why I took it as my point of departure. My daughter and one of my sons live overseas, and will probably not return here because of personal experience at the receiving end of crime. When my daughter was busy with her master’s degree, she was working in a coffee shop in Port Elizabeth in the evenings, and in one year she was mugged three times there, the last time with a gun against her head. It’s a miracle she wasn’t shot. That’s when she said to me that she was not staying here; a pity, because she is an intelligent, hard-working person whose expertise could have benefitted the country immensely. This is true of my elder son, too, who works in London, from where he was headhunted because of his computer-programming expertise, especially with Javascript. Another case: a colleague of mine at UNISA and his partner were attacked in their house in Muckleneuk about 4 years ago, and he has not been the same person since. They were both pistol-whipped, and he comes across as excessively nervous, still, because of what was obviously traumatic for them. And he used to be a confident academic and an acknowledged authority in his field of research. This is what mindless crime does to people. The daughter of the friend about whom I wrote in this post, who witnessed the attack on her father, has not been able to sleep properly since that time. Is this what the Rainbow Nation is bound to endure?

  22. Paul S Paul S 31 December 2013

    Your neighbour Paul and I were at varsity together and I was shocked by the attack. I left SA for safer shores some years ago. It’s hard to leave but when these attacks become increasingly common and ever closer to home you realize it’s futile to try to change the situation. Infinitely more so if you hope that real change will come from the ruling party. You truly have to adapt or die. And if the latter should occur despite that, hope that it will be swift and painless, as does a great old lady friend who lives in Buffels Bay. Interesting and sad at the same time to see how the SA psyche has evolved since 1994.

  23. Bert Bert 31 December 2013

    aim for the culprits – I believe that Balt has answered you adequately, but I can add, picking up something that Keith Hart has said, that a police state is the last thing I want. Instead, I agree with Keith that the best way to safeguard society is not by retreating behind electrified fences, but by taking society into the streets. And police presence is not necessarily a sign of a police state; I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia, and there was always a police presence in downtown Philly – police on foot, on bicycles, on horseback, with lots of people in the streets. But Balt’s point is significant – as long as the country’s leaders, and more broadly its political ‘class’ is seen as being corrupt, by and large, it’s useless trying to infuse a sense of community into the country’s citizens. Besides, this should begin with school education, but what is the state of education in SA?
    Keith – You’re probably right that I prefer being in natural surroundings to being in cities, but I’m not naively Rousseauist. I agree with Nietzsche that intimations of a ‘natural morality’ is a sure sign that we are well beyond nature, i.e. my preference for nature is a cultural preference. But do you really blame me? The more I learn about people plundering the seas for everything from whales and dolphins to blue-fin tuna and shark fin, for the sake of a supposed PROFIT, the more I believe that the human race is like a cancer spreading uncontrollably across the globe.

  24. Matoro Matoro 1 January 2014

    Bert, living in South Africa in this, the first hour of 1914, the thoughts of Zarathustra who have also seen and witnessed acts of violence, must be prevalent, longing for justice, for moral law to be established for strong and weak alike, so that order and tranquility could prevail, and all be able to to pursue the good life of peace.

  25. aim for the culprits aim for the culprits 1 January 2014

    @Balt, apologies for the misunderstanding. When I said you were da man, I meant I agreed with you, not that I was aiming at you. Just southern states speak, y’all understand?

    @Bert all your examples are personal tragedies for which we all have empathy, i can also spew our anecdotes as can residents of Khayalesha/Crossroads – going back a bit further and ending more recently for the latter no doubt. What I am saying is that the “government” can only do so much controlling of the symptoms. The real power to transform sits with those who own the wealth. As I have often posted, AA and BEE etc often target people with skills and modest means and perhaps their own house as their asset. We must aim for the true culprits (and beneficaries) – the mega wealthy who hide behind the secrecy of corporate ownership. They don’t even necessary even reside in South Africa but are sucking from it under the radar.

  26. Bert Bert 1 January 2014

    Keith, what I forgot to add is that I did not write this post in argument-form, as you will notice – I deliberately penned it impressionistically, contrasting particular nature-experiences, somewhat nominalistically, with experiences of criminal relevance in present-day SA. The Mandela-piece was written in argument-for, as most of my other posts on TL, but here I wanted to drive the point home, that philosophical argumentation is redundant, or (alternatively) powerless when it comes to eradicating the impressions left on the body by wonderful experiences (here, in relation to nature, but I might as well have adduced experiences such as listening to a performance of Beethoven’s 9th), or, on the other hand, terrifying experiences. This was not an argument, although I could use material like this by weaving them into an argument.
    Matoro – I assume you meant 2014 (interesting slip), but I heartily agree with your sentiments.
    Paul S, what can I say? No one can blame people for emigrating. About 4 years ago I was on a bus from Toronto to a conference in Barry, Ontario, and on it there were two ex-South African men who had emigrated to Canada some years earlier. When we discovered our common SA roots, we obviously got talking, and one of the things they both said, was that, although they miss SA, they would never come back here, and they mentioned, as one of the reasons, the fact that their children walk around in Barry, where they live, until all hours of the evening, safely.

  27. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 1 January 2014

    Besides the usual broken record repetition of the confused capitalism blame game, there is some value in this post. It’s well worth reading up on the Berlin Circle and the contributions that Hans Reichenbach made.

    Also worth reading up on some of the most dangerous criminals who are enjoying the patronage of the government. Not exactly a free market mechanism, and it shows how crime is not an inevitable result of socio-economic conditions since this involves some of the wealthiest people in the country.

  28. proactive proactive 1 January 2014

    Great blog- the sensed anger is preferable to pondering psychoanalytical theories!

    “The other none cherish-able kind of SA experiences” dominates life of almost everyone in this country to varying degrees! Indigenous people’s opinions would be a welcome addition to enhance dialogue.

    Africa’s expanses in nature & wildlife- cherished by certain folks- are only accessible & safe within its generous game & nature reserves. My memory of Europe’s “nature”- even privately owned is widely accessible and safe by all to enjoy. Such dividing “thorny fences” a proudly American product like the ever destructive evolving free trade into neo liberalism- or a suicidal gullible leftist domination.

    Could the “Damoclean” metaphor – “Judge no one happy until his life is over” and the separated parties by these thorns- be interpreted in line with Darwin’s theory? It would require another ancient solution to cut through this Gordian web of blasphemous politicians, their intrigues and disingenuous speeches- only creating angry goose bumps!

    The questions remain: how best to solve the consequences of past historical actions- considered acceptable than- in an, in the meantime evolved country & world, without paralyzing or destroying its future, applying affordable justice in line and balance with the country’s limited capacities, utilizing all available skills, safeguarding and building on all its achieved creations?

  29. aim for the culprits aim for the culprits 1 January 2014

    @Bert – maybe government is in part corrupt because those with economic power are corrupt and flaunt materialism. Corruption takes many forms and much is self justified and even not pragmatically illegal (with enough lawyers: ie ones skillful in the manipulation of the law). Hang the maybe! I have heard enough braai talk of tax dodging, monopoly ensuring tactics, nepotism to feel confident in my thoughts. I was also in the army for 2 years and the civil service pre-1994 and learned a bit about the way the old lot worked too!!!! They haven’t gone away, just into different sectors.

    Philli is exactly the kind of point I am making! The USA is as corrupt at the wealthy end as SA. There is little trickle-down wealth but more and more concentrating in the ivy league. The solution is patrolled “nice areas” and gang ridden ghettos and overflowing jails. They, with a minority previously disadvantaged community have adopted the laager approach. They have the power to pull it off in such a way as anyone visiting, like you, says – wow this is nice, Just like 1980s South Africa if you stuck to the 80% of land that had 20% of the population….

    Don’t get me wrong. Zuma and parts of the government seem to be corrupting. Just like those with the economic power who nobody takes on!!! Maybe because they are part of the in (or hoping to be) and rely on their patronage to house, feed and educate their familes….. and thereby with the latter point we rationalize and justify all things.

  30. Brent Brent 2 January 2014

    Bert, interesting article and thoughts thanks, I also escape to nature for sanity. On crime, way back in ± 1970 (before Soweto and the violence of the 80/90s) I was canvassing for the Progs in JHB and we were called back early to get a pep talk from Dr Stetyler the founder of the Progs. During question time after the talk the first question was; ‘if the Progs came to power to morrow what is the first thing you would do?” Remember the Nats regularly panned the Progs at being soft on crime etc etc. He stunned the very liberal audience after some thought with the following reply: ‘ the first thing I would do is double the police force’. After a heated debate he explained, that after any change in a dictatorship situation the most pressing problem was always crime. Remember at that point in 1970 SA was peaceful in the sense that the Nats had dissent/crime firmly showed under a strong lid on the pot.
    Thus our crime is a direct result of Apartheid (similar to free Russia in the mid 90’s which was described to me as the wild wild west, crime is not race based but as a result of history) and the current Govt who did everything except ‘double the police force’ since 1994. I go as far to say our police force to day is a ‘praetorian guard’ for protecting the ruling elite and to hell with the law abiding tax payers. The answer is to be street smart, love the new much better SA and try not to live ones life behind a wire fence, literally as well as mentally. Brent

  31. Brent Brent 2 January 2014

    PS – do not agree that SA is a ‘dog-eat-dog capitalism’ society. There are more people on social grants than pay tax, Govt is the biggest land owner as well as owns huge corportions (Eskom, SAA, SAR & H, etc etc) not to mention what the provinces own and control. As SA under Apartheid was a racial socialist state to day SA is an ‘elitest’ socialist controlled/run state. The old/usual terms left/right/capitalism/socialism just do not fit anymore.Those evil capitalists not owned/run by the state contribute a huge share of SA’s taxs (corporate plus personel via wages) that the ‘socialist’ Govt wastes on its ruling elite.Brent

  32. Alon Serper Alon Serper 2 January 2014

    My own experiences in South Africa are those of extreme fury and frustration at the low salaries paid, the transportation cost of the employees that are not reimbursed by the employer, people needing to work on weekends, nights and holidays (including Christmas) so that other people can do their shopping , and people needing to participate in these injustices knowing that with such high unemployment, they will be replaced upon their implementing the desire to be with their loved ones during the holidays. Not to mention living conditions, hierarchy, etc. I am finding it to be happy with my good aesthetic quality of life here when other people (the majority) go through these injustices.

    Other places are very dangerous too. I lived in a small town of 8000 inhabitants in the U.K and someone was shot in the face for his bank card. Rome is notorious for car theft, Zurich for its crime. And Amsterdam is very dangerous too.

    I think we must work together at increasing salaries increasingly, transportation paid by the employers, living condition improved, shops being closed on holidays, nights and Weekends.

    I also think solidarity and compassion are needed and they always go back to the individual. How can a human beings enjoy the holidays when they go to restaurants and shops and are served by people who cannot be with their .loved ones in order to serve them and make sure they have a good time? I took it as a principle never to shop after 1800, on Sundays and…

  33. Paul S Paul S 2 January 2014

    I used to have to tell myself every day that moving to Vancouver was the right thing to do, and by degrees that suspicion became a conviction, personal safety being a major factor. It also helps greatly knowing that my things stay mine and that nobody is planning to nationalize my bank or any other infrastructure. Emigration is up there with death of a loved one on the stress scale and leaving SA was especially so. Just read of the senseless killing of Rob Meek on the Wild Coast…as a fellow yachtie it’s just another nail in the head-back-to-SA coffin.

  34. Alon Serper Alon Serper 3 January 2014

    I was born in Israel which is still found in the same slogans, propaganda and assertions – Arabs are…Jews are…Arabs want to throw the Jews into the sea. Jews are aliens. And I envy South Africans for being past that and towards the economic transformation which requires praxis and working together on solving problems and experimenting

    On my office door I have a big sign that says “South Africans have proved that the impossible is possible”. And at this point of time, I want to be no where else. The frustration and anger I am feeling are fuel for action and action reflection on how to bring the economic transformation that South Africans so badly deserve.

    This requires South Africans learning to question, think critically, challenge, shout very loud, protest and work out ways to improve on growth and empowerment. It can only move forward and improve after 1994.

  35. Maria Maria 3 January 2014

    @ Alon: You don’t get the point of this post at all. I, too, have lived in many countries all over the world, including South Africa, since the 1980s, and none of them come anywhere near South Africa as far as crime goes, not even New York before Giuliani tightened the grip on criminals with some dubious, but effective policing methods. What you don’t say, and you should, is that comparable criminal actions in the places you mention (Rome, etc.) are not as violent as in South Africa, and when they are, it is the exception, not the rule. Since reading this post I have been watching the news on SA, and a number of horrendous murders have taken place there in that short time alone. In my experience South Africans are so desensitized by the never-ending spate of violent crimes that they don’t even register any longer. If that kind of thing – a man shot in the head in front of his family a few days ago in SA, for no apparent reason, e.g. – were to happen in Rome or Zurich sporadically, let alone on a daily basis, those societies would be in an uproar. From your rhetoric I can gather that you are a blinkered idealist of sorts – not the Hegelian variety, but in the vernacular sense. That seems to blind you to important differences.

  36. Alon Serper Alon Serper 4 January 2014


    From the stories I heard when I was abroad and thinking about a position in South, I imagined a very different situation to the one I am actually experiencing here. I imagined being locked in a well-fortified prison the whole day and night. This is a very different from the reality in the course of which I walk and cycle everywhere. This can of course change as being stabbed or shot once is enough. I think crime is the direct result of dehumanisation, and degradation from the one hand and Capitalist grid on the other hand. Evidence of this grid can be witnessed from the many youtube clips of Black Friday and other sales where shoppers shoot other shopper for bargains.

  37. Mark Mark 6 January 2014

    A friend of mine who left South Africa for greener/safer pastures, equated her to a beautiful woman (the natural beauty of the coastlines, mountains, grasslands and arid areas interlinked with the fauna). But, in his opinion she is a woman who treats her man badly and will never change or compromise to re-establish a happy equilibrium.

    In terms of human romantic relationships there is an assumption that your partner can only change 10% of their personality to suit your emotional needs and wellbeing. So I worry that collectively, RSA wont be able to change away from ruthless unaccountable governments, violent criminals and people whop are apathetic to the suffering of anyone outside of their immediate family and friends.

    I am personally not at this break up stage in my relationshiip with sunny RSA, but if politics and the economy continues to be aimed at self enrichment at the expense of everybody who isnt part of the “club”, I might have to re-evaluate my position.

  38. Juju Juju 7 January 2014

    Its devastating to read the account our Rob Meeks murder, and one wonders what the motive was. Was it the same so-called Third Force that was responsible (perhaps) for Dave Rattray’s murder and other well known SA’ cans where robbery was not on the agenda.
    Will there be an enquiry, I wonder….?
    I never left SA in fear and dread, but to follow my husband for some work opportunities. I miss home terribly and its perverse as logically, there’s no future there. What s more here in Scotland. I have several friends who have lived in Europe more than 10 years, one in Paris, one near Como in Italy and they are all miserable, cant settle, and want to go “home” (though they are Zimbabwean and their home is no longer there)…..its very difficult to actually make a home anywhere else as one’s whole system is wired differently, to be constantly on edge, having grown up in the so-called “Struggle”, stressed due to imminent danger and on high alert, “fight or flight”. My fear is that unless you leave SA early, the dye is already cast and you will never be able to feel “at home” anywhere else – its simply too boring, not edgy enough, not dangerous enough….I left SA in my late 30’s, which is just a bit too late. Does anyone out there share these experiences?

  39. Maria Maria 9 January 2014

    @Alon: Those well-fortified prisons exist in South Africa – have you never been into any of the “security villages” where economic privilege has replaced the racial privilege of the apartheid state? Zuma’s Nkandla homestead is just one extreme example of this. I know that Bert also walks around freely in SA’s cities, because he believes one should take society out into the streets, rather than hide behind electrified walls, and because he knows that the way one walks – with confidence, instead of looking over your shoulder all the time – also makes a difference to whether potential assailants see you as a likely victim or not. But if you grew up in Israel, it explains why you don’t perceive a difference between your home country and SA – the Jewish state is as obsessed with security as SA. Do yourself a favor and go to one of the European cities Bert mentions in this post, to experience the freedom, the relaxation of a truly civilized environment. I was in Bern and Strasbourg recently, and I concur with Bert about their urban space being pervasively tranquil, welcoming and conducive to the exorcism of security demons that haunt you everywhere in South Africa. I know a South African political scientist who believes that, although SA eschewed a civil war through negotiations, there is a sustained, low-level genocide of sorts being waged against its white population, conspicuous in the phenomenon of farm murders which have claimed the lives of thousands of people.

  40. Alon Serper Alon Serper 9 January 2014


    I think Israel is neurotic and completely irrational about security as a result of the Shoa. I keep hearing comments that “we do not want to end up in Auschwitz again”. I think it is indoctrination and collective neurosis.

    I discussed it in my review at paragraph six.

    I have traveled and walked all over Mexico, at night too, U.S and Europe.

    I am finalysing a chapter I wrote for Viktoria Byczkiewicz edited Democracy and Education: Collected perspectives in the title Democratic education practices in South Africa: A critical reflection on a dialogic perspective and which describes my experiences in South I describe the inequality and degradation that are still dominant in South Africa.

    The two adversary sides (the Whites minority government and the non-whites majority) worked hard to avoid a violent coup and a revolution. Whilst these efforts are welcome, it means that eradicating the past ethos of autocratic degradation and dehumanization of the majority by the minority is a long process that requires a gradual eradication of the previous ethos of oppression, indoctrination, and dehumanization, that is still strongly embedded in its national identity and consciousness, and moving towards a new ethos of critical and free thinking, enquiring and challenging of authority.

    honestly, I think my experience of SA shows me that sometimes pacifism and…

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