A few days ago a young Canadian woman living in South Africa bemoaned the fact that neurotic South Africans warned her of everything and everyone, from street people to public transport, and how they all lived behind spiked walls. She called it fear and loathing in South Africa (see the piece here http://dirussell.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/response-to-high-crime-fear-and-loathing-in-cape-town-south-africa/) (also check out her follow up feel-good piece)
God knows, I know the type of person she is talking about, the gloom-sayers, the no-hopers. The ones that bought tinned food to stock up when our country transitted from apartheid to democracy because they thought there would be a war, the same people who thought Y2K was going to be the end of the world. The ones who daily buy and thrive on the newspapers, long the bearer of bad news and feel-bad sensationalist stories. The old adage, what you give attention to, thrives, somehow comes to mind.
Sadly, however, a few of the people the young Canadian had spoken to had also probably been victims of violent crime or knew someone who had been.
And somewhere between it all, if you can sift through the heavy burden of seeing the glass as half empty, is the reality of this amazing, rich with diversity, pulsating, country.
I am always surprised at how newcomers to Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities I have lived in, are so warned off by people to do absolutely anything – I guess it is people’s neurosis that kicks in.
Funnily enough, it is not a South Africanism (although I tend to like the saying “Africa is not for sissies”).
It was the same when I was backpacking around South America and around Paris, you do tend to become paranoid because people are constantly warning you of the dangers.
In fact, I was quite convinced because of all the bad press people gave some of the countries in South America, that in Lima, Peru I would be the victim of a horrendous crime and that in Colombia I would be kidnapped. Of course, neither happened.
Many times, if I am not to dismiss the kindnesses I have shown on my travels, I guess the warning is people just showing concern.
One may be street wise but I find it helps to get to know the different types of people that lurk/walk the streets, as each city is unique, before taking off on my own.
There are many of us locals who don’t buy into the fear and loathing stuff here in SA, but I guess the fear is there and it is all-pervasive no matter if you’re rich or poor.
Oddly enough, the highest crime statistics in Cape Town are not in the affluent places with the spiked walls, but in an area called Khayelitsha, which once held the title of having the highest murder rate in the world. And some of the shack areas, with no water and electricity, pose many threats to those living there (eg. Think affluent area, spiked wall, doors locked, street lights on, then think, young woman, alone, leaving her shack in the middle of the dark night, no street lights, to make her way through high grass to use of an outside toilet).
Many South Africans use public transport, it is cheap way to get around (in fact I’ll post something about a day on public transport soon) and it is how the majority of South Africans get to work daily. Again you just have to be street wise.
If you want to try a new area out, my suggestion is get a local you know who lives in the area to show you around, to get a feel of the place before you venture off on your own.
From the upmarket suburbs to the shacklands, one thing you will find is that South Africans are keen to show off their country and their hospitality and their ubuntuness. As in any country there are good people and there are bad people. I hope you only find the good ones while you are here.
No matter where I have been in the world, I have always been cautioned by people about certain areas and stuff. One has to have a good gut feeling, take necessary precautions, and not be plain stupid, if one is to travel out of one’s comfort zone.
South Africa rocks, even with barbed wire, even with its pain and poverty, with its problems, one thing that is palpable is the amazing love, if you don’t feel it, it simply means you have got to get out more.
To the young Canadian woman, I really hope you get to experience beyond the surreal cloud of fear that does exist. Because if you break through the veneer, South Africa will get into your blood. (she did, read her follow up post).
It is true, South Africa is a complex country, but truer still, is that it is an amazing country.
If you’re in SA or coming to SA, welcome!