Tuesday 25 January 2011

Living in South Africa

As a criminology and psychology student, I couldn’t be in a better country than South Africa for the final year of my degree. Being here has made me think a lot about previous assignments, in particular ‘Does security breed insecurity?’
Gated communities here in South Africa are the only way to live, we’d be mad not to. The risk of crime is very high, but you can minimise the effect and consequence of crime if you are cautious. It’s a natural human instinct to protect oneself, family and property. If someone were to order you out of your car at gun point, would you go willingly? Most of us would say yes, we’d let them have our car, but like falling, there’s a natural instinct to put ones hands out in front as you do, inevitably breaking one or both arms. Small children don’t have this instinct and suffer fewer breaks than adults.
There are many different types of gated communities, in the UK it is more about status than the actual fear of crime and not too dissimilar to the US. However, living in a safe secure environment often leads to the fear of crime and can have either a positive or negative impact on the environment. Is the gated community there because there are high crime levels? In which case, if you can’t afford to live there, one moves further away to avoid the crime, or does a gated community nearby mean there are higher levels of security therefore making the area a safer place to live?
Here in South Africa a gated community is a means of survival. There are many different types.
Tenement blocks are not the most attractive of buildings, a complex of approximately 20 brick houses with 4 apartments in each, a communal pool and gardens. An electronic gate, manned 24hrs a day, but often on the outskirts of the town, and cheaper to rent or buy, therefore considered less desirable areas to live. These places are similar to holiday camps, little privacy and noisy and are preferred places for lower income families to live.
Cluster houses are the next step, again there is the 24hr security, but these houses are packed in with little outdoor space, they offer larger living accommodation but again are in the slightly poorer areas of town and often near major intersections which can prove noisy and offer little privacy. These are also small estates.
There are two types of housing left to consider. The larger gated communities, with the bigger houses with pools and large gardens, often surround a golf course and are of course far more expensive to live in. These houses are purpose built and vary in style and design, like the UK this type of living is a status symbol, the houses vary from English style, through Italian to thatched roof cottages and on the whole a little tacky. They offer the greatest security and are surrounded by high fences with barbed wire and electric fences.
The final style and our preferred living are the houses where the neighbours have come together and have decided to fence off the roads with only 1 access point with a security barrier which is manned, but not electronically operated like the other estates, The gates are locked at night and each house has it’s own wall and fence with barbed wire and security. These are more attractive houses and offer greater privacy.
The house hunting starts later this week. I am open to view any property as long as it fits our living requirements and is within a half hour drive of the kid’s school.