I’ve been held at gun point twice in my life. Adding in attempted robberies and hi-jackings, I’ve had to deal with armed criminals in my life six times in thirty years. What I find especially upsetting is that each South African has his or her own story, and yet, we persist. We shrug it off and soldier on.
I apologise for generalising in advance, but for the most part, it’s the middle/upper class South African way. As long as we can braai on a Saturday, go to church on Sunday and work our arses off achieving our goals Monday to Friday, (mostly white, middle-class) South Africans are happy. South Africans are fighters. We’ll just build our walls higher, put more strands on the electric fence, buy more CCTV cameras and upgrade the alarm system. It’s not uncommon for young couples to move into secure complexes as soon as they can afford it. The more you earn, the higher the walls, the more gates and guards you can afford. Almost no one wants to own a stand alone house anymore.
I took a Google street view tour of my old neighbourhood after having been out of the country for 5 months and had a good chuckle when I compared how I used to live to how I live now. Look at these two houses below, three blocks away from where I used to live. The house on the left is older than 10 years, the house on the right is built more recently.
Some of the latest multi-million Rand complexes are putting up 4m-5m high walls.
Those that cannot afford the multi-million Rand luxury compound try to bunker in with neighbours in secure community blocks that are fenced off and patrolled by armed guards.
The latest permutation is the Mega Lifestyle Estate. Acres of farms converted into walled off estates where you can live, work, send the kids to school as well as shop or go to the gym without ever leaving the estate. Wild life estates, equestrian estates, out door estates, pick your flavour of Elysium.
Elysium: Initially separate from the realm of Hades, admission was reserved for mortals related to the gods and other heroes. Later, it expanded to include those chosen by the gods, the righteous, and the heroic, where they would remain after death, to live a blessed and happy life, and indulging in whatever employment they had enjoyed in life.
The reality in South Africa is disturbingly similar to Greek mythology. I find it incredibly upsetting.
Now add to the mix South Africa’s exploitation of the tax base.
The emotional tension of living in my house with its barb-wire-walls and alarm system became immense. I’ve built my own little “Elysium”, while just a couple of kilometres down the road, people are hungry and homeless. Again, generalising, but I found that for the most part “rich” people of any race found it easier and easier over time to justify this way of living as the levels of corruption and maladministration increased as it ultimately is the poor that are on social grants that keep voting in the corrupt government.
General frustration with the poor also increased. An unfortunate byproduct of social spending in South Africa is an unsustainable culture of entitlement by the poor. They demand, some times violently, a lot of things as non-contributing citizens which tends to lesson the sympathetic clout that they once enjoyed with the privileged.
And this is where it all tied together in a very tense knot for me that finally snapped. I cannot live in a country where either side can justify an unsustainable way of living. If the politicians’ answer to the poor majority is more and more taxation, and the poor’s answer to their own problems is “take from the rich” instead of “build with the rich”, then you have to concede that there is a finite amount of stuff to take before you run out of “solution”. If there is no synergistic feedback loop in your solution then you do not have a solution.
If the answer to poverty driven violent crime is to build higher walls, then the hight of the walls will always chase the latest level of crime which may have no limit as people get poorer and more desperate. This solution does not scale. It is not a solution.
Rather than hide behind justification and continue to live in fear and leisure, I have chosen to exit the country. I don’t have a solution. I cannot solve this problem individually and I do not have faith in the groups that are trying to solve the solution. I’d rather admit it and leave, than sit in luxury with my head in the sand pretending we’ll be okay. All my education and engineering intuition is screaming at me that the country is on an unstable path.