Should I buy pepper spray and other questions to ask when living in a dangerous country
I guess I’ve never really written about crime in South Africa. Part of the reason is that I’m blessed with a life in central Cape Town which is safer than most of the country. Also, I don’t really want to spread what you cannot describe in any other way than white paranoia about safety issues in the city. Some parts are indeed very dangerous but I assure you these are not the areas the scared people live in or even visit. You really have to sieve through what you hear from the (white) locals as their views are often highly exaggerated. Having said that, the issue of safety was addressed few times in recent conversations and hence the need to write about the topic.
The first question I was asked that surprised me, was whether I want to insure my engagement ring. It is a golden ring with a diamond of a considerable size, but its value to me is mostly sentimental. The question of insurance seemed weird mostly because I have never had anything insured. I can understand car and house insurance but South Africans I know insure much more than these things. People try to protect many valuables in this way as well as devices of everyday use such as laptops and iPhones. All that in fear of losing it to a burglar or a mugger. These fears are not entirely unfounded, but I really don’t want to live like this. I wouldn’t like to spend few hundred rands monthly waiting for a valuable of mine to be stolen. For me this isn’t a reasonable safety measure. If I’m supposed to prepare myself for a possible loss of it by paying for insurance, what is the point and pleasure of having it at all? Maybe my views on the matter would have been different if I had lived in South Africa all my life, I can’t know this for sure.
The other question I was asked was whether I was going to get myself a pepper spray. I don’t think I’ll do it either. To me carrying something in preparation for being attacked means embracing the culture of violence. Of course, if all my friends had stories to tell me about being attacked it would seem like a reasonable precaution. Fortunately, this is not the case. Should I then carry something in my bag at all times that may never be used? What is more, even in dangerous situations pepper spray is only of circumstantial use. I wouldn’t like to define my life by fear and a possibility of something bad happening. Bad things happen anyway and you can never be prepared for all possibilities. There are reasonable measures of safety such as avoiding certain areas at certain times but I don’t think that carrying pepper spray is one of them. Yet again maybe in this regard my views would be different too if I was born here.
Last but not least, most middle class people in Cape Town will assume that you have a car. For many representatives of this group not having one is as unimaginable as not having a limb. I’m not saying that having a car wouldn’t make my life easier but at the moment it’s just not something I can have. The answer to the question: “So how do you move around?” is simple – by public transport. Even though many (white) South Africans will advise you against using it you can move around relatively safe. My Citi buses are not perfect means of transport in terms of reliability but you can use them without fear. I haven’t tried out other available bus providers but the only complaints I heard were about reliability and not safety. I wrote about the use of public transport before but after a few years here I’d advise more safety measures to take when using public taxis. In brief, listen to your heart (lalalala) and avoid taxis very early in the morning and late at night, try to make sure there are other passengers on the board and don’t flash with jewellery and technology. One can also try out a bike but driving habits in Cape Town are bad.
To conclude, life in Cape Town is potentially dangerous. Muggings, burglaries and assaults happen quite often and everyone knows someone who has been a victim of violence. Nevertheless, I don’t think that living in fear is an answer to the problem. One should consider the issues of safety carefully and use whatever measures they feel are adequate, keeping in mind the unpredictability of life. After all we are all responsible for ourselves and our decisions.