Crime Time (Growing Up In One Of The Most Dangerous Countries In The World)
When most people hear that I grew up in Africa, their mind immediately wanders to images of a little Tarzan-like bush child, roaming the dense African savannahs and grasslands with a pet lion by my side. This might be a slightly exaggerated opinion, but I really have been asked, countless times by a very ignorant few, if I do indeed have a pet *insert wild animal here*, if I live in a mud hut and, quite shockingly, why am I not darker skinned? I'm not saying that every human who does not come from the African continent is as uneducated as this, but many people do have a rather wild (pun intended) set of ideas when it comes to picturing what life in Africa is really like.
Where I come from, instead of fending off wild animals, you're fending off mosquitoes, the harsh African sun, oh and also thieves who would slit your throat just to rob you of your cellphone.
Let me paint a clearer picture for you. I grew up in Africa, South Africa to be more exact. Many people think that South Africa is a place of mud huts and wild animals, which is true in a sense, but it is also a country of modern technology, expansive skylines, beautiful art and impressive cultures. This country is mind blowing in a sense that you can wake up and look out on an idyllic beach, drive for a while and explore the impressive mountains, and finish off your day with a safari. The scenery takes your breath away, the people are the most interesting you'll ever meet, and the overall vibe and friendly nature of the country will warm even the coldest of hearts, trust me, I should know. But it's not all fun and games, not until someone gets hurt that is.
I am at the ripe old age of just nineteen years, I have not even reached my twentieth birthday, yet I have already been mugged twice, both times at gunpoint. I am extremely lucky in a sense that neither times was I hurt, but one can't help but wonder 'what if?'. Currently sitting in my quaint little seaside apartment (in a building containing security guards, protected entrances and multiple CCTV cameras), I can count the number of streets in a five-block radius where my friends and peers have also seen violence, mostly in the form of being mugged. In a sad way, in South Africa, its almost as if being robbed is a rite of passage. In some dark and twisted way, you haven't seen the real South Africa until you've needed to report a crime.
Here are a couple of numbers for you to mull over; in the years of 2015/16, 18 600 murders were recorded, (almost 53% of which were in my province), 51 800 recorded cases of sexual offences such as rape or sexual assault amongst others were reported, and more than 164 000 cases of assault were recorded, (which works out to be roughly 440 people reporting being assaulted each day). And these are just the cases that are reported to the police, the number of unreported crimes in this country is immense.
I recently traveled to London and was shocked to see how trusting people are over there. I was almost petrified to walk alone anywhere. I had to be heavily convinced by family members who live there that it is perfectly normal to walk the streets after dark, yet for the first few days if someone walked too close to me on the street I would feel an all too familiar fear that something bad was going to happen. It took some time to get out of my constantly 'on edge' mindset, which has become the norm for me, as well as many other young female South Africans. (Not to say that males aren't targeted too, in fact I just recently met a man who was held up in his own living room by a group of thieves armed with AK-47s.) As a South African, I have this constant feeling that I need to protect myself, by means of never leaving the house without pepper spray, always making sure valuables such as cellphones are out of sight and never wearing expensive or flashy looking items.
Growing up in South Africa can be tough when one considers crime as a main factor, with many families choosing to leave the country in order to live with their families in relative peace, away from the madness. Yet as human beings we can't help but to question 'why?'. Why do people feel the need to harm others, to take what is not theirs? The answer is, for the most part, fairly simple. We are a developing nation, with a massive number of people living with far less than others. You don't have to venture very far to see what real poverty looks like, because it is everywhere. A simple short drive down the road will give you a quick glimpse, with people (most times children) begging on the side of the road. You would most probably drive past a township, which is an underdeveloped urban living area made up of substandard housing or 'shacks'. You would see scrawny stray dogs trotting about and random cows or sheep or goats that came from god-knows-where casually roaming the streets.
But it is sights like these that you learn to get used to, and sometimes even learn to enjoy. Although there is the constant daily threat of vicious crime lurking around many corners, there is also a sense of raw beauty that goes with it. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most, if not the most beautiful places on this planet. Where else will you find a place so raw, so breathtaking, so savage, so serene, so alluring? The views will leave you in awe, the people will leave you feeling loved, the culture will leave you feeling educated, and sure, you will probably leave a cellphone or a piece of jewellery less, but hey, shit happens right?