South African police use rubber bullets to disperse crowds in xenophobic violence, May 2008
[Photo source]

Crime wasn’t the reason why we left South Africa to come and live in England. We emigrated primarily because Stephen works in Health and Safety and that profession is taken so much more seriously in countries such as UK, Australia or Dubai. We chose the UK because I am a British citizen.

When we decided to leave though, it was as if I allowed myself for the first time to see how bad things really were in South Africa. I have a theory that if you are in any perilous situation, you have to put up shields in order to maintain integrity. I use the word “perilous” for a reason. The situation could be a job that is destroying your soul, a marriage that is leaving you empty or continuing to live in a country where you could be murdered the next day. In order to get up every single morning and continue to live your life and maintain integrity at the same time, you need to filter out much of what is going on and in a manner of speaking, you shield your vision with blinkers.

Once I decided to leave, I allowed myself to see for the first time and to grieve.

I did not lose any of my direct family or friends but those closest to me lost three people to gunshot wounds to the head. Three people murdered in hijacking or robberies and three times I helped those closest to me put their broken lives back together. One person lost to a broken heart.

I was in a bank robbery and received no debriefing afterwards. It took me a year to acknowledge that a gun had been pointed at my head by a man who was very willing to use it if we did not let him escape.

My cousin was hijacked and her son taken when they stole the car. He was returned but the damage was done.

Men with guns held up my friend’s kids and her parents. Three children under six years old and two older people and they held guns to their heads. They stole cell phones and jewellery.

I was attacked whilst in my car and a simple smash-and-grab turned into something more as I instinctively held on to my belongings and would not let go even while the perpetrator punched me repeatedly in the face.

A cousin’s uncle was shot three times in the chest in his driveway and survived.

My friend’s sister was held up at gunpoint whilst my friend was giving me an art lesson. She left our house to go pick her sister up at the side of the road.

I took a day off work due to the stress of being broken into three times in one month. Valentine’s Day 2000. They came back a fourth time while I was inside the house and my dog saved my life.

Friends held up in bank robberies, restaurants, in their cars. Smash and grabs, burglaries. Not being able to escape it as the photograph of someone you know is plastered on the front page of the newspapers for months after their murder.

I don’t often speak about it but I know people want to know. I know people want to ask but they are too scared to do so and I am afraid I will unravel if I tell them. I don’t often succumb to triggers but today was just one of those days and it all came flowing out.

Just for this post, please ask if you have questions and I will answer them as best I can.

Come back tomorrow for a post on Louis Theroux’s Law and Disorder in Johannesburg.

About Mandy Southgate

Mandy Southgate is an accountant living and working in London. She is passionate about world events such as genocide and apartheid and has a desire to understand how these events continue to occur in the modern world. With a focus on the 20th and 21st centuries, A Passion to Understand reflects her continuing research and reading on these topics.
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  1. What you say is soooooo true, I was a police detective for 22 years, I have seen and investigated the worst of scenes, and it is getting worse every day, even if the government is telling the world that crime rate has come down, it is a blatant lie, crime is getting worse every day and now in Port Elizabeth they are targeting elderly people or woman who cannot defend themselves. Kiled an elderly couple a week ago and assualted an elderly woman in her house a few days ago.
    Day before yesterday my friend's kid, a little girl of 8 and school mates were hi jacked when a black man put a gun to her nanny's head and took the car with the kids in the car. Fortunately the kids screamed so much while he was driving, he stopped and ran away. Now you imagine the horror those kids must have gone through. I go nowhere without my firearm cos one night my house alarm when off while I was out, my alarm calls my mobile, and i responded to the alarm myself. I was not armed but on my way, racing with my car's hazard lights on, a policeman started following me. I thought great, at least some help, only to get a nasty surprise, he was more worried cos i was speeding than about my potential burglary. I had to check the house on my own as he stood at the gate questioning my actions. so I went to my safe first to get my firearm, when he saw me armed, he told me to lay down my arm. Well I ignored him and continued to check my premisis. Fortunately it was a false alarm, but still, it gave me an indication of what to expect when something goes wrong. So, I go heeled at all times, and the Good Lord help the person who ever harms or threatens my family...
    Sorry for the long comment, I got carried away there for a moment, maybe it is a way of telling the world how terribly bad the crime is in South Africa.

  2. Hi Colin. You are welcome to the long comment and I appreciate you taking the time. Were you properly debriefed in the force? I think South Africans don't talk enough about the violence that surrounds them but as soon as you give people a chance, it all comes flowing out. The problem is that sometimes speaking about it alone can make you feel terribly exposed.

    They must look after that little girl and look out for signs of ptsd. Her story was triumphant though and they got the better of the guy.

  3. I was an anti-apartheid activist, but that didn't make me safe from the crime that affected everyone I know.

    We were burgled a number of times, mainly small things, but one big robbery wiped us out of all valuables. Pick axe to back door... white guys this time, ex-cons. Though there are bad eggs in UK too.
    Our shared weekend bolt-hole in Magaliesburg was burgled. My car was broken into countless times. I must have lost 5 car radios and replaced windows of my golf in Rosebank, Parktown North, Westdene, Melville and Westville.

    My children, then about 7 and 9yrs, were hijacked at gun point on Sunday afternoon in Randpark ridge. Over 10 years ago now, but they have never forgotten.

    My 60+ year old colleague was raped by 4 men who came through the roof of her house near Blackheath/Cresta, after tying up her 70+ year old infirm husband.

    My sister in law and family were robbed at gun point and daily had rocks thrown through their windows and were driven from their house, and foreced to move into an fenced estate. Recently 2011.

    My grandmother, then in her 80's, was attacked for her handbag and screamed so much she had a heart attack in Berea, Durban.

    My mother's duplex in Westville, near Durban was broken into and she was nearly throttled for her mobile phone.

    Another ex-colleague Ken Kirsen was killed.

    My daughter had her car window smashed and her mobile phone grabbed in Johannesburg.

    My uncle's 80+ mother-in-law was tied to the stair railings of their Houghton, Johannesburg home by robbers while they ransacked the house and left for 24hrs without food or drink.

    My dearest friends were attacked in their home in Westdene, Johannesburg at gun point. Injured and robbed.

    Friend shot through the head near Bruma Lake.

    2007 3 Westville girls were gang raped and dumped at Inanda dam.

    2010 my son was robbed and assulted

    I'm earning 1/3 of what I did in SA, but though I'm poor it's good to be alive and not have to worry everyday about my car, my flat or my life. Hallelujah. I'm in a crime ridden city of Southampton, and even here I feel SAFE compared to anywhere in SA

  4. Cay, thank you so much for sharing and what can I say? I am so sorry that you and your loved ones have gone through all of that. It was harrowing to read but as I read it, I realised that this is not normal and that is how people must feel when they read my story.

    Thank you again for visiting, sharing and commenting.

  5. Really horrible to read these stories. I lived in Jo'burg for 27 years. I was hijacked, so was my dad, my mom, my sister.

    HOWEVER - I never felt unsafe in Jo'burg. Despite the fact we didn't bother with electric fences, or have guns.

    I live in London now and, guess what, I feel a lot less safe here.

    A LOT less safe.

    Here I see violence every day. Not poverty driven violence, just violence for the sake of violence.

    THey just love being violent here. They love it, for some reason.

    I've been harassed, threatened, attacked, burgled, all in London and for what?? Rubbish weather and tiny houses? Ok, I earn more money here, but I don't feel safe and the quality of life blows donkey balls.

    I've now got a baby girl and this is no way for her to grow up. I think cape town's the best possible place to bring up a kid.

    Oh, by the way, crime going down in SA is no government-made fabrication or conspiracy. It's very, very true.

    1. Hi Grant, thank you for your comment. It sounds like you had a hectic time back in SA. I have a theory (based on my own experiences) that South Africans don't necessarily feel unsafe not because it is safe but because if they removed their blinkers and acknowledged their situation then they would unravel. We're also so used to hijackings that we allow ourselves to deny how serious it could be and that we could have died. I remember the day that I finally acknowledged that. It was 10 years after the fact and I was in England. I broke down to put it lightly.

      And I'm really, really sorry you feel unsafe in London. We live out in the suburbs in Dartford now for the very reason that I was not willing to live in a high crime neighbourhood.


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