Georgina Guedes

The undercurrent of fear

2014-04-08 13:04

Georgina Guedes

The Oscar Pistorius trial hinges, in part, on the ability of the defence to make it credible that, if Oscar heard movement in his bathroom, he would be more likely to believe it to be an intruder than his girlfriend.

Pistorius has taken to the stand to testify about how many members of his family have been victims of highjackings and burglaries. I don’t believe that he’s lying – he’d be silly to, under oath – but I do think that his family have particularly rotten luck, even in a country as crime ridden as South Africa.

This objective of this column isn’t to argue the respective merits of the defence’s and state’s arguments in the Pistorius trial. Even when the verdict is reached, we won’t have any idea of the truth, so there’s no point in going down that route.

But it has got me thinking about the “state of fear” we supposedly live in as South Africans. When I was travelling, I was often asked what it’s like to live in South Africa, and my response was always that it’s pretty great.

Sure there’s an awareness of crime and we take certain precautions. I always scan my road and wait until the electric gate is completely open before driving up my driveway. But I don’t do this filled with terror, I just do it as a rote step in the process of entering my home.

There are a thousand things like this that we probably all do every day. I often double back to make sure that I’ve properly locked my car even if it’s in a secure parking garage because “car jamming is a reality”. Every night, I close all our windows and lock the interior doors before putting on a burglar alarm.

My husband often does a second check of the front gate after he’s gone to bed, because he can’t remember if he closed it or not. We live in a house surrounded by an electric fence, and I don’t rest easy if for some reason it has malfunctioned (usually slugs, but the wires have been cut on two occasions).

When I drive around the city, I always store my laptop in the boot of my car, and my handbag out of sight. I’m conscious of the people around me at traffic lights, but not afraid. It’s that “not afraid” that’s crucial. Most of us are cautious, but not terrified.

Here are all the things I do, without fear:

I walk my dogs and children in the park every day.

I sometimes walk to the local shops.

I drive to restaurants in good areas on my own and in dodgy areas with my husband at night.

I keep my car window rolled down while I’m driving.

I visit friends and park my car in the street outside their houses.

I walk around my neighbourhood with friends or by myself.

I leave my front door open when I’m at home in the day (but I do have an electric fence around the perimeter of my property).

I sleep deeply at night, and when I hear noises, I assume it’s the cat.

My life feels pretty normal to me, but I suppose normality is relative. When I told people from other countries about how I scan the road outside my house, they told me that they “couldn’t live like that.”

My point is that, while South Africa has a crime problem – anyone who denies that is being silly – it’s not a country in which its citizens live in daily terror. So please, those of you around the world who are watching the Pistorius trial, don’t think of South Africa as it’s being painted.

Like so much else in this trial, our country is a victim of the legal process and only aspects of the truth are represented.

So, please, come to South Africa. It’s lovely here. And our criminals will probably only kill your wife if you pay them to.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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