BY the time your typical white resident of Cape Town has moved into the third sentence, some variation of the word ‘safety’ has already arisen in the conversation.
The same applies most everywhere else in South Africa.
Stern warnings are offered about the danger of wandering about after dusk, or displaying items of value at any time. Advice is proffered.
It needs to be, as some overseas visitors are their own worst enemy. Like giving their debit card to a friendly soul offering to help manipulate a local ATM machine and who absconds swiftly with both card and currency.
Or the smiling passerby who says he’ll take a group photo on your smart phone then refuses to return the device without payment. On the scale of felonies, very small indeed; more humiliating really.
But greater hazard, and potential violence, awaits the unwary. And that’s why South Africa is a country where wariness pervades.
The place is run by a corrupt and incompetent government – the spirit and vision of the Nelson Mandela years having been washed away by the greed and avarice of the new black elite. Its like is well known to Papua New Guineans.
No one steals more from anyone than they steal from, and have stolen from in the past, the people in the townships who have hardly anything to steal and have it stolen anyway.
Townships. Seems like a friendly enough word at first pass. Pleasant communities where pleasant people live pleasant lives. But South Africa under the whites – as it was until 1994 - gave the word ‘township’ special meaning: a place to where you are consigned when you have been stripped of your land, your dignity and even your soul.
In 1910 the Union of South Africa was given independence from Britain and just three years later the Natives' Land Act was passed to greatly restrict land ownership by blacks. It was a cynical Afrikaner deed that marginalised an entire people.
The subsequent enactment of the apartheid system (legally prescribed black-white separation) after World War II made things worse. A well-heeled white community, 20% of the population, suppressing a black community existing in mostly squalid conditions.
In 1994, when black rule arrived, more than half of those whites fled – many to Australia.
South Africa, for all its natural beauty and resource wealth, is an unhappy place. Nearly 50 murders are committed each day, a rate five times the global average. More women are raped each year than finish high school. The private security industry is the largest in the world.
The visitor would never guess this in Cape Town’s white enclaves, groaning under the weight of boutiques and bars, and alive with new apartment construction as wealthy people move here from other parts of Africa and continental Europe.
Camps Bay, where we had lunch yesterday, could be Sydney’s Double Bay. Houses commonly sell for upwards of $10 million; you can’t get a decent apartment for less than two.
On the footpath opposite where we ate, a black Santa sitting on a stone wall played Christmas carols on a golden saxophone.
Three gumboot dancers cavorted in the gutter, creating rhythms by slapping boots and bodies and stamping their feet and keeping alive a century old Johannesburg mining tradition,.
Half interested diners watched on. But I suspected the word ‘safety’ was never far from their lips.