It was about 10 PM. The man walked across the street, wearing a black coat and carrying a small plastic bag in his right hand. I noticed him because no one walks here at night. Darkness threatens safety more than anything you could actually see.
Within the broad category of horror films there is a sub-genre focusing on home invasions. Think of films such as Panic Room, Funny Games, The Strangers or Inside, which share the common theme of someone inside being threatened by something/someone outside. Now, for most people this remains merely a type of horror movie, something to watch and then to forget.
Sadly, in South Africa home invasions are a very possible threat, with escalating violence attached to mere break-ins in recent years. I will not pretend to be an expert on the underlying social issues of the country, on whether race plays a role (or the size of the role) and on the occurrence and effect of home invasions in other countries. But I live in a house with two laser beams in the garden, an electric fence, an enormous black gate, slam-lock doors inside the house, burglar bars in front of all windows/doors and more keys than I have fingers.
And this is not because we bury ourselves underneath some irrational fear of everything outside of our walls. It is because I can't remember how many times people have broken into our house; it is because we have a community watch where people have radios and drive patrol through the neighbourhood because the police have proved incompetent at best; it is because 4 men where in our house and assured me they wouldn't rape me; it is because at night we treat traffic lights like yield signs; ultimately, it is because once the fear has taken hold it grows like a cancer and there is no cure in sight.
It shouldn't be strange for someone to walk home at night. I shouldn't always have think about keeping a good distance from other cars when I am stopping at a robot just in case I get smash-and-grabbed and need to escape. We shouldn't have to patrol our neighbourhood. The one should not be afraid of all that is other.
Yet I don't see anything changing soon, especially if the Rand keeps weakening, poverty keeps increasing, people cling to mistrust and the rainbow nation focuses more on sticking to its individual colours than to creating a beautiful whole. Sure, things are changing, we keep evolving as a young democracy, but it always seems to me as though the population is out in the wilderness somewhere, searching for a better life for all, whilst the politicians are like monkeys in a cage, throwing shit at one another.
I'll be moving to Germany soon, not to become some expat who keeps assuring everyone that 'leaving was the best thing I ever did' but who still clings to past illusions of this country. Rather, I am going to continue my studies, with no further plans. But it will be interesting to live in less fear. Here, I often hear myself saying: this is the way it is, so we live with it. This is not the way it should be. We are immensely privileged to live in such a diverse country, where both the nature and the people are astounding, and no one should be struggling this much for basic health services, basic education, basically feeling safe.