Today I met some old friends for coffee. They still live in South Africa and it’s been six years since last I saw them. So it was really lovely to catch up, see how they’ve been doing, meet their family – and of course hear about life back in sunny South Africa.
Thing is, after speaking to them, South Africa doesn’t sound all that sunny. Okay – so it still has the best climate in the world. But can you imagine going home from work at the end of the day, arriving back at the gated, electric-fenced complex in which you live, and having a security guard armed with a massive shotgun let you in? My friends justified it by saying they feel safe this way. They don’t have to fear armed attackers following them home.
Think it sounds odd? It’s not. The same friend went to fetch her son from another friend’s house. She was followed in by two men carrying guns. Holding her by the arm, with the gun shoved against her, they led her and the home owner through the house, while the kids played unknowingly in another room. The home owner had a packet of money stashed away for exactly such a crisis. She gave them the money, and they left. Had they not had the money, God only knows what could have happened. In this case, it was a happy ending.
Yep, I know what it’s like. I’ve been in that situation. When we lived in Johannesburg, and went to visit friends, we are also followed by two men with guns. Or should I say two boys. They couldn’t have been older than 15 or 16. They made us lie on the ground and took our car- and everything else we had – with them and vanished into the township close by. Even the police were too scared to follow them in.
We left South Africa soon after that. Our friends have not. Lots of friends have not. I sit here and wonder how on earth they can live with that kind of fear. A very real fear on an every day basis. Do they wake up every morning (like I used to) and wonder if this is the day the fatal shot will finally be fired? (Yes, I’m sorry to tell you it has happened to people we know. Yes, more than one.)
And to think that last week I discovered we’d left our back door open for a few days by mistake. I tut tutted and reminded myself not to do that again. In South Africa, it could have been a lethal oversight.
Damn, I’m glad I no longer live that way.