A few years ago, in pre-children days, I went travelling around the world. I was a little older than your average back-packer (29 when I left, 30 when I returned) but nevertheless followed a typical backpacker route through Hong Kong, to Australia and on to New Zealand. To be honest, despite my, err hum, advanced years, I had the time of my life.
But one of the things that niggled in the back of my mind the entire time I was in Australia was that country’s abundance of dangerous animals – ranging from the tiny redback spiders that I thought I would find in my shoes every morning, to the nasty sharks we saw circling in the water off the coast of Fraser Island.Snakes, scorpions, box jellyfish for goodness sakes – the list of things that were going to “get” me seemed endless and it was with relief that I stepped onto the plane to New Zealand unscathed.
However, when I mentioned these fears to a group of doctors I met while visiting with a medic friend just outside Sydney, they laughed at me. None of them had hardly ever seen, let alone been harmed by, any of these creatures. Yes, you had to be aware and you had to be careful, but most people seemed to manage to get away with it. However, they added, I must be used to being brave as I had been living near London. With all its IRA terrorists. And the bombs.
As you can imagine, this was quite perplexing to me. Yes, there had been a horrible bombing campaign by the IRA and yes you did have to be aware of things like untended bags left lying around at train stations. But apart from once, when I was due to go into central London on the night of a particularly nasty nail bomb attack (which wasn’t linked to the IRA and happened after my return from travelling), I can’t ever remember really being impacted by IRA terrorism in London.
But these doctors assumed it was something we all lived in fear of all day, every day – because that is what tends to happen with big news stories. They get blown out of proportion and then we lose perspective. Just like me and the deadly spiders.
So now that we are off to South Africa, I am trying to bear all of this in mind as I negotiate security courses and discussions about car-jackings, security guards and barred windows. I have been through all of this before, several times (including living in Kingston, Jamaica when it’s murder rate was one of the highest in the world), but it doesn’t make it any easier when you hear yet another story of a shooting or kidnapping. Especially as this time I’m bringing our children with us.
What can you do? I am hopeful that going on security courses will help me feel better able to cope with not just the reality of life in South Africa, but the perception of constant danger that accompanies it. I gain comfort from talking to people who are already living there, who say that as long as you are aware and careful you won’t feel any more at risk than in most towns and cities in the UK. I know that we have good security for our house, and that the school the children will attend is also safe.
But mostly I think I will deal with it by remembering the following:
• Most of the serious crimes in South Africa are committed in areas where we will probably never visit
• The majority of murders are not pre-meditated but are the result of an argument that gets out of hand or similar
• Most violent crimes take place between people who know each other
• Most victims of murder are young, black men
• The murder rate in the area where we will be living is a lot lower than the average murder rate for the country as a whole.
So in other words, although the crime statistics for South Africa are undeniably scary (and awful for those who don’t have the choices that we do), so long as we stay away from certain areas and are sensible, we are unlikely to be victims. Coming from a country where very few people carry guns, there is something nerve-wracking going somewhere that firearms are a common occurrence. But again, to put it into perspective, this has never put me off going on holiday to Florida.
There are victims of violent crime in South Africa, lots of them. Life is very, very tough for a lot of people living in its townships and downtown areas. But we will never have to live in these areas and we will always have proper protection, wherever we live. And if anything is going to put things into perspective, that is it.
Source for statistics: http://africacheck.org/2013/09/19/where-murder-happens-in-sa/
Born an expat, in Cuba to British diplomat parents, Clara Wiggins has travelled all her life, and has lived in 11 countries on 5 different continents.
Clara has used her extensive experience of living overseas, as a child, as a diplomat and as an accompanying spouse, to write a book 'The Expat Partner's Survival Guide. From how to organise an overseas move to what to do in the event of an earthquake, the Expat Partner's Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet in-depth guide for anyone considering moving abroad.
Order your copy now.