Often when I go somewhere new the first few things someone will say about the place are the most recent stories of crime and violence. To me, when I choose to go somewhere or I’m sent somewhere for work the first things that enter my mind are ‘what wildlife have they got there’ and ‘what’s the food like’. Then later I will evaluate whether I’ll wear my nice watch out or my work watch; that’s it. I won’t research recent murders, I won’t pay attention when someone tries to tell me how many backpackers have been chopped up into a thousand pieces and sold on the black market, and I certainly won’t be deterred when someone moans about being mugged or beaten up especially when they conveniently leave out the fact that they were drunk and loudly roaming the streets at night.
When I arrived in Durban I was told straight away that it was not a good idea to even step off the ship without a man to go with me, to not even walk 100m down the dock in broad daylight. See this is tricky for me because I’m a very active person and I find it really difficult to be alongside but not be able to stretch my legs and get fresh air, I might as well be at sea because it’s just a tease!
When I went to Rio to visit my friend who was studying out there the first thing everyone said to me was ‘Be careful’. Not ‘Wow, have a great time’ or ‘It’s supposed to be beautiful, you’ll love it’ nope, just plain and simple negativity. See, I find this so strange because when someone tells me they’re going somewhere or doing something, unless it’s not by choice I’ll always say ‘wow that sounds amazing’ and then if it’s considered a dangerous place I might ask what tips they have for staying safe etc. But to jump straight into a ‘be careful it’s so dangerous there people are always stabbed blah blah blah’ How negative can you get? It’s like when you sit down with your food and someone says ‘Ew that looks disgusting’, how bloody rude, no?
I’m not stupid therefore I know that there are dangerous places and safer places, I know that as young, western female it is unsafe for me to go walking on my own in dodgy areas etc. I have common sense and although I enjoy myself I never let my guard down because I know what can happen. If you do this then you and your belongings are nine out ten times safe and a lot of the time I feel that fear can make people careless and often the people that worry the most are the people that find themselves in sticky situations.
I met with two friends the other night for dinner, both local Durban girls, and naturally the conversation turned to the current reputation of the city. I was grateful to hear some honesty and realism as I find it irritating that the people who are so quick to dish out warnings are the ones that never actually visit these places themselves. They both said that yes, of course Durban and South Africa as a whole is and can be quite unsafe if you put yourself in dangerous positions. By habit the girls lock their cars after getting in and they don’t enter certain neighbours that have a reputation for being very poor and potentially unsafe. It’s also known that the roads can be unsafe with people being known to stage breakdowns, asking for help and then robbing you and that occasionally stopping at traffic lights is not wise as there could be people waiting to start trouble knowing that you are forced to stop for them. By all means it’s not what we’re used to, but then again I do live in Brixton so I’ve had a taste of the kind of vibes that circulate after dark, but thankfully I’ve never had any trouble.
But the girls also said that they love their city, that it’s their home and that like every city it has its good areas and its not so good areas. During my travels I have come to find that the more culture in a place the higher the risk of danger. The more vibrant and multicultural, the more susceptible the area becomes for racism, disagreement and threat. Maybe it’s because the excitement of danger is sensual, it’s heat. All the best dancing, performing, traditions- they all come hand in hand with risk. Risk is thrilling and it’s adrenaline, it makes you feel alive and when you’re alive you create and produce. It a pressure that people thrive on, we all know how good breaking the rules feels (unless you’re my dad who, with fear, gets a sweat moustache at the mere thought of catching an earlier train instead of the one it states on his ticket). People aren’t in their right minds when intoxicated with passion, with lust, with drugs and in this state is where a lot of the world’s most famous artwork, music and literature is born, but sadly this is often shadowed by corruption.
Why is it that in a country, which with the incredible leadership of Mandela fought so hard for peace, the fragile frame of reconciliation is once again weakening? Since being here I have found the people to be very hospitable, kind and helpful and I’ve found myself wondering… Where does the culture end and the crime start? By nature, African’s are supposedly some of the most hospitable and generous people in the world. To give and to share is a heavy part of a lot of African cultures and although I myself haven’t experienced very much of Africa friends of mine have confirmed this with stories of great kindness and protection shown to them by the local communities. I have noticed that manners are big here in South Africa and although I always would, I tend to put in the extra effort even if I’m feeling stressed or tired, to ask them how they are and bid them a nice day when leaving; I feel this really make a difference, and you often get a broad smile in return.
So why is the prospect of danger pressed upon us so forcefully here? I know a lot of it has to do with money and drugs, addiction being a large issue and the money to fuel it not being available. So there is a constant struggle for income, understandably given that the minimum wage here is not liveable, jobs are few and far between and even if you do manage to find employment you could be looking at being on as little as R7- The equivalent of 40p an hour. You rely solely on tips and the only people that are likely to tip well are tourists, but with the level of crime and threat increasing the amount of tourists dwindles, as does the wage of the locals. This is such a shame because South Africa is stunning and is home to some of the worlds most beautiful and cherished wildlife, culture and diversity but this is all extremely underappreciated due to the stigma around it.
I’m not sure of the best way to tackle the issue of corruption but I do feel that fearing and hiding from it is not the way to go about it. After all, it is what people say it is and if we treat things as if they are dangerous and threatening then they will continue to be so until we face up to it and integrate ourselves amongst it; diluting a hostile situation with peaceful majority.
But anyway, so far I’ve watched The Sharks play rugby in the big stadium, I’ve sipped on pink pomegranate G+T on tap and I’ve watched traditional African tribe dancing on the beachfront so one can’t complain
Thoughts on crime and culture?