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Living behind bars

Photographer: Kim Ludbrook

 

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I remember having a nice low hedge around our house, and a gate that had no lock on it. Every time we left the house, we locked the front door with a key and happily left the property, knowing nothing would happen; there would be no crime.

 

But now, some 30 years later and due to an increase in crime in South Africa, I lock the security gate to the front door of the house permanently, have panic buttons in various rooms of the house to be able to contact a security company, and I have metal spikes on the front wall of the house.

 

I am like millions of South Africans in that I live behind these bars, separated from society and dehumanized by the criminals.

 

This crime wave that has hit the country affects citizens from all walks of life, income groups and areas. Criminals do not discriminate when it comes to choosing their victims. The most feared crime in the country is house break-ins. Thus, 50 percent of households have taken to adding security measures and hiring private security companies to patrol the streets.

 

These companies are now worth 45 billion ZAR (3.7 billion US dollars) per year and employ 490,000 people. By comparison, there are only 195,000 officers in the South African police force.

 

It has become rare in many suburbs of the major cities to see anyone outside their homes and in the streets. Most live behind high walls and bars, separated from each other over this fear caused by crime.

 

In 2016/17, 22,343 house robberies were recorded in South Africa. On average, 61.2 households were robbed each day, according to data from the Africa Check fact-checking organization. The house robbery rate increased from 37.9 per 100,000 people in 2015/16 to 40 in 2016/17.

 

Living behind these bars to protect ourselves has in effect made us prisoners in our own homes. Criminals will also end up living behind bars if they get caught.