south africa police
Security high on the agenda in South Africa (Reuters)

So we've done it. We've finally moved into a place all of our own, complete with garden (of predominantly purple and blue hues), braai area (so we can pretend to be real South Africans) and internet connection (so we can interact with the world).

And then there's the added bonus of living in a neighbourhood in which all of the streets are named after grape varieties - Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, Shiraz, it goes on.

Well, seeing that we're living in a wine-growing area and being partial to the odd glass of vino myself, the novelty of the naming convention does have a certain appeal.

Another allure of our new living quarters is having tons of space to expand ourselves and our belongings into.

After being squashed into a tiny two-room (not including bathroom) self-catering apartment for a month or so, the luxury of being able to stroll around a spacious (and light) three-bedroom house at your leisure - and put your stuff into the myriad wardrobes and drawers that dot the place, and still have room to spare - is a revelation.

Just as much of a revelation though is the sheer number of security appliances that there are littering the place. It's like Fort Knox in here.

Security paraphernalia

While I'd already gathered that everyone was totally paranoid about personal security (undoubtedly with good cause), I hadn't understood quite to what extent people feel like they need to lock themselves in to feel safe.

And the Cape region has nothing on Johannesburg where, from what I hear, most middle-class houses are surrounded by security fences or locked into gated communities, and everyone is constantly looking over their shoulder.

But there's also a whole set of security paraphernalia that I never even knew existed before I came to South Africa - although I was somewhat familiar with laser beam-based systems, one of which we have here, of course.

But on top of that, there are also metal screen or trellis-screen doors barring access from every major entry point. We have burglar bars on all of the windows and panic buttons and/or portable remote control devices to press should something go wrong.

And taking such action will quickly alert the seemingly ubiquitous South African security provider, ADT. You'll know who they are if you ever come here because their yellow signs with blue lettering are plastered on the side of nearly every middle class home, and business, in the country, it seems.

Reassuringly, I'm told that a cohort of guards should arrive within minutes if anything does kick off, even though most of the crime in this area tends to be opportunistic theft rather than anything more serious, as far as I can gather.

The thing is, though, that with all this security everywhere, it does put you off going out a bit. By the time you've turned alarms on and off and locked and unlocked a couple of hundred doors of one type or description in your vain attempt to take the air, you do wonder whether it was worth the effort.

Biting the bullet

So we've started going out by the garage now because at least all you have to do is open and close the door with a clicker, before pressing a green button to activate the alarm - even if you do have to scramble around, or even into, the car.

Another reason that I'm going to have to give myself stern talking-tos to make sure that I actually go out, however, is my ongoing fear of driving. The thing is that you really can't get around here without a car - it's like the US in that way - and so I'm just going to have to bite the bullet.

Our friends in the northern suburbs were amazed when I said that I hadn't driven for the last 13 years - and hadn't needed to because the UK's public transport system is so good, in the towns and cities at least.

But after a nasty accident in California, I was left with mild panic attacks every time I got in a vehicle to drive (which I did nearly every day), until I came back to the UK, when I didn't. And the little panic attacks became big ones.

Still after oodles of hypnotherapy and a bunch of refresher lessons with a lovely lady called Val, I'm getting there. I still haven't been out on my own yet, but I have driven with my Beloved sitting (relatively) calmly in the passenger seat.

And so my mission for the week is to drive from our little suburb into Stellenbosch, on my own, at least once. After which point, I shall definitely follow the example of our compelling street signage and treat myself to something cool, crisp, and calming. . .

Cath Everett is a resting journalist who has written about business, technology and HR issues for over 20 years. She recently moved from the UK to South Africa with her husband.


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