Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sleepless But Secure in South Africa

The facility was fortified. With four strands of electrified wire tilted to the outside, and razor-sharp glass embedded in the concrete, both found atop 10 foot high, 18 inch thick brick walls surrounding the entire compound, it seemed impenetrable. The only ready means to enter the property was through two man-doors and a car gate, all of which were remote controlled and constructed of heavy gauge steel without visible hinges, locks or handles that could be broken off to gain access. It would've taken either very large equipment or military vehicles to breach the security perimeter. Even the call buttons to gain the attention of the occupants were protected by a heavy barred steel box. Once inside the gate, safety awareness continued a priority. Each window of each building, even the upper floors, had bars cemented in place. Each exterior door was, in fact, two doors; the outside one being heavy gauge steel and deadlock bolts. I suppose one just needs to be careful, even if it is the bed-and-breakfast where we are staying in Johannesburg.
As I lay awake our first night in Africa, having endured a relatively sleepless transatlantic flight, I wondered if everyone in this country had safety and security on the top of their mind? Does fear, like a low-grade fever, simmer just below the surface for residents of the most wealthy and "western" country in Africa? I asked our South African contact, once the chief of security for Nelson Mandela during his term as the first black president in South Africa. "It's all relative." he said. And as an international consultant on personal security, he should know. We went on to discuss the concept of "normal". While homeowners living in the suburbs and outlying areas around Vancouver might well leave their doors open while down the street visiting the neighbors, and bars on the windows or doors are not dreamed of, that is a "normal" based on a different circumstance. Safety and security in one global location may be either inadequate or overkill in another. In places in South America we were told to keep the car doors locked and windows rolled up when driving. We were instructed that it might elicit gun fire to take pictures of the slum areas. Thievery of money or valuables, such as cellular phones, watches and jewelry, are matters to be mindful of in many cities around the world. It is all relative.
Perceptions of personal safety and security needs have profoundly changed, especially in our post-9/11 world. Gone are the days when a young child could walk to primary school alone, as I did starting in kindergarten. We do not leave keys in the car. We wear seatbelts. We accept the need for multiple levels of security screening at airports, even if illogical - like confiscating my 3" nail file only be given a 6 " stainless steel knife with my dinner on board.  Even entering public buildings often requires a metal detector, which we have accepted as normal. We are given instructions on how to protect ourselves from identity theft. Helmets are required to ride bicycles. It is certainly a different safety and security "normal" than it was 30 years ago. One that cannot be ignored.
Having now traveled more than 20,000 km on our trip around the world, this topic has been top of mind almost continuously. As foreigners in each location, we are labeled as exposed and vulnerable. But one cannot live by fear. If we do, the terrorists, whose sole strategy is the generation of fear, win. Fear is like Parkinson's disease. It immobilizes, causes us to tremble, and muddles our thinking. How then can we respond to the fear that PD produces?

I found some answers based on the words of an experienced international security advisor.
1. Understand the threat. Ignorance and fear of Parkinson's produce paranoia.
2. Anticipate the opposition. How will the disease attack us? How has it in the past?
3. Plan for and prepare the response. This is your life. Develop a strategy with the best chance of succeeding. You decide.
4. Have faith in your ability to prevail. Confidence is to have faith in the resources available, including your own.
5. Persevere. Fear, and PD, will not just go away. We must be mentally tough if we are to effectively face our opponents.
As Franklin Roosevelt said, “…it is time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. We must not shrink from honestly facing the harsh … conditions … today. … And so, I wish to reassert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
It feels perfectly safe in South Africa, despite the indicia of things to fear. However, I may feel differently tomorrow as we enter Krueger National Park in search of "the big five" (lions, elephants, leopards, rhinoceroses and cape buffalo).


  1. When did Carson start wearing pink underwear?
    Have a wonderful time in Krueger...when Carson and I were at a smaller game park in South Africa we were like two sixth grade boys thrilled to see what we were seeing. I look forward to reading your responses to that unique opportunity...Sizobonana!
    Nawa takieni neema ya Mungu na amani kutoka kwa Mungu Baba yetu na kwa Bwana wetu Yesu Kristo.

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