Secure Living - A New Form of Elitism?

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

It comes as no surprise that the alleged murder of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius has been dominating international headlines. However, one report that has been republished around the world, suggesting that wealthy South Africans who live on secure estates could be practising a form of apartheid is extremely disturbing.

Headlines such as ‘Pistorius Case Shines Light on South Africa’s Fortified Homes’ and ‘Pistorius Gated Home No Safe Haven’, have brought the issue of secure estates to the fore.

One of the issues that emerged from this sad saga was the underlying reason for the existence of secure estates. In a report published on the Times Live website, Erna Van Wyk, a psychologist at the University of Witwatersrand stated those who live in secure estates are seeking to create a lifestyle that is out of touch with what contemporary urban living actually is.

"Many people in gated communities seek to create a somewhat idyllic lifestyle that fits the image of village life prior to rapid urbanization," Van Wyk said.

"At the same time, the lifestyle is predicated on wealth and a particular kind of elitism that excludes those outside of the bounds of such communities."

The report further stated that some felt this harkens back to a darker time in the country's history, with the erection of fortified enclaves being reflective of a new apartheid, where well-to-do whites seek to separate themselves from poorer blacks.

All fine and well, except, and we need to be very clear on this, many South Africans of all races live on secure estates. Are residents of secure estates solely motivated by a lingering need to separate themselves from their poorer neighbours? The suggestion that everyone living on a secure estate is motivated by a laager mentality seems more than a little unfair. It would be nice if we had the statistics on the rate of violent crime in “contemporary urban society” in comparison to the same statistics for secure estates. In a nutshell wanting to be safe does not necessarily equate to an exclusionary mind-set. If this was true, the same accusation would apply equally to placing walls around your property along with a security system and to residents in an old age home.

Everyone wants to feel safe and secure and according to the Constitution, this is a right. Unfortunately, in our society the only way to acquire that level of security is with money. It does not mean that these people do not feel compassion for less fortunate people who have to live with criminal elements - not because they want to but because, due to their financial circumstances, they are forced to.

What are those who live in secure estates expected to do? Break down the walls, dismantle the electric fence, disgorge their wealth and expose themselves to criminals and non-criminals alike?

Tarring secure estates with the apartheid brush and purporting to know the mind-set of all people living there would appear to be a harsh generalisation. People across the country are concerned about high levels of violent crime and are taking radical steps to protect themselves.

"In the past 10 years, the demand for these things (secure estates) has increased almost exponentially, because people have been worried about crime," said Garth Jaeger, director of Garnat Properties, the developer behind Silver Woods.

Let’s be honest here, the levels of crime and increasing amount of violence perpetrated on the victims is of grave concern across all sectors of society.

It has been stated that no walls were high enough to protect Reeva Steenkamp; of course they weren't. Domestic violence (if this is indeed the case here) is not a societal ill that is restricted to people who do not live in secure estates. However, living in a secure estate did not necessarily make Reeva a refugee from ‘contemporary urban society’.

gated communities

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