I can't tell you how many South African accents I've overheard in south-west London pubs over the last few years. It's proof of the well-known fact that a lot of young "Saffers" flee the Southern Hemisphere in search of better career opportunities in the UK. But, I have done the exact opposite. Indeed, in early 2017 this British girl finally made the move, 11 hours due south on a very big plane, to Johannesburg. "Brave". I heard that one a lot in the few months before I left. It was almost a reflex response for anyone I told I was moving here.
But, to me "brave" always seemed a little over the top. "Brave" would be going to report on the outskirts of Al-Bab, Syria, without a bulletproof vest. "Brave" would be selling my worldly possessions and embarking on a solo round-the-world yacht expedition. But moving to one of the world's most beautiful countries, full of vibrant culture, amazing wildlife and delicious red wine? Is that really so brave? Or do British people have unfairly negative preconceptions of South Africa as a crime-ridden country?
Well, it turns out that statistics released this month by The South African Police Service don't exactly put one's mind at ease in this respect. In fact, some of the figures are actually pretty terrifying for a foreigner originating from a country where carjacking is something you've only ever heard of, and certainly only ever seen play out in a Grand Theft Auto game.
The most startling figures were in the "trio crimes" category. This includes carjacking, robbery on residential premises, and robbery on non-residential premises. They are classified as "aggravated robberies," and, combined, they have seen an increase of 8.2 percent between April and December 2016, in all of South Africa.
What I found even more disturbing was that carjacking alone was up by 14.9 percent. A total of 12,743 individual cases were reported in that same nine-month time frame. I'd arrived in Joburg with a fairly carefree and optimistic attitude, but that carjacking statistic, if nothing else, was actually quite scary to me. I began to think that maybe I was actually quite brave for living here. Upon hearing these figures, a chance meeting with a South African girl in one of the aforementioned London pubs last year crawled its way back into my mind. Her name was Danielle and she said something that has stuck with me ever since. In the most matter-of-fact way she told me that the "price of life" in South Africa was low, adding, "Oh yah, you'll be killed for your iPhone." "Oh...cool," I thought to myself.
So, there I was, sitting in the back of an uber driving through downtown Joburg, mulling it all over, repeatedly checking that the doors were locked. It was bordering on OCD. Just as I had convinced myself that I'd made a foolish decision moving to a country where carjacking was quite clearly happening on every road junction, the radio station hosts on 94.7 gave me a glimmer of hope.
They told their listeners that a recent report revealed that South Africa was the best place in the world to live, in terms of salary versus cost of living, giving the country a high "quality of life" score. Interestingly, close runners up were Kazakhstan and Oman. And, there was no surprise that overcrowded and overpriced London didn't even feature on the scale. With London off the cards, and neither Kazakhstan nor Oman offering me strong "pull factors," I arrived at my destination feeling positive once more that South Africa was a good decision after all.
At this point I'll mention that my pub friend Danielle had lived in Joburg her whole life, with no incident at all; no carjackings, no burglaries. Then, in her first week of living in London, she got mugged at knife-point on her way home from work. She now takes self-defence classes, something she had never even thought about doing in South Africa. To me, this was pretty ironic. In my whole life, in and around London, I can only recall two incidents. Someone tried to take my handbag on a train once. But he was really drunk and I snatched it back. Then, some guy decided to pleasure himself on the tube directly opposite me on the way to work. With eye contact.
I was horrified, reported it, laughed about it with my colleagues and then got over it pretty quickly.So perhaps, it's not really the case that there's necessarily any more crime in South Africa. I think the difference is that if something happens to you here there's a higher chance it will be violent. Not that that makes me feel much better of course. And then there was that AfriForum report which revealed police lost or had stolen over 6,000 guns between 2009 and 2014? Not very reassuring news, I'm sure most would agree.
But, I've now decided to prohibit myself from googling crime stories in my area. And I've also vowed to stop casually asking every Uber driver if he's ever been held at gunpoint. Mainly because the answer was far too often not what I wanted to hear. It's time to push all the scary statistics to the back of my mind because it's either that or adopting a housebound lifestyle, which somehow doesn't really appeal. It's not a case of being "brave," only vigilant. And, what with recent terror events in London, I'm saddened to admit that I'm not sure I'd be feeling all too safe there either anymore. So, if my time in South Africa ends with me having escaped falling victim to one of the big bad "trio" of crimes, I think I'll have to regard it as an overall success.