High security nirvana


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 03 Apr 05

When Bush and Blair began their “war on terror” after 9/11 and the world turned paranoid with fear, when Haiti collapsed and Grenada crumbled, and Guyana sunk deeper into its divided politics, we were glad we were floating obscurely somewhere in the ocean of the Americas. Glad we didn’t live in the Europe and America of terror threats, in the Africa of famine, in the India of conflict and poverty, in the bloody mess that is the Middle East. Glad we had the oil Haiti and Jamaica never had.


We ought, if we don’t want to become extinct, to keep our eyes peeled to the world, watch for trends. And as Naipaul said once “who cares about the politics of a country of 1.3 million people,” we may as well sink as far as the world is concerned.


The eggs of a monster newly burgeoned in Jo’berg have already hatched here in the form of gated communities which have sprung up all around us as our own new utopia.


I discovered that in a chilling feature titled Eden In An Electric Fence in The Guardian Weekly which tells of the chilling existence of Dainfern, a walled fortress in Johannesburg, “the costliest secure space in Africa” which is designed to protect its residents from crime and fear.


“Jo’berg,” reports journalist Christopher Hope, “is the city of beautiful walls where people fortify their houses, barricade their flats, electrify their fences, buy dogs and guns. Or they move into cluster-villages, gated, guarded and patrolled round the clock. The hijacker who wants your car will shoot a black businessman as easily as a white housewife. “What segregates South Africans these days is security. It’s cash, not colour that counts.”


Strike a chord?


The gated community of Dainfern apparently is “the answer to the Jo’bergers prayer: to live an unlocked life in a safe place where no bullets fly and car jackers fear to tread.”


It’s a cocoon of dappled sunshine, a golf course, and carefree homes. The residents are living in a fool’s paradise. Out of its gated walls, South Africa is riddled with violent crime, created by its barbaric history of apartheid and politics of race.


A chunk of the price tag for this freedom from fear is invested in security systems in gated communities. Intruders to Dainfern risk being electrocuted, shot or arrested.


“Embedded in the walls that ring the enclave are seismic sensors. Reinforced steel bars reach down three metres into the earth to stop human moles who might tunnel beneath the fortifications. Detectors along the length of the perimeter wall listen for incursions. An electric fence tops the walls and carries enough current, a police notice warns, ‘to cause death.’ Closed circuit cameras check the perimeter defences. In the gatehouse control room staff screen and record every visitor who comes and goes. Rapid reaction vehicles stand ready, and frequent armed patrols glide through the area.”


“Dainfern is selling safety in a dangerous world. The idea that you can buy yourself out of a nation state and into a high-security nirvana. It is not an anachronism in the new South Africa. It is the future in which, as the planners of Dainfern have realised, everyone will live in townships.”


This is contrasted with another sort of township Diepsloot “a vast apocalyptic place of rutted roads, shacks, thin children, constant funerals, dirt roads and dust.”


Touch a chord?


See the people on the Laventille hills and Caroni plains. See the contrasting tight-security high-rises?


The gap between the hunted in closed-up houses and the hunters in ghettos will never be closed with handout make work that keeps people dependent, neither will hostility towards business people do the trick. The politics of race will sink us.


We need a literacy drive, training, and sustainable jobs, for people, freeing up Cepep labour for manufacturing, industry and construction.


We need to redirect the oil money, from “make work” towards providing healthcare, housing, infrastructure and utilities for every citizen.

Or else.

Look, our new utopia. The gated community separating the hunter from the hunted. Each under siege in its own way.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur