Part 2 in my South Africa series
In particular, security measures are pervasive in the physical form of the city. Although some of the security measures date from the apartheid era, sadly many are new. Cement walls or metal fences surround almost every house or apartment building. These walls can range quite widely. Some deter intruders with a traditional spiked wrought iron fence, perhaps embellished with sharp fleur-de-lis. Many have barbed, razor, or electrified wires. One house we found in a trendy neighborhood was defended by shards of glass set into the concrete wall. Oddly, this wall was decorated with widely spaced letters spelling “LOVE”
Other measures were also common. Windows on homes are barred, even in the rural area we visited over two hours’ drive from Cape Town. Metal gates and turnstiles were common to regulate access to businesses, government buildings, and apartment buildings.
Nonphysical measures were also common. Uniformed and armed security guards are common in businesses, public spaces, and even patrolling private neighborhoods. Each train station in the commuter rail system has two security officers – one for each platform. A newspaper account I read described how private police were increasingly conducting investigations for the overworked police. At the end of apartheid in 1994, the country created a national South African Police Service to provide police protection throughout the country, and this agency’s retrofitted trucks and vans are ubiquitous.
With urbanization and inequality growing around the world, we should expect a hardening of the public realm. While bollards and gated communities are much discussed in the U.S., the defensive cityscape is much more subtle and persuasive than anti-terror measures around major sites. In this way, South Africa could be a sad harbinger of things to come elsewhere in the developed world.