Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Crime and the Golf

One of our first impressions of the local whites was their extreme paranoia. You can see it quite regularly in the international press: "whites fear land reform in South Africa", "whites fear rising crime rates." Now, clearly most of the crime takes place in the communities which breed the criminals, and the gated, barbed-wired and electrically-fenced tree-covered northern suburbs, filled with the city's ex-winners from apartheid are typically not the communities (if one can call them that) which breed crime. So while whites do face crime, I would warrant that they don't even face the worst brunts of it, or at least not the rich whites whose opinions fill the international press. And as for the land reform, once you realize that the majority of land (70+%) is commercial agricultural land (read 'white owned land'), well, it makes you at least a little more sceptical about the extent to which white paranoia here is based in reality, rather than being a reaction to loss of the Utopian near-absolute security they faced under apartheid.

Indeed, the whites here are going quite literally crazy with fear. An Afrikaner friend told me that some old Boer guerrilla communities are re-organizing to create "anti-crime" militias, which almost certainly must mean vigilante justice and possibly anti-black retaliatory assaults at the worst.

That said, crime is indeed a problem. Our car was broken into Saturday night, for example, and they fucked up the wiring and starter, but were unable to steal the vehicle as a whole (thank god, since we're as yet unregistered and w/out insurance...). The parking guard (a single poor black guy with a reflective vest) was literally no deterrent against the vandalization; either the perpetrators paid him, threatened him, or knew him (this is what most people here suspect; complete complicity from these private security guys), but the most he did was tell us as we're returning to the car that "hey, your window's down". Well, thanks so much! A police car drove by as we're trying to get it started, and I had to run up and tap on the car to get them to stop. they proceeded to threaten me for failing to respect them and made a number of menacing comments until I apologized and let them drive away.

In short, crime is a problem and while statistically the worst affected are the other poor, the vast majority of whom are black, it is the formerly safe (under apartheid) whites who are most upset about it. They feel "abandoned in their own homes, and where else do we have to go, since I'm not FROM anywhere else? Where else in the world do they speak Afrikaans?" The lack of legal and official recourse is breeding a massive white proto-fascist revolt which, if it is allowed to happen, will certainly end in bloodshed and worse. The poor, economically marginalized, blacks here will not, I think, be the source of the next South African revolution, but the poor and middle-class whites, politically and economically marginalized and increasingly nationalist, funded by the rich Afrikaner aristocrats of the last century.


After the ordeal of registering for classes and two weeks of waiting to hear whether or not we would be allowed into the Clinic, we were pretty thrilled to find out last Friday that not only were we in, but that we had been given the assignments that we wanted. Kate (one of the two Wisconsin law students) and I were assigned to the refugee clinic, and when we showed up to clinical hours on Monday, they told us to find a cubicle and go get a client from the waiting room. Not that we knew the first thing about South African refugee law, or even South African law. After being reassured that we only needed to figure out what the client's problem was, and a supervisor would do the actual advising, we got out first clients. The couple was from the PRC; the husband had obtained refugee status some years ago; after their recent marriage the wife moved here and was hoping to get permission to say in the country through her husband's status. After getting the gist of their story, we were waiting for the supervisor to show up and overheard them speaking in French. Kate, who is fluent in french, and I, who can understand about every other word, were able to get the rest of their story in french. Although we weren't able to give them the answer they wanted (she would have to apply separately for refugee status), it was a great start to the year.

Naturally, this morning we found out that we hadn't really been assigned to our first choice, and only one of us would be able to do the refugee clinic. Some of the clinic admins even thought that us Americans were trying to barge our way in by just showing up uninvited, even though we had been told to go there. Oh well.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Movin' on up

From Joburg

While the autotaxis are a fascinating system, where the person who happens to sit next to the driver handles all the cash and makes sure everyone has paid, since they don't run at night, are nearly impossible to catch during rush hour, and only provide transportation in two directions (in and out from the city), we figured it's time that we stop asking other people for rides, suck it up, and learn to drive on the wrong side of the road. Most white people are shocked (Shocked!) that we've been brave, or stupid enough to use them, but it was good to see how most of the city gets around. After paying someone else to do our paperwork, we own a car, and the endless tree lined streets filled with houses surrounded by high walls and electric fences, and the occasional robot, are ours for exploring.

From Joburg