The most frequently asked question I have been asked by people from countries such as Botswana, Brazil, Iran, Peru, the US, Israel and Nigeria is whether it is safe to live in South Africa.
I have been asked questions like these on previous visits to other countries, but never before was I left thinking that the overwhelming impression people from other countries have of South Africa is that we are a violent, dangerous state.
And now I am left wondering whether this is a true impression. My initial response when being asked a question like this is that South Africa is a safe and beautiful country to live in and travel to, but then I have to start adding the caveats and disclaimers to this statement.
Sadly, the truth is that I struggle to name one person I know in South Africa who has not been touched by crime, and I can name many among my group of friends and family who have been the victims of violent crime.
I tell people that, living in a leafy suburb in Johannesburg, I generally feel safe but at the same time I know that for many people living in other parts of the city and country, the same isn’t true.
On the one hand I think that the international media has played some part in shaping a somewhat skewed image of South Africa as being an extremely violent country in which no person can ever feel safe, and we are not helping dispel this representation of our country when we go on international roadshows to talk only about how crime is affecting South Africans, similar to the way in which our own opinions about other countries like Iran, for example, might be formed by what we read and see about the country in international media.
I use Iran as an example because an Iranian agricultural machinery importer I met in Brazil recently was one of the people who asked me about the security situation in South Africa, and afterwards, when I did the same to him, he said that he has been living in Tehran all his life and has never seen a gun being fired.
On the other hand, I fear that we have grown numb, and perhaps blind or complacent, about how crime affects everyday life in South Africa.
It is only when I describe, to a person from another country, the security measures my parents have had to implement on their farm in order for them to feel some measure of safety that I am reminded about the extent to which we have had to adapt to the prevalence of violent crime in our country.
I still believe, and will tell anyone who cares to ask, that South Africa is a great country, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, and we have a great deal of good to offer.
But as I say this, I cannot help the quiet dread I feel when I look at my country through a stranger’s eyes. It is clear that when it comes to addressing crime in South Africa, the turning point has to come quickly.