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Tue Oct 21 15:38:02 SAST 2014

High walls were no protection for Reeva Steenkamp

Sapa-AFP | 19 February, 2013 07:18
Oscar Pistorius (R) with Reeva Steenkamp/ File picture.
Image by: STRINGER / Reuters

Kilometres of concrete walls, reams of high-voltage wires and 24-hour security patrols were not enough to keep Reeva Steenkamp safe from harm.

Inside one of the countless walled suburban compounds dotting South Africa, Steenkamp was shot dead last week at the luxury home of her boyfriend, Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius.

Many experts believe these ubiquitous South African communities, known as "security villages," in fact give residents a false sense of security from the high violent crime rates that plague the country.

"People are seeking to create a lifestyle that is out of touch with what contemporary urban living actually is," said Erna Van Wyk, a psychologist at the University of Witwatersrand who specializes in traumatic stress.

Van Wyk's research shows that security village residents often band together over shared values.

In turn, they feel that threats can only come from outside groups.

"There's a false split of where I am safe, and where I am not safe in the world," she said.

"However, domestic violence is every bit as common in gated communities."

Silver Woods Country Estate, where Steenkamp was shot dead, is just one of the thousands of security villages that have popped up over South Africa over the last few decades.

"In the past 10 years, the demand for these things have increased almost exponentially, because people have been worried about crime," said Garth Jaeger, director of Garnat Properties, the developer behind Silver Woods.

Jaeger estimates that "many hundreds of thousands of rand" were spent on Silver Woods security features in an attempt to lure upper-middle class homebuyers.

Residential, commercial and industrial security is a huge contributor to South Africa's economy.

The intruder detection services industry is estimated to be a 60 billion rand ($6.8 billion) market, according to the South African Intruder Detection Services Association.

Meanwhile, there are more than 390,000 active security officers employed throughout the country.

But South Africa's well-to-do homeowners aren't just obsessed with safety.

Branding of gated communities like Silver Woods also relies heavily on projecting an air of exclusivity and community.

"Many people in gated communities seek to create a somewhat idyllic lifestyle that fits the image of village life prior to rapid urbanization," Van Wyk said.

"At the same time, the lifestyle is predicated on wealth and a particular kind of elitism that excludes those outside of the bounds of such communities."

Some feel this harkens back to a darker time in the country's history, with the erection of fortified enclaves being reflective of a new apartheid, where well-to-do whites seek to separate themselves from poorer blacks.

"It is said that the fear of crime is put forward to mask a racist fear," wrote Van Wyk's colleagues at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies in a journal article.

The paper's authors found these "walled versions of suburbia" increased by 153 percent between 1998 and 2005 in Cape Town alone.

Young couples pursuing the dream of home ownership are driving the market, representing 66 percent of sales in these secure enclaves of upward mobility.

But as the whole world learned this past week, even the highest walls could not stop the gilded dreams of one young couple from turning into a nightmare.

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Tue Oct 21 15:38:02 SAST 2014 ::