A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO LIFE IN SOUTH AFRICA
By Morne Swanepoel
”South Africa is the most dangerous country in the world, which is not at war”
A Raping every 15 seconds and this does not include child rapes which is standing at an average of 60 a day! More than 60 people are murdered every day in SA due to violent crime
SA Government has for the first time admitted it was overwhelmed by crime. Deputy Minister of Justice, Johnny de Lange, told Parliament that the fight against crime was hopelessly paralyzed by mistaken policy decisions, unprofessional personnel and a massive shortage of resources and accountability. He made this admission while presenting a review of the criminal justice system to the portfolio committees on justice and safety and security.
”The criminal justice system was ineffectual as it was fragmented, dysfunctional and tainted by backlogs. The situation is sometimes so overwhelming that we don't know what to do about crime. We have not necessarily taken the right decisions over the past 15 years or used resources efficiently. We have to brace ourselves now."
The following crime stories are true and occur every minute in South Africa:
- A Pretoria businessman has died after being shot several times by armed robbers who attacked him and his wife. According to police, 48-year-old John Cooper died in his bedroom. His wife, who was assaulted by the attackers, was taken to hospital. Paramedics rescued the couple's Rottweiler after it was poisoned by the attackers. Police spokesperson Captain Bonginkosi Msimango said Cooper, the owner of Westend trailers, ran the trailer business from his house in Proclamation Hill. Just after 1am on Sunday, five armed men entered the house and confronted Cooper and his wife, who has not been named.
'They first thought he was dead'
"They shot the man. We cannot say how many times at this stage. He died in the bedroom. The robbers then ordered the wife to give them money. She opened the safe and the robbers fled with an undisclosed amount," Msimango said.
- A 68-year-old man was stabbed to death by two men in his home in Redhouse in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape police said on Monday. Inspector Dumile Gwavu said Pieter William van der Poel's 65-year-old wife was awoken by a noise in their house in Topaz street around 2.45am on Sunday. She discovered that Van der Poel was struggling with two men in the passage - one of them was struggling with him while the other repeatedly stabbed him. The woman went to fetch a firearm and returned to find that the two men had fled
- Churches are increasingly becoming soft targets for brazen criminals who rape and rob congregants during church services, representatives of Churches in South Africa said. "Criminals are now targeting churches because they know that congregants are not armed”
All South Africans know that in the past 15 years there has been an abnormal increase in violence and crime. Hardly a minute goes by without news of an assault, raping, murder, hijacking, home invasion or some other type of violent crime – most often against innocent people quietly going about their normal community respected every day lives. To reduce the danger of being attacked in the street or at home, of being the victim of a crime or simply of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it has become imperative for law abiding citizens to learn how to defend themselves and protect their property effectively.
May the Biggest Stick Win
But way back when life was all about sabre-tooths and wooden clubs, toughness was measured by the size of your weapon (I’m talking about the wooden club) and conflict was usually won by wielder of the biggest stick. It must have been awfully confusing then, for the biggest-stick carrier (we’ll call him Barry), when he was trounced, time and time again, by a small cave dweller, who never carried anything larger than a birch twig. Very soon, in a series one-sided skirmishes, Big Stick Barry had lost his wife, his stick and his collection of shrew skulls to the devilish twig-wielder. What Barry learned very quickly was that there is more to being tough than big sticks – and if Small Twig man could learn it, then so could he.
Welcome to the Tough Club
In that respect, very little has changed over the last few thousand years. No matter whether you’re facing a mugger in a parking lot, or a drunken football fan after his side just got trounced by the competition, there are certain elements that will either work for you or against you in your efforts to survive. Your strength, reflexes, surroundings, mental awareness, and fear all need to be handled correctly in order to triumph. Surprisingly enough, mastery over these elements doesn’t come naturally to us all. Such mastery needs to be learned, nay, ingrained into the very fibre of our being, so that when the surge of adrenaline grips us, late one night in a poorly lit back alley, we are able to rise to the occasion and show the world, or at least our would-be attacker, what toughness personified looks like. Are you ready for the transformation?
Fatal schoolboy errors
You will never rise to the level of your expectations, but rather fall to the level of your training. Another rookie mistake people make is not only to overestimate your own abilities, but to underestimate your attacker’s. A 12-year-old with a knife in his hand is a very dangerous threat, he may not look like it at first, but age doesn’t come into the equation here. If you are being confronted or attacked by someone who is seemingly smaller or weaker than you, remember that, more often than not, they pose a real threat, or they would not have confronted you in the first place. Parts of being tough in Africa means having a realistic idea of the threat you’re facing. Possibly one of the biggest mistakes that untrained people make is to think that only the other person will get hurt in the fight. The truth is that if you find yourself in a punching fight, prepare to get hit. And if you land yourself in a knife fight, be prepared to get cut!
There are both mental and physical aspects to preparing yourself for survival on the streets. When students progress in their training, there is a definite change taking place mentally and physically. One becomes ‘tougher’ as you learn to deal with the physical contact of your training partners, but you also become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses. You learn what your body will allow you to do – depending on your fitness, age, body structure etc. Mentally you become tougher by learning to hang in there when the training pushes you to your limits. This is an important aspect to handling a violent attack – to be able to endure and do what is necessary to survive a situation.
Freeze, this is a stick up
The trouble for most people, however, is that, faced with an attacker, whether it’s a seven-foot behemoth making passes at our wives, or a hi-jacker at a traffic intersection, we freeze up and fail to do anything at all. Under high levels of stress, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks into action. The SNS sets about preparing your body for battle without really consulting anyone important – like the brain, for instance. The SNS releases hormones like adrenaline into your blood stream in order to make your body stronger, faster and “sometimes even anaesthetized to pain,” says Geoff Thompson, author of Dead or Alive: The Definitive Self-Protection Book. “The more dangerous the situation the bigger the adrenalin release. The bigger the release, the better you perform, but by the same count, the bigger the release, the harder it is to control,” continues Geoff.
In a flash, your pupils are dilated, your heart rate is up, your brain has all the blood it could possibly want, and less important functions, like digestion, have their blood supply dramatically reduced (which explains the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach).
With all this going on, the result is that you may not be able to see the same, think the same, or move in the same way. We must try to understand how stress affects us so that we can anticipate the changes. Our bodily responses are there to heighten our mental and physical abilities, but, if we are unfamiliar with the symptoms that come with a surge of adrenaline, we are left shaky, nauseous and rooted to the spot. Our lack of action gives the attacker complete power to decide what happens next.
Which brings us to a point where we can actually learn something from Big Stick Barry, despite all his defeats. In primeval days when man had to fight to live and eat, the feeling of fear was an everyday occurrence that would have felt as natural as eating or drinking. In today's society, some people go through a whole lifetime without ever experiencing it fully. So when a situation arises that causes the adrenalin to flow, we are so unfamiliar with it that we naturally neither welcome it, nor like it. We panic. The best way to deal with this is to ‘rehearse’ or expose oneself to these scenarios and force on force training, within the correct training environment.
In a violent conflict a cry for help is sent to the subconscious mind, which digs around for an appropriate answer. Instead it comes up with an “error” message – ‘no information on this subject’. That’s why one freezes up. You need to place the correct information into your brain. This is done through correct, meticulous, and repetitive training.
Being the Hard Target
But being tough begins long before the much spoken about do-or-die moment. Being tough means possessing survival instinct and awareness. Every time your brain senses danger it goes through four steps (OODA): observation, orientation, decision-making, and action. It never changes the order, or skips a step. Being aware of this process will set you well on your way to avoiding possible nasty situations.
By constantly observing your surroundings you can give yourself far more time to react to possible danger. The images you see are packed with information – someone walking toward you, a car blocking your path, the sight of a knife, or the intention in an attacker’s eyes. Your brain then orients you in relation to the threat. Is it immediate, or do you have some time to escape? Do I have the upper hand or not? After working these things out, you are now in a position to decide on the best course of action – to run, fight, or even comply with a mugger’s demands. Once you’ve made this decision you need to follow through with your action immediately. A second’s hesitation can change your fate in a conflict situation.
“That’s very well,” you might say, “But how do I know what to look for. After all, one can’t predict the future.” And it’s true – you can’t predict the future. But there are some things you can look out for when dealing with possibly violent characters. When being approached by someone look out for a red flushed face, rapid, shallow breathing, a fixed stare, or a rigid body. More pointers to possibly nasty characters include shaky hands or clenched fists, irrational behaviour, and any signs that the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
So you’re prepared to get punched, you’ve learned to control your adrenaline, you know how to pick a shady character, so surely it’s fight time, right? As the great Braveheart once said, “We didn’t get all dressed up for nothing.”
But, sadly, for fightclubbers, there is still one more obstacle to overcome on the path to true toughness – and it’s a biggie. Gentleman, may I welcome into the ring, weighing in at almost nothing, but capable of fatal damage, your ego.
For all the ways that the various approaches to self-defense differ, the one thing that they agree upon is that escaping conflict is always first prize. Proper training should open your eyes to the world around you. It should enable you to make an informed, unemotional decision to avoid conflict wherever possible.
But what about when your dignity is stripped, or your pride wounded? What happens when my lovely wife is insulted by a beer-swilling, stench-steeped miscreant? Surely a tough guy defends his wife’s dignity? Well, that depends on your perspective. Being tough is about being principled, steadfast and disciplined. What your ego will do is to propel some inappropriate behaviour into full blown public violence, which carries with it, not only the risk of injury or death (whether intentional or accidental), but also some fairly serious legal consequences. An insult to one’s dignity (or your wife’s for that matter) seems a small price to pay to avoid that.And that’s a tough decision to have to make…
The tough guy’s hierarchy of needs
I have been involved in Martial Arts for more than 30 years. During this time I have spent more than 15 years in the security field working the doors at the wildest niteclubs in Johannesburg and Durban, working undercover in Hillbrow the crime Mecca of South Africa, operating on a specialized anti hijacking unit for more than 2 years dealing with the kings of South African scum. And that is just in a nutshell. All the years have convinced me of one thing – conflict is to be avoided wherever possible. Check out how tough guys should handle conflict:
By using ones awareness one can escape most situations. For example, you’re standing at your local bar having a drink and you can sense some guys giving you the dirty looks and passing some comments. The best thing to do is to get into your car and go to another pub, if that’s what you want to do. If a certain area is known for hijackings and violent crime, avoid the area. If you are living in an area which is known for home invasions, move to another area. If you are confronted by three guys in a dark alley, don’t try and duke it out with them (even if you think you have all the training you need). Escape, escape, escape.
When dealing with some punk looking for a fight, you can defuse the situation verbally by telling the guy you aren’t looking for any trouble. Sometimes, however, that isn’t enough and physical conflict is inevitable. Use the least amount of force possible to control a situation – especially if the person is under the influence of alcohol. They may have no idea what they’re doing. Use the wall or the floor to control the attacker. In a mugging situation you may have to find a way to disarm the attacker or tie him up until the police arrive. If you can control him this will always be a better option than your last resort – destroy.
When all else fails and the confrontation has progressed to such a level where you or your family’s lives are in danger, or they stand a chance of being seriously injured, then it is time to ‘destroy’. This means taking the fight to your attacker and doing whatever is necessary to protect yourself and your family.
Johannesburg has one of the best urban freeway systems in the world, but you will hardly see a soft top convertible. It has some of the most lavishly appointed malls and shopping centers anywhere, but each is patrolled by a heavily armed paramilitary security guard with two side arms, body armor and an R5 assault rifle. It has one of the most tried and tested, effective and best equipped police forces on the planet, from the ranks of which at least one, but often more, are killed in shootouts with criminals every month, not to mention the extraordinary number who fall victim to suicide, or stress related fratricidal killings. YET the majority of the force is corrupt due to SA government not paying these people to deal with the violence and crime in one of the worlds most violent crime ridden countries in the world.
Awareness, of course, is the key. Don’t be stupid. Don’t tempt fate. Don’t think because the South African EastCoast looks like Southern California that it is. Don’t think because Cape Town is so clean and ordered, so cultural and sophisticated, that it is fine to whip your iPhone on your wrist as you stroll downtown in the sensual twilight. If you hire a car don’t have a picnic on the side of the freeway, or take an unscheduled diversion into the local favella for the sake of authentic local color. All of these will get you into trouble. South Africa is a fantastically well organized country, and every travel contingency is provided for by one operator or another. From the Bazz Bus to the Blue Train, from wildlife safaris to whale watching and shark caging, there is nothing that cannot be done both safely and professionally, and it is this that needs to be borne in mind at all times.
So lock up your cash, keep your electronics hidden, and get, and adhere to, local advice from your lodge or hotel wherever you go. Most importantly, however, get on that plane, and come to South Africa. It is the best country in the world, and you won’t regret it.