Part V: Crime Darkens Experience in Africa
South Africa holds world records for its high levels of violent and non-violent crime, most predominantly petty theft, mugging and rape. A handful of international students have now had first-hand experience with such crime in Durban.
Early in the semester, a Norwegian couple was walking to their off-campus residence in the middle of the day when a car pulled up next to them. A group of muggers popped out and forced the couple to kneel while knives were held to their throats.
During my spring break travels between Durban and Mozambique, I was relieved of my iPod, digital camera and wallet. About a week later on a Sunday morning in Durban, I was walking to the beach when a tall African with an iron grip grabbed me by the shoulder. He explained how he didn’t like tourists in his country and how I should give him my cell phone and wallet. I didn’t see any weapons or anyone else backing him up, but I didn’t really want to find out for sure.
Therefore, I gave him my cheap cell phone. I had been meaning to replace it anyway because its receiver was broken, so that was no problem. I then broke loose before giving him my newly replaced wallet without any incident. As I continued my walk to the beach, he yelled out behind me, ‘Fine! Keep your wallet!’ From now on, when I go to the beach alone, I just leave my wallet behind.
Another exchange student from the United States was mugged in the same area, but in his case a knife was involved. One guy from Berkeley had his laptop stolen from his dorm room, and another student’s Bank of America checking account was somehow drained from an ATM machine, without his debit card ever leaving his sight. Brian King, a third-year English major at UC Santa Barbara, was the most unlucky theft victim of all: 12 days after buying a car, before he had time to register it or buy insurance, it was stolen in full daylight from the front of his apartment.
Of course, these incidents just amount to a loss of things. Things, and the money that buys them, come and go, and nobody has expressed regret for being here after losing a few material possessions. Furthermore, most of this could have been avoided with a little extra caution on the victims’ parts. However, on Tuesday, Nov. 13, an Education Abroad Program student was raped in her residence hall bathroom at around 1:30 in the morning.
There’s not much, if anything, the student could have done to avoid the situation, and a rape is obviously far more devastating than a mugging. The rape demonstrated that there is a definite need for some serious changes here.
In a press statement in the South African newspaper Mail and Guardian, University of KwaZulu Natal Vice Chancellor for Communication Professor Dasarath Chetty said, ‘We are investigating the case with the South African Police Service in an attempt to apprehend the perpetrator and understand how he was able to enter a normally secure residence.’
Actually, the residence he’s talking about is normally anything but secure. There’s an entrance to it that’s always open, day and night. Also, the on-campus security is completely useless in the case of an actual emergency. When it comes to hassling students over parking permits and alcohol on campus, they can bureaucratically demonstrate as much zeal and authority as any bully with a badge.
However, when they were called earlier in the semester as an African girl was being kidnapped by her angry boyfriend from her room, it took security 45 minutes to arrive. In a situation like the bathroom rape, they’re not stationed close enough to the residence halls to be effective anyway. In an effort to step up safety, security officials have seen fit to bang on girls’ doors at three in morning, demanding to be let in without saying who they are and then barge in with a master key