I was driving through an area of Johannesburg that, a week earlier, had burned during riots, when I realized I had a flat tire and I wondered if I should get out and fix it. The fear that grew in my breast as I debated my options made me realize that in many ways South Africa is under siege, a nation at war with itself, and everyone is a victim.
I'm not referring to the recent bout of xenophobia; that is directed at foreigners from countries like Zimbabwe. And I don't mean black/white hostilities, as in the apartheid era. There is still residual racism on both sides in the country, but that is sadly to be expected after so many years of institutional racism.
Today the war is about personal security, and the issue is crime. Depending on whom you talk to, Johannesburg has the first or second highest crime rate in the world. The rest of South Africa is not far behind.
Nearly every South African, black or white, has a mugging story to share. Here are some told to me on this trip:
"I was accosted at knife point by a man who took my wallet."
"My garage has been broken in to four times in the last month."
"I awoke one night to hear sounds coming from my daughter's bedroom. I stepped into the hallway and a stranger stepped out of her bedroom. Fortunately my daughter was visiting a friend that night, and they only took a few things."
"My daughter was accosted at gun point. She handed over her purse immediately, but even then the man shot her in the stomach. Fortunately, she survived."
That little word fortunately alludes to the fact that some victims are not so fortunate.
The sense of insecurity is visually reinforced everywhere you go. Middle and upper class homes are surrounded by walls, topped with barbed wire or pointed metal spikes. ...