Live wire, touch at your own risk

Today’s guest writer Shadrack Kubyane from South Africa reflects on the thin line between safety-consciousness and total paranoia:

Re-evaluating our notion of safety…15 feet high walls may not be high enough.

Bringing down the racial walls

As a South African, by birth: I was fairly young when Mandela came out of prison. Even at six years old, not understanding much about the politics of the day, I could tell that he was quite a popular guy. A figure larger than life, cameras where constantly fixated on him, as he walked cheerfully with his signature clenched fist, through cheering crowds; a liberating freedom walk that marked the end to the country’s apartheid era.

The end of the apartheid era had countless implications for my country’s people, but central to that was the demolishing of the walls of racial hatred that created gulfs among human beings of different races and cultures, for more than five decades.

Remove the hatred; just add a little more concrete

Sadly though, as the walls of hatred gave way to a new beginning, thanks to political and economic pressure from international struggle partners, supporting the liberation movement – including Norway – a new type of phenomenon started sweeping across the country: high concrete walls, which were already in existence, shifted from being labeled a “nice to have” to being a basic necessity. I was made to understand that this had something to do with the growing crime rate.

Along with these growing concrete walls around suburbia homes, came other trends, like the increasing development of “gated complexes” a casual term that often refers to enclosed flat apartment buildings,  and “gated communities” as residents scrambled for cover, to fortify themselves against the growing crime rate.

An electrifying moment

I remember fighting back tears when a close friend of mine from Norway, relayed a story of how she cried when she first witnessed the intimidating high walls, complete with electric fences mounted on top, in South Africa. Electric fencing in addition to the wall? Yep, those are the “add on” items, readily available on the market, in the security shopping cart, just in case the 10-15 feet high wall is not enough as a deterrent measure.

My Norwegian friend could not understand how a resident or property owner could be so determined to protect their property, and go as far as being ready to electrocute someone for attempting to scale his wall. I looked at her in disbelief. What had become a norm for me was totally foreign when viewed through the eyes of someone hailing from one of the safest nations on earth. How odd? Normal re-defined.

Invisible close protection specialists

I remember observing the Norwegian Environmental Minister, with his colleagues, casually walking Durban’s streets, at the recent 2011 COP17 talks. I could not believe it. Why? You may ask. No bodyguards. Or shall I say no sign of “close protection specialists”? That’s one of the terms used out here. This scenario was as foreign to me in a pretty much similar way that my Norwegian friend found the mounted electricity fences atop high concrete walls strange.

Perhaps I can be forgiven, hailing from a country known for its high expenditure on “blue light” security to protect: its political dignitaries at all times, especially ministers. This was an odd sight indeed, viewed through a pair of danger-conscious South African eyes.

Then again, perhaps we would be fortunate enough when someday, some safety risk analysts stumble on this blog and decide to make submissions to educate us on the “political individual’s” safety risk profile assessments, along with other technicalities that are relied upon, prior to the authorization and utilization of sky-rocketing costs to protect a high profile figure.

Till then, I can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the Norwegian minister had invisible body guards surrounding him at all times, because the thought of him walking the presumably dangerous streets of my country “bare and vulnerable” is just too much for my danger-conscious mind to conceive.

Safety: nothing less, and nothing more

Ahhh, the timeless conundrum comes to mind here: how much safety is enough? Let’s face it: one cannot ignore real risks that these political figures and everyday people are subject to, at varying degrees, throughout different parts of this beloved planet; where the difference between safety and harm, may be a matter of life and death; a world where oblivion and an illusion of safety (instead of real safety) has no place. Only real safety will do.

But in the same token: there’s a very thin line between safety-consciousness and total paranoia. Ask those who travelled through American airports post 9/11. Needless to say: your level of personal or domestic (or even national) security needs to be appropriate for each chosen situation; and decided on merits, as per situation; “appropriate” being the operative word.


Shadrack Kubyane is a business coach who assists organisations and businesses to successfully deal with progressive cultural diversity and transformation challenges in the workplace.

The photo is taken by Shadrack Kubyane.

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