The Mayor of Cape Town was recently in the news when members of the ruling ANC party accused her of having had her home refurbished, complete with security upgrades, in the manner of President Jacob Zuma’s controversial Nkandla private homestead, which became a political hot potato, leading to the involvement of the Constitutional Court.
In the end, the work on the mayor’s home was found not to have contravened any laws and there was no new Nkandla to contend with.
The talk of security upgrades reminded me of the situation in many Kenyans’ homes. There, security is still one or two elderly and not very well fed men, armed only with clubs and the occasional whip and simi, at a manual gate held together with chains and padlocks, against increasingly determined house-breakers armed with guns.
I then contrasted that with the situation I came across when I lived in the UK, which provided me with culture shock. I found that burglar bars, high walls or fences and watchmen were practically unheard of, unless you were the Queen or the Prime Minister.
That said, in Nairobi, I had grown up in a housing complex that only had a bamboo fence for security. By the early 1990s, we had graduated to a nightwatchman and a gate with a padlock, and a few years ago, I drove by to see the fence had been upgraded to a stone wall.
In the south east of London, few homes had more than a token fence in the back garden and a waist-high hedge, if at all, in the front garden, hardly any gates and certainly no day or night watchmen. That you could just walk up to any front door and slip letters through the slot in the door and walk away unannounced and unmolested, blew my mind.
Eventually I got over myself, but could never shake the feeling that I was trespassing if I had to walk up to a stranger’s door and deposit a leaflet announcing a school function or something. It certainly would have been treated as such in Nairobi.
Then you have South Africa, where you will probably only come across a watchman providing security at a housing complex or at an apartment blocks, where he is not so much a watchman but a concierge.
Yes, most people have walls around their properties and alarm systems, and armed, mobile private security patrols looking after the homes with alarm systems are a common feature. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a day or night watchman outside a private home. Instead, most people tend to have remote control gates and intercom buzzers at the gate, where visitors can announce themselves.
This doesn’t mean that crime is any less of a concern in Cape Town for instance, than Nairobi, but here they tend to put their hope in technology systems, instead of relying on an unarmed old man, who might be a little worse for wear at night from working a day job, to look after their homes.
Is it about time Kenyans put their money where their mouths are and also shifted allegiance to technology or is a man with a club still the best security against robbers with guns?