Crime is something to remain keenly aware of when even contemplating a move to South Africa. Many South African immigrants have indicated that the daily tales of violence and cruelty happening in their own backyards were their main reason for leaving. In a 1998-2000 survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, South Africa was ranked second in the world out of 60 countries for assault and murder per capita – and first for rape. Indeed, South Africa’s most infamous statistic is that a woman born in the country has a better chance of being raped than of learning how to read.
Now, crime rates remain high in South Africa. However, an incredible change has overcome Cape Town’s City Bowl since 2000. When former mayor Helen Zille appointed the officers of the CCID (Central City Improvement District) that year, she set in motion the gradual creation of a citywide network of mutually supporting officials, a visible deterrent in their bright yellow vests, every one of them with a direct line to police back-up.
The CCID is financed by levies from property owners, which in the past few years have tallied at over R250 million. It’s a lot of money, but the investment’s proven a wise one. With the 155 foot officers, 4 bicycle squads and 6 equestrian officers per shift, the CBD has seen a 90% reduction in serious crime, and attracts ever-increasing numbers of developers and industrialists, who have funneled between R14 and R18 billion into the area in the past nine years.
Their work is far from pretty; the brutality when they subdue criminals often seems excessive. What can’t be argued is that the CCID is very effective. They have single-handedly rendered City Bowl into what, compared to Gugulethu, Khayelitsha, Mitchell’s Plain or Grassy Park, can truly be considered a safe haven.
The picture painted by statistics is, furthermore, not quite as grim as it’s made out to be. The international perception of South Africa’s crime rate is accurate, but derives from and is mostly confined to a particular set of areas which, if you’re living in Cape Town, you truly need never visit. Regardless, any night-time pedestrian, man or (perhaps more importantly) woman, should keep to main thoroughfares.
The best advice is to remain vigilant. Remember that your home needs to be secured at all times. If possible, choose to live at least a couple of floors above ground level, and ensure that, in addition to measures such as burglar bars and wall-spikes, your apartment or house is equipped with a functional alarm system monitored by a good security company. ADT is the best-regarded security firm in the city, and, in addition to regular patrols and efficient emergency response, offers a 24-hour meet and greet service you can call on if you ever sense you’re being followed (visit http://www.adt.co.za).
For those who refuse to take on the role of victim, there are a few good self-defense schools in the city. The term ‘self-defense’ is used differently from ‘martial arts’ here, as there are numerous karate, tai chi and kung fu schools in the city which, while they’ll probably help develop your flexibility, fitness and coordination, won’t give you much by way of practical skills when it comes to facing down opponents in the street. Two recommended schools are listed below. However, if you’re faced with a life-threatening situation it is advisable to either run (assuming you’re in a position to have a head-start) or comply and hand over any valuables you have. Often you’ll be able to alert the CCID before your assailants have gotten very far.
Gracie Jiu Jitsu
This well-acquitted school teaches stand-up locking and floor grappling techniques. Instructors James Smart and Gary King have studied directly under the Gracie family, who are renowned for their domination in the world of no-hold-barred mixed martial arts tournaments. The introductory system the school teaches has been officially adopted by the United States military and was developed to teach troops to defend themselves in just two weeks of intensive training. The distinguishing factor between this school and other martial arts academies is the complete disinterest in physical training. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu will teach you how to defend yourself at any time, no matter what your strength or fitness level is. The school is located in Parklands, about twenty-five minutes outside of town, but is well worth the commute.
Address: 70 Regent Road, Parklands
Call 0861 472243 or visit http://www.graciejiujitsu.co.za
Dragon Power Muay Thai
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s two-time Muay Thai World Champion Quentin Chong’s very large school in City Bowl. Dragon Power provides challenging physical training, and focuses on full-body conditioning and developing powerful shin and elbow strikes, as well as effective joint-locking maneuvers and grappling-style takedowns. The school provides certification courses for bodyguards and incorporates a full-scale gym with free weights, resistance and cardiovascular circuits.
Address: 9th Floor, Tulbagh Centre, Hans Strydom Avenue, Zonnebloem
Call 021 418 8888 or visit http://www.dragonpower.co.za