Saturday, February 13, 2010

Security in South Africa: Inyala Headquarters

At about 11:30 PM last night, after meeting up with a few Mtuba Rugby friends at the literally-20-feet-from-the-sideline-of-the-rugby-pitch bar called The Rugby Club and watching the Blue Bulls play the Free State Cheetahs, one of the guys named Vernon and I drove over to the headquarters of a company called Inyala Security. Vernon, a thick, 6-foot-4 Afrikaaner farm boy and literally one of the largest human beings I have ever seen, is a manager at Inyala Security, a security company here in Mtubatuba, which offers services including V.I.P. security, physical cash transfers, alarms with armed response, guards, and "farmwatch."

A few examples: when Charlize Theron comes to visit Mpilonhle here in Mtubatuba (Charlize is a big supporter...), Inyala picks her up at the nearby Richards Bay airport. When I look out the window at night and see a guy patroling the perimeter of our property, he's Inyala. Banks have 4 or 5 Inyala guys out front (Wild West-style bank robberies still happen out here in rural Zululand).

Now its time for a digression about security in South Africa. You really can't imagine how thoughts of safety and security control people's lives here. I mean, just imagine if every (okay, not every...but what if a huge percentage of...) middle class (and up) household in the States were locked down with windows criss-crossed by burglar bars, surrounded by electric fencing, patrolled by machine gun-armed guards. And don't just imagine the physical impact it might have on you (your ability to see out your windows), but imagine the psychological effect. To generalize horrifically, white people in this country, in my limited experience, are living in a constant state of fear. Some (maybe more than some) of that fear is absolutely justified: South Africa, is after all, a place with a lot of crime, violent crime, prime crime, crime-y crime, and all the other kinds of crime out there. It's just interesting to be immersed in a culture and a place where crime is a reality and fear is widespread. Which brings us back to Inyala.

It's 11:30 PM and Vernon and I are hanging out around Inyala. Vernon's telling me stories about Inyala subordinates and friends who have been killed and paralyzed in shootouts with criminals (Wild West...) while the cops were cowering behind their cars. Sometimes, it seems, these private security companies actually do a lot of the work that would clearly fall under the expectations of police back home. After taking ten minutes to find a key he had lost, Vernon gives me a tour not of Inyala's arsenal (which I'm sure is impressive), but of Vernon's personal arsenal, housed at Inyala. No less than three modern shotguns, a sniper rifle, four pistols and a late 1800s rifle which still works handed down through the generations to Vernon from a Voortrekker Dutch ancestor, we finally took off for our respective homes. I was raised to fear guns and, even though they weren't loaded, just being around this small stash was enough to make me feel more than a little uncomfortable.

But it's life for a lot of people here. Vernon has guns at his house, and he's trained to use them. Vernon's girlfriend has advanced pistol training. A lot of this is obviously somewhat specific to Vernon, a security professional whose job revolves around armed response. But my point is that in the States Vernon would be seen as somewhat "out there." Here in Mtubatuba he fits right in.

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