Fri, Mar 04, 2005 - Page 9 News List

The new South Africa seems old

It's no longer about color -- just money. Money buys the residents of Dainfern community -- wherever they are from -- guard protection and a 4m-high electric fence, while their servants and store clerks live in the all-black slum next door

By Christopher Hope  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON


A great silver pipe in the sky runs above the heads of the residents of an estate called Dainfern, a walled fortress-suburb in the northern stretches of Johannesburg. Set among fields, nature trails and wooded suburbs, it is, centimeter for centimeter, probably the most costly secure space in Africa. And one of the most successful.

The pipe carries sewage between the different communities that throng the flat veld outside Jo'burg. It is not that Dainferners are embarrassed about the pipe; it goes with the territory, and anyway now and then it springs a leak and everyone knows what Jo'burgers know anyway: shit happens. So people hardly notice the shining viaduct slung high overhead, much as Berliners didn't really "see" the Berlin wall, and for much the same reason -- they really don't want to know what it is there for.

But then you can't do much about aerial sewage -- what you can protect yourself against is crime and fear. The hijacker who wants your car will shoot a black businessman as easily as a white housewife. Jo'burg is the city of beautiful walls where people fortify their houses, barricade their flats, electrify their fences, buy dogs and guns. Or they move into cluster-villages, gated, guarded and patrolled round the clock. They all sell freedom from fear -- but Dainfern does it better, and does it with style.

What segregates South Africans these days is security, and how much of it you can buy is what separates the saved from the servants. Dainfern is the answer to the Jo'burgers prayer -- to live an unlocked life in a safe place where no bullets fly and hijackers fear to tread.

The day I went to Dainfern, sunshine lay like honey on Highgate Village, children played in Waltham Drive and the golfers trundled in electric carts over the fairway. Hugo is Swiss and has lived here for years. He likes to tell visitors that the pipe in the sky is the track of the new high-speed train that will one day dissect Gauteng.

Hugo calls this extravagantly expensive golfing stockade "just a ghetto for whitey,"but then Hugo has a mordant streak of humor. All sorts are welcome in Dainfern, if you can fork out the readies -- it's cash, not color, that counts.

Dainfern's achievement has been to persuade those behind its walls that this isn't a penitentiary, it is a paradise; it's not a life-sentence, it's a "lifestyle."

"No one who is not supposed to be in here is in here," the managers of Dainfern told me in tones that might well apply to those confined in less happy institutions.

But I got their drift. Anyone not meant to be in Dainfern runs the risk of being electrocuted, shot or arrested.

Embedded in the walls that ring Dainfern are seismic sensors; and reinforced steel bars reach down 3m in to the earth to stop human moles who might tunnel beneath the fortifications. Detectors along the length of the perimeter wall listen for incursions. An electric fence tops the wall and carries enough current, a polite notice warns, "to cause death."

Closed-circuit cameras constantly check the perimeter defenses and in the gatehouse control-room, staff screen and record every visitor who comes and goes. Rapid-reaction vehicles stand ready, and frequent armed patrols glide down Collingham Close and Willowgrove Road.

Patricia has lived here for years and got to the heart of what makes Dainferners happy.

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