South Africa 2008 - Fence Culture
As an American, one of the things that stands out to me each time I visit South Africa is that everything is fenced. And not just fenced, but tall-concertina-wire-electric-angry-fenced. No country I've ever visited has fences this dramatic.
People live in named communities (I can't help but to internally think of them as burbclaves) that are a collection of houses surrounded by a fence. These are similar to the named neighborhoods (developments) in the states, except for the posted guard and gate with a keypad. Once you're inside the community, each house still has their own fence, gates, and bars on the windows.
The South Africans I talked to don't think anything of it. One said "Good neighbors start with good fences." When I expressed my surprise at the fence culture, folks said things like "[Americans] are the ones that totally changed your airport security system after 9/11. You're as much a culture of fear, or more so, than [South Africans] are."
This was an interesting observation, but of course, as an ethnocentric American, I didn't quite see it that way. ;) From the outside looking in, I see fence culture everywhere. I was flipping through an advertising insert in the local newspaper and it was filled with security options for your home. Many were focused on being very secure without looking overtly like security. There were steel blinds that could "withstand an attack from a 2kg hammer" while still looking stylish in your home. There's monitoring services and guard services.
Some South Africans I talked to about this said that fence culture has always been. First when the Whites in power separated themselves from the Blacks, and now when the "folks with stuff" separate themselves from the folks without stuff. The burbclaves I've seen are fairly mixed, with some leaning one way or the other, but generally, it seems, if you have the money to live somewhere, you can live there. For example, my brother-in-law's family stays in a community of 30 or so houses that has every color under the sun. The common thread is that they all live in this gated community. They all have satellite TV, washing machines, hot water, etc. Suburbs are suburbs in my experience, no matter where you are in the world. This might as well be Kansas, from an amenities point of view.
It seems to me that the distance between the haves and the have nots here in South Africa is fairly marked. This has been my experience in other African countries as well. Hiring a full-time maid is a fairly inexpensive prospect here, as is day labor or construction work.
Where things come into stark contrast is when you leave your community and venture out. So far I've been the only White guy walking anywhere. At the mall today, I was lost and I asked someone how to exit the mall. She asked where I parked, and when I said, I walked, she was visibly shocked. Not regular bemused, but taken aback. Apparently going somewhere without a car is an odd thing. I looked like a have, but was doing a have-not activity. Silly Americans I suppose.