Posted on March 4, 2005

Whites in Gated Communities See Crime ‘As A Type Of Ethnic Cleansing’

Lavinia Mahlangu, SAPA, Mar. 2

Pretoria: White South Africans living in gated communities think of crime as a type of ethnic cleansing forcing them into semi-migration, a study on the subject showed yesterday.

The study was presented at an international symposium on gated communities or townhouses, held at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) convention centre here.

“Crime is a form of ethnic cleansing,” was one of the statements from newspaper excerpts discussed at the symposium yesterday.

The study, titled “Fear and Loathing in Johannesburg: constructing new identities within gated communities”, described gated communities as having emerged in response to a sense of embattlement.

They were a response to a series of failures in local state capacity, the rule of law and a reduced sense of citizenship.

One of the study’s authors, Alex Wafer, a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand, said the idea of crime as a form of ethnic cleansing was articulated some years ago by a resident of such a community in an open letter to the Sandton Chronicle, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the United Nations.

“Within the old and new white elite in Johannesburg has emerged a dream of living in a westernised, European environment,” said Teresa Dirsuweit, the study’s other author.

Richard Ballard of the Development Studies School at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in another paper, described white people’s strategy for finding comfort zones in post-apartheid South Africa, as “semi-gration”.

This was different from emigration in that people did not leave the country but rather gave up their citizenship by closing themselves off in gated communities and living a lifestyle that was completely non-synchronous with that of the rest of South African society.

The assimilation of different cultural groups into the culture of white suburbs was another strategy described by Ballard.

“People from different backgrounds normally have to adjust and fit in to the way of life in white suburbs. That is not integration because it does not work both ways,” Ballard said.

“True integration is a merging of two sets of values.”

However, some strategies for finding a comfort zone were not based on fear and anxiety about social mixing and social change, he said.

“The strategy of integration, where the white person adjusts their identity to fit in with the rest of South African society, is also used,” Ballard said.