We always tell our children, the world has never been more peaceful than it is today. We think back to periods in history where the population of the world was smaller and wars were waged, with violence being felt around the globe. Surely, we are living in relatively peaceful times. The flaw in our thinking and in the argument we make is one of relativity. Young people are not moved by events which happened one year before they were born, let alone many decades. 

If we look to more recent reporting, with a time frame both my kids can relate to, the world is changing in many ways, as is the nature of violent crime. No longer is a war the only indication of how peaceful the world is. There are many more factors at play. Our kids are exposed to violence in ways we were not. I don’t mean video games, I think the school shootings in the US are far more frightening. 

The 2017 Global Peace Index finds that the world became more peaceful in the last year, however, over the last decade it has become significantly less peaceful.

That is not good news, indeed. However, the index provides some answers regarding the best practices of countries at the top of the list. Some of what we see is cultural, countries which are inherently peaceful and have always been so. There is also a wide spectrum of countries on the top of the list from different regions of the world, indicating there are many paths to peace.

It is also interesting to note what is happening so close to our life back home.

The largest regional deterioration in the score occurred in North America entirely as a result of the US, which more than offset a mild improvement in Canada. The US’s score has been dragged down largely because of a deterioration in several indicators: the homicide rate, level of perceived criminality in society and the intensity of organised internal conflict. The latter measure has deteriorated because of the increased levels of political polarisation within the US political system. The US also has experienced the fourth largest drop in Positive Peace globally, after Syria, Greece and Hungry in the ten years to 2015.

It is hard to fathom, for a Canadian, that we cannot look to our neighbour to the South for answers here. In the quest for peace and for a variety of other endeavours, like the gender gap or the country happiness index, Canada will be forging their own path.

While Canada is more peaceful than the USA, it is not feasible for most people living in an inherently violent or war-torn country to pick up and move. Immigration is costly and involves a lengthy process. Becoming a refugee is no-ones first choice. The best way to solve the problems for everyone concerned is to become more peaceful. Increasing peace within each countries borders has to be the answer.

As we settle into life in the Cape Town area we are bombarded by words of caution. From our government, to our landlords and just about anyone we met who had visited or lived here. The stories are non stop. Then, the unit below ours is broken into during the night and robbed. Nobody even knew it happened until a neighbour brought over the discarded personal papers found on her morning walk with her dog. The tenants had left their patio door open to catch the evening breeze, as we had. The only difference was, their patio was easily accessed and ours was not. 

The first reaction might be fear. We chose not to think of it that way. The fact is, before we left Canada, our home was victim to bicycle thefts by an organized group of thugs who kept coming back and stealing from us. The RCMP were finally able to apprehend one of the burglars and raid their chop shop, which was on our street. One of our stolen bikes was recovered. Thanks to the watchful eye of our neighbour and the fast response by our local law enforcement. However there is no justice here. The penalty for theft of this nature is not going to keep these guys off the street for long. The officer had all sorts of tales to explain why this behaviour persists. There is also no guarantee that a simple robbery can’t turn violent, even in Canada.

That was not the first time we were a victim of theft in our home. We know lots of people who have been subject to this type of crime. What does not happen very regularly is violent theft. Most perpetrators in Canada want to get in and then leave without being detected. The stories we are hearing about, here in South Africa paint a far more violent picture. 

While the statistics don’t lie, there is a far greater level of violent crime in South Africa than in Canada, how likely are tourists to become victims of it? This is hard to say because when you dissect the types of violent crimes which tourists fall prey to, much of it could have happened in many different countries. None of what happens in South Africa is unique to the country.

Some of the common sense techniques to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Don’t go out after dark, walking, alone or in small groups.
  • Don’t go to isolated areas alone or in small groups, at any time of day.
  • Book hiking tours, with large groups and with reputable companies.
  • Don’t show off expensive possessions in public spaces.
  • Secure all possessions when walking in crowds, keep bags, purses or rucksacks in front of your body.
  • Don’t leave a purse hanging on the back of a chair in a restaurant.
  • Don’t stop your car to help strangers or pick up hitchhikers
  • Know your route and do not drive or walk in unsafe or remote areas. 
  • Lock up all valuables in a safe, don’t leave anything in a car, visible from the window.
  • Lock all doors and windows at night when sleeping or when leaving your residence.

These are excellent rules to live by, anytime of the day or night and anywhere in the world. While they may not all be necessary in all places, these techniques greatly reduce the likely hood of being involved in any type of crime. It is a rather small inconvenience to do these things when travelling, even if they are not required at your home.

My Mom used to lock the front door of our house when she was working in the backyard, in the garden. When we came home from school, without a key, we would have to go around back, to the door closest to where she was working. That would be the only door unlocked. When questioned if this habit was a little excessive she simply said, “better safe than sorry”.

I guess that is what it comes down to. A small effort to protect your personal safety and make sure you are not an easy target, or hope the statistics won’t apply to you? In a country like South Africa with a significant level of crime and violence, it pays to be cautious. To spend too much time trying to understand why the situation is so bad, is to fall into a web of information which will increase fear. As a visitor, your only job is protect yourself while having fun.  

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Christine Westermark

I am a world traveller, lucky enough to have a loving family who support my dreams to learn, create and give back by designing creative content which enables a lifestyle we don't need a vacation from.

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Can there be peace in a world of disparity?

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