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MAHLATSE MAHLASE: The thieves who stole dog food - the abnormal is normal in SA

OPINION

On Sunday, the sanctity of my family home was shattered when our property was invaded.

It remains the most bizarre invasion because the only thing the thieves stole was our dog Marley’s food - all 20kg of it - straight out of the dog feeder. We don't know how they carried the food, but they emptied the dog feeder. Not one chunk of food was left.

To reach the dog food, the thieves had to cut up the electric fence (which sadly wasn't working at the time) to access the yard. Thankfully, there is no sign they tried to gain entry into our house. Ironically, the dog feeder is more expensive than the food, and it is fairly new, so there was good resale value if cash was the motive.

But the invasion triggered a costly, unplanned security improvement that includes a palisade fence, barbed wire, and extra beams. We are now spending money we don’t have in order to again improve our security, in another desperate attempt to protect our lives. Sometimes it feels like safety is an illusion because the criminals always seem to be one step ahead, and quickly learn how to bypass security features.

We spoke to friends, and even the police, to try to understand why anyone would break into a home to steal normal dog food. The answers ranged from vagrants, thieves who wanted to poison your dog with their own food, or they were just nyaope addicts who would steal anything and everything. But everyone agreed the thieves would be back and we must consider it a warning for worse to come.

I then realised if I told the story to anyone who lived overseas, chances are they would have laughed off the incident as a petty crime by rather stupid thieves. But for South Africans, that fear we live with every day is reignited. The "at least" talk starts ... "At least you were not home when they broke in".

All my friends and family started doing thank you prayers that "at least" we were not tied up, raped and murdered. The prayers, of course, were followed by questions about how protected we really were, and advice on how to create another layer of protection beyond paying a security company to patrol the street, the cameras, beams, and panic buttons.

I guess it didn’t help that the invasion came at a time when our country's focus is on the most brutal violence against women and children.

The national crime statistics are due to be released later this week. I don’t know if they will show an increase or decrease in crime, but either way, they won't record that we are a nation gripped by the fear of the worst kind. We are a country where normal has become abnormal, and we resort to blaming the victims for not taking measures to protect themselves.

Our nation’s children cannot ride a bicycle in their own street without parental supervision. They will never know what it’s like to play in the street or walk to the nearby park to hang out with their friends without an adult. They can't even walk 500 metres to the nearby supermarket to buy bread and milk.

When I grew up, I played until the Apollo lights came on. The light was a jarring reminder that I was about to face the wrath of the folks at home for arriving after sunset. But by that time, I was covered in dust from playing street games since after school. I had learned so much about myself in those free moments and laughed so much. I belonged to a community of children with whom I was ready to do it all over again the next day.

We are now living in a country where taking your cellphone on a jog makes you a target. No, actually you can't jog before the sun rises or when it sets. Actually, why are you even jogging alone?

A trip to the CBD requires several security measures, including hiding your dreadlocks because someone could cut them off to sell them, or taking off your expensive weave.

We live in communities where you have to change your brass water taps outside to plastic ones because people are stealing them. How sad, because part of our childhood chores was to make them shine brighter than the neighbour’s tap.

Even the dead are not safe. People are stealing everything from coffins to those gold engravings on the tombstones. It's not safe anymore to visit our loved ones at the graveyard, because you could be mugged there too. Rather wait until Easter when it’s busy.

We live in a country where you can't leave your handbag on the passenger seat. In fact, people blame the victim for the smash and grab, and not the criminals.

When you park your car, you must lock and then double-check that your car is indeed locked because someone could be jamming your remote.

And so the list goes on. The normal has become abnormal. Or is it the abnormal has become normal? We want to protect the tourists, yes, but how I wish we had never let things deteriorate to this sad, pathetic state.

How I wish petty crime could be just that, petty, and not a sign of something more sinister. Because really, I would love to live in a country where we laugh off thieves who steal the dog’s food.

Mahlatse Mahlase is group editor-in-chief at Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @hlatseentle

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