Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cape Town Mystery #2

Mega Walls.

The Mystery: Who builds them? Rather, who lives inside the walls? My theory: Not Capetonians (and foreign friends, it's Cape Town, not Capetown. But it's Capetonians...end of digression).

I'd like to be proved wrong, because my sentiment is xenophobic. Or maybe just Gautengphobic? Gauteng is a province of high walled enclaves and compounds.

Mega walls are on the rise,  and I don't think that it is in response to an increase in violent crime. That's not scientific, just a hunch. I do think that it may be the result of a migration south of our northern South African cousins who don't feel right with a view unobstructed by Security.

The wall above, now under construction on the hill above Kirstenbosch, is serious. It's laughable it's so high. It can't be legal. Is there legal limit in building codes? This is 12 feet, minimum. And will it be glazed with electric fencing, the icing on the mega wall cake?

The only good thing this wall does is hide the unprepossessing block of house within.

This is on Rhodes Drive, nearby. At least we got arty with the stone. Afro-Goth. My guess - 8-10 feet. Note electrified strands on top.

Are you safer inside something like this? I don't think so. Once you are over a wall like this nobody in the world will know that you are there. Except for the cameras. This one does have cameras. So who lives inside? Mystery. Big, gauche mystery.

Mega wall close to home. Electric fencing. "English Rose". The irony is deafening. Height? 10-foot range, I'd say. Electrics.

I hate to tempt fate by saying that my parents' house is altogether unwalled and crime-free. Bad things can happen anywhere, and are frightening and sometimes deadly. I understand fear. But their house, unlike these cocooned neurotics, is visible from the street, and the street is visible from the house. Very hard to pull a fast one on it. Impossible to creep up unnoticed. Then again, every window has burglar bars - often not noticed by visitors as they mimic the wooden frames of the windows. 

The mega walled houses, I'd bet, have iron free glass and sophisticated electric alarms which go so well with our rolling electricity black outs.

*Note on building materials for the Americans reading this. One of the first things that stuck me in the States was that houses seemed to be built (to my eye) from planks, plastic and insulation. If you punch wall in a fit of temper chances are you'd go through it. If you did that here you'd go to hospital. While the walls above obviously cost mega bucks, it is true that - with the glaring exception of shantytowns - most housing here is built from brick, stone and cement. Dry wall on frames is a great rarity, and used exceptionally. I assume that it has to do with lower labour and materials costs here, and also with a high level of masonry skill.

Previous Cape Town Mystery:

Cape Town Mystery #1 - the lollipop trees at Constantia Village


  1. There are several "gated communities" near where I live. When we moved here, my husband wanted to look at houses in them. I refused. That was over 10 years ago, and I've never been sorry. Being behind a wall would bother me at some deep level. Sounds boring, too.

  2. That first wall is on my daily route to work. I have been watching it get higher and higher as time passes, as the soil from the steep slope spills into the road and the construction vehicles cause traffic jams. I always wonder what the people who are building the wall think of it - if it appears ridiculous to them (as it does to me), or if it is some warped demonstration of wealth and success that they perhaps aspire to. Oh, our dear country and its contrasts.

  3. There are so many gated communities in the States now, that it is really frustrating. Apparently we are so distrustful of our neighbors - well, you know not actually the people who live nearby, but the "others" - that we are afraid to live gloriously out in the open. That, plus the belief that one is better than those "others" is part of the great cultural divide in the States. I hate it. Sorry to see it spreading to your lovely land.

    Thanks for the card - totally not necessary tho!

  4. Actually I am involved with the building of the wall, and it is a retaining wall. Hence it size. The earth has been filled behind it, which allows for a raised level area behind it, so that the garden area can be increased. It also helps in keeping the sound of the cars from the house. You will also note that it is being landscaped in the front. The house itself never gets to see the wall at all as it is way above it. Hope that is mystery #2 solved.

  5. Jill says,

    "The house itself never gets to see the wall at all as it is way above it"

    everybody else gets to see though. Mind you, when the landscaping's finished, maybe that'll improve it.

  6. Each to their own, in my opinion...

  7. dianefaith and webb - crime has always been a major part of people's consciousness in SA. It is not imagined, unfortunately, as we have a high crime rate. But I do believe that this kind of response is exaggerated, and not very well thought out.

    Rosie - yes, the contrasts are often at screeching level.

    Jill - how lucky to get part of an answer. But the original question remains - who is inside? Are you allowed to share their origin?

    I know it's on a hill - how deep was the soil filled in...?

    Anonymous - 'each to their own' is a laudable sentiment if tolerance is called for. But each to their own also raises the ultimate spectre of the gas chamber. It can be a rallying cry for saying nothing. High walls are not gas chambers, I know, but I believe they have a subtle effect on society. They send high wall messages.

    1. The slope is quite steep, and the wall is about 3.5m high - of which 2.5m has been filled in. The owner is spending quite a bit of cash on the landscaping of his property so hopefully when you are back in town it will look much better from the street.

  8. My sister's house in Claremont is the only one on her street without a wall. Though most of the walls are not 10-12 foot high. However a few years ago someone tried to break into the garage, the only part where the small window did not have burglar bars. Assuming he would have then tried to gain entry to the rest of the house from inside the garage.

    I think there is more petty crime when the house is within walking distance of public transport. EVERYbody has alarms it seems in Cape Town.

    I think wood is so precious in SA that houses cannot be built there the way they are in the US. Also, even if it was possible, a brick and cement house is much less flammable, and that is good.

  9. The owner is local, but wasn't born in SA - He is Italian


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