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My neighbourhood used to be a safe one. But over time it’s become more and more dangerous, with criminals targeting this once peaceful place. You might see the lengths we go to in sunny South Africa to protect ourselves, our families, and our possessions, and shake your heads in disbelief. This is what you’re in for when you travel here or decide to live here. This is Africa. We do things differently here. This isn’t Canada, where you can leave your doors unlocked or even open. Cape Town is the crime capital of the world. More murders, rapes and hijackings take place here every day than anywhere else – even Johannesburg must hang its head in shame nowadays compared to the Mother City as far as crime statistics go (and they are usually woefully inaccurate – as in much lower than they really are – according to some).
In this article I’m going to talk about tips you can use to secure your house, some of which may be obvious, others not, and also what to look out for to prevent your house from being burgled and precious possessions taken from you, which I have decided to cover in a follow up hub.
The garage is an easy way for a thief to get in to your house. Electronic ones that open by way of remote are particularly vulnerable. This could happen by accident – you press the button that opens the garage and forget the door is open and you end up being robbed. I often see that electronic garage doors or ones that operate by being pulled down by a handle or lever malfunction and don’t close all the way, if at all. Burglars thin enough, or children, could get through even the smallest gap and inside.
Garages are full of tools, power tools and the like that have street value. Some tools could even be used to commit other burglaries. Garages are also dangerous because they are usually connected to the house via a door.
You should preferably not have a door leading from the garage to the inside of the house, and if you do, make sure to have it secured with a security gate. Also consider securing your garage door with a security gate or locks, bolts, etc., as an added layer of protection. A garage that is completely separate from the rest of the house is best.
Doors can be forced open with the help of a crowbar and a mighty boot. Other approaches include chipping away around the lock with a hammer and chisel. Make sure to lock doors with a key or catch, use bolts, chains, etc. – and place them at the middle, bottom, and top of the door. Don’t focus them all in one place. Also have a security gate of some sort on the outside of the door. Slamlocks are supposedly best when escaping inside quickly to get away from an intruder, seeing as you don’t have to mess around with keys and the like.
Catflaps are convenient for our feline friends who go in and out, especially at night, but they can also be an entry point for burglars. You’d be surprised how burglars can and will use children to access houses and open up doors from the inside. There supposedly are catflaps that are designed to work in conjunction with feline collars and will only open if the cat with the right collar tries to enter. Not much use if your cat doesn’t like collars and manages to get it off – and the burglars get a hold of it. In fact cats present a bit of a security risk unless they are trained house cats who stick around the house. Adopting cats that like to roam around will create problems. If they want to go outside a lot at night, and many cats do, then the owners must have pet houses for them to take shelter in outside. Don’t leave windows open and the like for cats to get back in to the house. Their food can also be left outside, too. The only problem is that other cats will come and eat it, but cats will always come on your property, whether you know it or not.
Keep doors that lead to the outside of the house closed when not in the area. Preferably they should be closed at all times, or at least the security gate closed and locked. Also try to avoid doors that one can see through, like see-through sliding doors or ones with frosted glass. This makes it easier for burglars to see who is at home, if anyone, and to possibly scope out your possessions, too.
Keep your windows closed when not in a room, and draw the curtains or close the blinds at night and when out of the house, or when not in the area. This prevents people from looking in and seeing your possessions. Keep your things of value out of reach – don’t put them near the window so people can reach in through an open or broken window and grab them.
"Catflaps are convenient for our feline friends who go in and out, especially at night, but they can also be an entry point for burglars. Burglars will use children to access houses and open up doors from the inside."
Roofs and chimneys
You think that a burglar would never be so stupid to try to come through the roof or the chimney? Wrong. Burglars will look for weak points in your home and any access point is worth trying. Make sure you don’t have any holes in the roof, missing roof tiles, etc., and if you have a chimney – if you don’t use it, consider blocking it up, or at least cover the top of the chimney when not using it, say in the summer months, or perhaps block up the bottom somehow, so even if someone managed to get down the chimney, they couldn't enter the house. That's why it's dangerous to have one of those fully open chimneys.
Basements and storm shelters
Your basement may or may not be accessible from outside. Some have small windows to allow light in. Just make sure to bar these up, and if it is accessible from outside, then consider locking and securing the door not only that door, but the one that leads from the basement to the house too. But perhaps the basement or storm shelter is not under the house and is separate. Then just make sure it is secured properly.
It’s quite quaint to imagine a shed in the garden somewhere, like a miniature cottage, to store your tools and the like. But you had better secure this shed, otherwise not only can someone steal your tools, they can use these tools to break in to your house. A shovel can be used as leverage to pry open a window. Don’t believe me? I’ve seen it happen. It’s a better idea to store tools and the like in the house, in the garage or another room. Don’t ever leave tools lying around outside the house or in the lane.
Fences and walls
Make sure to have a fence around your property. A wall is less safe seeing as once someone is inside, they can’t be seen as easily by anyone, such as neighbours and passers by. And it’s no use having very high walls, seeing as there are likely regulations in place restricting how high walls can be. Six feet high is the standard in Cape Town, for example. And you need to obtain permission first before building any boundary. For this reason it’s also a bad idea to have hedges or other foliage that might hide intruders. You can combine fences and walls – having sections of fencing to fill gaps in the wall.
Having barbed wire or razor wire may actually be illegal depending on where you live, and this goes for shards of glass or other deterrents, too. That and they can be thwarted by thieves, who will lay objects or clothes like a leather jacket over it in order to climb over without injury. Electric fences are okay, and people mainly have small electric fences on top of walls. Full electric fences would likely be very expensive and are only really used by businesses.
Make sure to have a sizeable gate that separates the driveway from the road. You don’t want people walking straight up to your front door. While electronic gates are convenient, only open them when you are ready to leave, and close them immediately afterwards. These gates can also malfunction, just like electronically operated garage doors. At least when you have gates that have to be closed manually, there's less chance of malfunctioning.
Also make sure to have a garage to park cars in. Don’t leave them outside in the driveway or parked in the road. Someone will come along and steal things from the car. Also don’t leave your car keys in the ignition, your windows down, or the doors unlocked. Cars should have alarms and immobilisers at the very least and other methods to prevent someone from breaking in or hijacking the vehicle, such as a steering lock and anti-theft devices. A lot of modern vehicles have features such as this where you have to confirm that you are the owner of the car, and will receive messages when your car appears to have been stolen. Other cars have a thumbprint recognition feature, where if someone tries to start the car by putting their thumbprint on the device, the engine won’t start.
"Having barbed wire or razor wire may actually be illegal depending on where you live, and this goes for shards of glass or other deterrents, too. Electric fences are okay, on top of walls."
Security gates, bars
You should invest in some security gates for the doors on your house – particularly the ones leading to the outside of the house, and perhaps to separate the bedrooms from the rest of the house. Also bar up the windows. It may be a better idea to have bars on the inside rather than outside, as outside, thieves have easier access to the screws, bolts and the like that hold them securely to the wall. Don’t think for one second that they won’t take the time to get it off. Real professionals will. Invest in thicker bars – at least 10mm thick, rather than 5mm, which is the standard with some – these can be levered or bent more easily.
The safe room is a place you retreat to if your home is invaded by intruders. In here you should have all necessary provisions and equipment. Preserved food and drink – stuff that should keep for at least a few months if not years before needing to be replaced. Have a phone of some sort – preferably not a landline, because phone lines can be cut. Preferably a cellphone that is charged from time to time. Also have adequate ventilation. And medical supplies are a must. Like the film Safe Room, there probably shouldn’t be any windows, and building materials should be more robust. To make a cheap safe room, door kits can be purchased.
Security alarm installations can be expensive, and not to mention a lot can go wrong. People or pets set off alarms (and they often switch them off as a result which is a big mistake); calls coming through from security companies checking to see if everything is okay because the alarm was tripped – and so on. And not to mention security companies themselves are suspected of robberies in some cases; an inside job.
You can set up alarm systems in the home on your own and cut out a lot of the cost, but you will need to assemble a lot of the parts yourself. You can buy them from hobby shops – alarms, cameras, intercoms and so on. Then you bring home the kits and assemble them yourself. Mainly a bit of soldering, wiring and so on, and you’re set. You can even have proximity alarms which go off when someone comes near your TV or PC! The downside is that there’s no rapid or armed response that is going to come and check out what’s going on when it happens, seeing as you set it up yourself. But perhaps a neighbour who isn’t hard of hearing might have a look and at least inform you or perhaps call the police if they have any sense. But it had better be the real deal!
Everyone who lives in the house should follow proper security protocol. You can have the best security installation in the neighbourhood, and it can be let down by someone leaving the front door open by mistake. Remember to lock doors, garages, close windows, set alarms and everything else that needs doing before leaving the house. Go through a checklist every day if you must until it becomes routine. It's better than leaving the house and you're halfway to work and you think you might have left a door unlocked, and then spending the rest of the day worrying about it. It's even worse if you don't worry, because that indicates arrogance, complacency, and nonchalance, which is a dangerous attitude to have in a crime-filled country. Because that's what the thieves are counting on in the end.
"It won't happen to me". Yes it will. It happens to everyone at some point in their lives, but you can at least help prevent it from doing so.
“Man is born free, and yet everywhere he is in chains.”
— Jean Jacques Rousseau
© 2012 Anti-Valentine