Life in urban South Africa is so synonymous with crime and fear that a 90-acre gated community like Silver Woods Country Estate can seem like a paradise. Sprawling and secure compound living is prized as a crime-free, alternate version of South Africa.
Silver Woods, as it is known, located in a suburb east of Pretoria, is where Oscar Pistorius resided, and where, on Valentine’s Day, the sports and cultural icon shot and killed his girlfriend in a bathroom off their bedroom. The compound wasn't as safe from crime, it seems, as Mr. Pistorius might have thought.
The case of the gun-wielding double-amputee known as the “Blade Runner,” who made history in the recent London Olympics by sprinting on fiber carbon struts instead of legs, has brought a focus to the elite Afrikaner world of the rich and famous that Pistorius inhabited, a world not far from violence yet lived in comfort.
Today a South African court granted bail to Pistorius at $113,000, saying his fame meant he was not a flight risk. The court said his trial would commence in early June. Family members of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend and victim, were in court for the first time today.
But magistrate Desmond Nair, after initial cheers from Pistorius supporters, said the sprint star may not return to his Silver Woods abode, and must turn over his passport and guns, and eschew alcohol in the runup to the trial.
Silver Woods is protected by high walls, electric fencing, security guards, laser sensors, biometric “thumbprint” locks, all overseen by closed-circuit cameras. Cars of choice at Silver Woods: Jaguars and BMW X5s.
It is a zone of large mansions, huge chandeliers, golf and tennis, servants brought in by special trolley – the kind of place that has mushroomed in post-apartheid South Africa, as mostly whites left South African cities.
If Pistorius is the OJ Simpson of modern South Africa, Silver Woods is its Brentwood, the high-end Los Angeles suburb formerly inhabited by the US football and movie star found not guilty of killing his wife.
Garth Jager, director of Garnat Properties, the developer behind Silver Woods, said residents of the estate are more aware of crime than the average South African, a powerful assertion considering how crime-conscious the country is.
“They want security more than anything else. They want to build and live in a safe environment,” Jager said.
“One of the biggest perks sold to us is the ability to live in a crime free space. Meaning you can walk, you can run, you can be out at night and not be concerned,” says a former resident of a nearby gated community, Silver Lake, at first wrongly identified by media as the location of the Pistorius home.
“It’s the kind of stuff the average South African yearns for, the ability to do these kind of things and not be concerned about safety issues,” says the resident, who asked not to be named.
Security and safety became prominent issues in bail hearings this week as Pistorius unveiled his version of the killing of Ms. Steenkamp, saying he shot into a closed bath fearing an intruder. In the unstated parlance of South Africa, many analysts argue that Pistorius was alluding to a robber that was likely black.
One consistent fact about the South African security estates: almost all the residents are white.
“If you drive around as a black person in a car—and I’ll be brutally honest—people wonder why you’re there,” the former resident of Silver Lake says. “Not to justify it but you also have to look at the fact that the affluent of Pretoria are mostly white.”
She said that in her estate, the residents were made up of a combination of South Africans, mostly Afrikaners, and expatriate workers for multinational companies who have offices in Pretoria.
While some black people, such as the woman interviewed, do live in security estates, they are often a minority of a minority, as most blacks are servants or security guards.