Rising above crime amid the South Africa World Cup

Inspired by the birds, one man built a thief-proof house without alarms, electric fencing, or security beams in crime-ridden South Africa, host of the 2010 World Cup.

Ian Evans
Crime remains high despite the glitz surrounding the South Africa World Cup. Eileen Mijlof stands by her burglarproof home in Cape Town. Her husband came up with the idea for the design after watching squirrels and birds sitting in trees.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Fed up with being burgled, entrepreneur Jelle Mijlof decided to combat crime by designing and building his own thiefproof house. The result was a curious-looking, goblet-shaped family home with stunning views over Cape Town and something quite rare in South Africa: no alarms, electric fencing, or security beams.

In South Africa’s Western Cape Province, there were 42,920 burglaries at residential properties between April 2008 and March 2009. While neighbors have been robbed during the 10 years since this house was built, Jelle and his wife, Eileen, say they’ve enjoyed a crime-free existence in the Higgovale suburb at the foot of Table Mountain.

Standing in the driveway Eileen says, “As you can see from the design, you’d need to be Spider-Man or a pole-vaulter to get in. It’s like a fortress.”

Jelle came up with the idea after watching squirrels and birds sitting in trees. “They moved around freely and knew they couldn’t be attacked in the safety of the tree. I thought if I could build something similar we’d have a peaceful life.”

The couple say they lost count of the number of times they were burgled at various addresses in Cape Town, including a hotel they once owned, although none were violent.

Looking precarious on top of a garage, the two-story building is supported by foundations 20 feet deep and 10 feet wide by 40 feet long containing more than 90 cubic yards of concrete. Jelle used 13 tons of steel, enabling the house to withstand a magnitude-8 earthquake. The only way in is via the garage or a side door and the first floor is nearly 50 feet above ground level. The couple are now selling it for around $1.5 million to move an hour away to the whale-watching town of Hermanus.

“We’ve always felt totally safe in the house and not many South Africans can say that,” says Eileen. “Anyone who buys it will be buying peace of mind.”

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