It was a morning that a 50-year-old South African woman, who lives in Forest Hills, west of Durban, is unlikely to forget. At 2 a.m. four armed men broke into her home. They overpowered, tied up and blindfolded all the occupants and then systematically ransacked the house for televisions, laptops, cell phones and bank cards.
"The last thing they said - one of them said to us," she recalls, "was, okay, we've got your cards, we want the PIN. If we can't draw out money, these two guys we are leaving here - and then they went silent. They didn't finish that sentence."
But the threat was unmistakable. After a while, the family realized that all the armed men had left the house. They untied themselves and alerted the neighbors and police. The woman realized that they could have been killed - as often happens in South Africa under such circumstances.
"I am thankful that my children and my family are alive, simple as that. Thank God, you know, if I had to ask for anything, it would be that," she said.
Another South African, a father of four, had an equally harrowing experience. A petrol attendant, he lives in the KwaMashu area of Durban, known for its high crime rate. He was nearly shot after playing in a football match. "We finished our game and these people were trying to shoot and kill us," he said.
Traumatic experiences like these can easily become part of everyday life in South Africa. They force well-heeled citizens to live in houses bristling with alarm systems and surrounded by high walls or fences.
'Crime rate increasing all the time'
South Africans are used to taking precautions when they leave home for work or visit shopping malls. They realize they could be held up by armed criminals, robbed or killed.
South Africans live like prisoners in their own homes, or at their places of work.
Prem Balram is a former police reservist who set up a private security company, Reaction Unit South Africa, in Verulam, north of Durban in 1996. He said the crime rate in South Africa was increasing all the time despite the efforts of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and private security companies. "45 people are murdered every day in this country," he said.
Balram says violent crime is organized by syndicates."In most cases it's monetary gain, drug related, and obviously hijackings where they would sell the vehicles for money - obviously it's for money," he said.
Just under a week after national football captain and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa was gunned down, in what police said was a robbery that went "horribly wrong," the parents of another South African international football star, Sibusiso Vilakazi, were robbed at gunpoint. Vilakazi believes he was the target, as the burglars asked for him by name.