MANY properties in crime-ridden South Africa are secured by electronic burglar alarms and high concrete walls topped with high-voltage electric fences, but in the quaint small diamond mining town of Cullinan, coffins are the latest security gadgets.
Following a spate of robberies in the semi-rural town of around 28,000 people, some residents have found that caskets are keeping burglars at bay.
Tired of the break-ins, a couple that runs a scrap metal trading firm thought they would experiment with a coffin to deter thieves.
From three burglaries a week, they have registered zero since they erected a black coffin among rusting pieces of iron piping strewn around the open-air hectare surrounded with a wire mesh perimeter fencing.
So the low cost and no-frills but quirky idea to protect their wares, must be effective.
“Crime is high,” said Rita Gatinho, company manager. “I don’t carry guns, am totally against that, what do we do to protect ourselves?”
It started off as joke when a customer came in last year offering to sell them an unused coffin.
“My husband said ‘let me just put it up maybe it will help to keep the thieves away,’ which it did,” said Gatinho. “It’s been, wow! I must say touch wood, it’s working,” she said stretching her hand to the coffin.
Pieces of yellow reflective tape are stuck on the coffin which is gradually decomposing in the sun and the rain.
South Africans last year reported more than 300,000 burglaries at residential and business properties, according to Crime Stats SA—which collates crime figures released by police.
‘I have got security’
A few hundreds of metres away from the shop, biker and former prison warder Rusty Pool has converted his treasure chest-shaped trailer into a wooden coffin, coming with all the trimmings of stainless steel handles.
His original idea was not to scare off anyone because there are no superstitions around coffins in his culture. After all coffins were used for storing dried fruits and stacked on house roof tops during the olden days.
So his idea then had been to come up with a novelty sleeper trailer which he would use when he goes camping during biking rallies.
Coincidentally he decided on the design shortly after the sleepy town east of Pretoria had experienced a spike in crime.
Thieves had poisoned most of the residents’ dogs before going on a stealing rampage.
He was a victim and lost two motorcycles.
“Ever since (he built the coffin) nothing has happened,” he said touching his brown panelled pine wood coffin.
He parks the coffin next to his 2000cc motorised three-wheeler in his yard, in full view of passersby or any would-be thieves.
Many people give the avid biker a stunned look, and keep as far away from him as possible whenever he is riding around.
“I think (in especially the) black culture they have got lots of respect for coffins, they don’t come near me,” said 51-year-old Pool.
People “walk about three or four metres (away), they don’t approach the coffin.”
Back at the scrap yard company, two black customers casually laugh off at the idea of using a coffin for security, making little of it as they bargain the price of a rusty oval steel bowl.
And a white customer goes about rummaging for pieces of items he wants to buy, clearly unperturbed by the coffin. He jokingly remarks “you recycle everything but coffins.”
Anthropologists suggest that superstition, more than respect is what drives people of certain cultures from coffins.
“I hope people don’t take it as a bad thing,” said Gatinho. “We didn’t put it up to scare people or wake the dead.”
Even as her “security” coffin is starting to give in to the vagaries of the weather, she vows never to pull it down.
“It works for me… I have got security.”
Meantime Pool makes sure he cleans and polishes his every fortnight, buffing up the yellow bold inscription “mother-in-law in transit”.