I am a statistic.
I am a woman, and I am a crime statistic.
So many different events flash through my mind as I sit here.
I am five years old, and it's a normal day after my mom picks me up from preschool. We run the usual errands, the Pick and Pay around the corner from the school, the butchery and then a quick stop at the post office, apparently one of the most dangerous places in our country. My mom stops outside the post office and tells me she is quickly going to run and get the post, I can just stay in the car. Now you have to know, this woman will fight wars for me, so as she briskly walks to our post box, she keeps her eye on the car with me in it. I see a man approach her, asking for some kind of directions, whereafter he does not follow the directions my mom gives him, but comes walking straight to the car, his eyes fixed on me. Unsettled in her spirit, my mom looks over her shoulder and sees the man by our car and starts running back to me. He luckily realised that this woman is a force to be reckoned with and runs off. I will never forget, as little as I was, her crying and shaking as she jumps in the car and drives away. What could have happened? Who knows? All I know is, I had my first real scary encounter at the age of five, and it has left its mark on me.
I am seven years old. It's the start of my Grade 1 year, my one brother is in Grade 8 and my eldest brother is in Grade 12. One fateful afternoon my mom is on her way to drop off my brothers at school for a hockey game. As she is about to leave, I beg to go with. She tells me to rather stay and finish my lunch, so I can start with homework when she gets back. It is somewhere between 14:00 and 15:00 in the afternoon when she returns and as she stops at our gate, she is faced with any person's - any woman's worst fear. A gun pointing at her head. She is forced to the back of our Combi and told to be quiet and lie down.
My beloved mother was in the hands of two criminals for about two hours whereafter she begged them to drop her off where there was no one around and no possible way for her to alarm anyone. They dropped her off near Loskop Dam. My strong, amazing mother had to run, barefoot on blistering hot tar in the middle of nowhere hoping that when someone finds her, she will be alive, and when someone finds her, they won't be her next predators. A car came along, miraculously it was people we knew that had a shop in the area, where we used to come to often for vacation. She got home safe and was never to be the same again. "Lock your doors, be safe, don't go out, why is this car full of men driving so slowly", could I blame her for being protective?
I am seventeen years old, and I have the most difficult year of my life ahead. One evening, the day before the 2011 National Elections, I was visiting my boyfriend at the time. As I arrive, he tells me his parents are at dinner with friends but will be back soon and that their domestic worker that stays with them is there. I walk over to the kitchen to boil water for coffee (my addiction was very real already at that time) and I walk back to the living room again, completely unaware that my life is about to change forever. As I sit down, I hear a strange sound, which in the next 10 seconds would become clear to me - was the loading of a gun. Four men, armed, and us, looking down the barrels of their guns. My first thought - RAPE, how will we be able to stop four men. My second thought - MY MOTHER, did she make it out of their yard before they could attack her as well? My thoughts then run away with me, where is his little sister? When will his parents be back? How will I see the break of day? They take him to his parents' bedroom to open the safe, then beats him for not knowing how. In the meantime, I am alone with one of the four. I cannot keep my prayers silent as I wait for them to do what I fear most, rape me. God's presence has never been so real and tacit as it was that night. For some reason I was praying that God's protection would be like a blanket, covering me in full, and that they won't see me in some way. Next moment, the man that was waiting in the living room with me while the others were taking what they can from the house, walks over to where I am on the floor. For the first time I start crying loudly, thinking that 'this is it'. After he feels whether there is anything in my pockets, he takes the blanket that was on the couch and throws it over me - just like I prayed. How amazing is God?
In the meantime the domestic worker realised what was happening and alarmed his parents. I hear their car arriving and the man keeping watch outside frantically screams for the others to finish up. After hearing gunshots as they run out, I now dread the next worst thing that could happen, his parents being hurt. By the absolute grace of God, everyone came out of the ordeal alive. So many things became clear to me that evening. You cannot fight them, they are stronger than you are and have weapons. You can only submit and pray. Another thing that I learned that evening was that the SAPS were in 2011 already in a really bad state. It was as if they were upset with us for calling them the evening prior to a public holiday. No one was ever looked for, nevermind caught, and the scars were left for us to carry for the rest of our lives.
I am in my early 20's on a bus, traveling from Durban to Johannesburg, and quite uneasy and worried about travelling alone to begin with. I chose a bus ticket so I could have more money to spend over the holiday and convinced my parents that they raised a strong independent woman who is more than capable to go on this 'adventure', and I mean, we've all been on a luxurious bus - how bad could it be? And how bad it was. I called my mom in tears at some petrol station halfway through, because there was this man that was staring at me, every single second. You know THAT kind of stare, where you can feel his degrading and vile eyes on your body? I did not want to get out of the bus when we stopped, or stay in it, if he was there. I did not want to go to bathroom alone - I did not go to the bathroom at all. Eventually, in order to calm myself down, I tried to convince myself that I was imagining things. To my despair, as I got into the bus after a stop, he winked at me, blew me a kiss and laughed. A gross man that was about 20-30 years older than me. Everytime my eyes fell shut I woke myself up and reminded myself that there is possibly a sexual predator waiting for me to fall asleep. Eventually, somewhere on the journey someone got off the bus and I quickly grabbed my things to sit at the front, next to an older lady. I mentioned to her that I wasn't feeling safe and what has been happening, and she immediately took it upon herself to get me home safe. I learned to pray even harder that day.
You see, this fear that a five year old me experienced for the first time, has never left me. I carry it around with me, I carry it with me when I go to the mall, when I go for a run, when I am in my bed, with my bedroom door locked. I fear for my family and friends, beautiful strangers that I don't even know. I fear for my future daughter. I fear for my future.
What are we busy with, South Africa? Where did we lose sight of God? Why did we teach our daughters to basically keep themselves locked up and silent, and neglected to teach our sons to ask for permission, that 'no means NO', that the safety of our women should be first priority?
I can write a book about encounters and experiences, stories, documentaries and movies. It is everywhere and it can happen to anyone, done by anyone. Fathers, uncles, boyfriends, pastors. The list goes on. For now, I suggest we stay woke, and raise woke woman. Teach them consent, teach them about sex and everything that relates to it. Make sure they know when the time comes that something wrong is happening to them, and that they can talk about it without being shamed or victimised. In the same breath I plead with parents and future parents to raise men that will ask for consent, call out their friends if they are in the wrong and stand up for the girl rather than covering up for his bro. We have to call for a shift in the education our kids are receiving on these topics. 'Life Orientation' was irrelevant when I was in school, I cannot imagine it being a proper school subject nowadays. We have to call out people, and I mean anyone, if they are in the wrong. If someone is abusing his powers in any way - you speak up. If you know of children being abused or neglected, it is your legal duty and obligation to report it. South Africa, enough with normalising this crime-time real life series we are living in!
I honestly don't know where else to begin, but I know that this is where it has to stop.