Before you read this, I must apologise in advance if this piece of work is not as coherent or structured as other pieces I have written. I am writing this from an emotional place.
It has been a tough week for South African women. It has brought all our tiny fears to the fore. The ones we hold close to our chest and tell no one about because it seems like paranoia.
I’ve been told that I am “too paranoid” a lot. I’d go as far as to say ad nauseam. I have been told that my anxiety gets the better of me and that I need to just “Be cool”. Well, I’m sorry I can’t. The mental checklist I use for my safety is there for a reason, and guess what! I’ve just been proven right.
Am I constantly afraid? Yes, I am. But I’m no longer afraid to say that.
I have fears about someone breaking into my house and raping me all the time. I feel like I will not hear them coming and I will be all alone. I fear my family will find me and I won’t have a voice anymore. I have fears about leaving my house and getting hijacked. I am afraid that someone may follow me when I walk anywhere alone. I try to cross the street casually if I see a stranger (a man) or two (men), while being calm enough to not make them feel like I am targeting them. I am torn when I do this, because what if they sense that I’m afraid and then get angry at me and hurt me. Just yesterday, I was walking into a car park and saw two males walking towards me. I upped my pace to get to my car quicker.
When I drive to places alone, I never park too far from the entrance, I never park where the lighting isn’t great, and I always wait to see if there are other women in my vicinity before I walk to an entrance.
I hate going to public bathrooms because it always feels like a walk down an alleyway with strange people milling around. Even if my boyfriend, father, or brother are waiting outside. I especially hate it if I’m shopping at a mall alone.
I watch my surroundings, but I can never be sure. I feel constant low-lying anxiety.
I hate that being vigilant is my DUTY as a woman.
I feel like I’ve accomplished something when I have safely packed away my groceries in my car, and have gotten into my vehicle again. I often breathe a sigh of relief at this point in the journey. The anxiety begins the moment I start up my car again. While driving, I don’t just look out for suspicious-looking people, I also try to look for suspicious-looking cars and their following distance from me. I may be jamming to my favourite song in the car on my drive back to wherever, but I’m always a little on edge until I’m back home, all locked up with the alarm on.
But even then, it’s not like it goes away. The cycle just begins again.
I don’t feel safe EVER.
No woman does.
The pain of the last few days has really cut me deeply and brought up old wounds. Wounds about past relationships and being silenced; being bulldozed by partners or colleagues; feeling unsafe in the company of men; and being taken advantage of sexually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. The worst part is that when I thought back to these encounters, I realised that I knew these men.
It got me thinking about the concept of “knowing”.
It is common knowledge that most women are sexually assaulted or raped by someone they know. We have this preconceived notion that “to know” is to have a close emotional and intellectual connection with a partner, a family member, or a friend.
No, I must disagree: that is to “know well”. “To know” is to simply “be aware”, in its simplest definition.
For example, if you walked into Woolworths daily to buy lunch, or stopped at the same garage to fill petrol, or used the same post office for all your deliveries, could we not argue that we have come to “know” those places? Perhaps we could even say we “know” the people who work there. Perhaps we have a casual conversation with the workers. Perhaps we become familiar. Perhaps we become friendly.
I feel like it’s safe to say that “knowing” has quite a broad spectrum of understanding.
Now imagine that you walked into your usual post office, only to be told, by a face that was somewhat familiar, to come back later to check for your parcel. Would you trust that person? Because maybe you “know” them?
I’m not presuming any of this happened with Uyinene Mrwetyana, but my speculation is that she may have known him. It is more than speculation and almost fact that her murderer and rapist targeted her. I personally feel like he saw her on more than one occasion and wanted to have sex with her. I am entirely sure he murdered before because no one says “This child was a problem, it took forever for her to die”.
As a woman, I can’t imagine that I would trust a random man who I had never met before. It is a possibility, though. I mean, I have listened to people in bureaucratic positions say, “The system is down, come back tomorrow”. But something tells me that she knew him. That she was naïve and believed he was going to make a plan for her parcel. That he was extra friendly and she was made to feel safe.
What is not speculation AT ALL is that a woman trusted a man, and it led to her death.
The moment she let her guard down and trusted; the moment she did not abide by the mental checklist; the moment fear did not rule her decisions… she was brutally violated and murdered.
So why should we trust them? We have proof that fear works better.
Is this not true of all women? Do we not trust men and then we die a little inside? They let us down. They break us down. They kill us. And they take no responsibility for our pain. Pain that they caused. They don’t care about us. We are objects. We are a walking vagina for their cultural entitlement.
The moment men realise that most of their kind walk around with this mentality and start stepping up for us will be the moment things begin to change.
Stop judging us.
Stop mocking us.
Stop using us.
Stop raping us.
Stop killing us.
Just because we trust you.