I still remember the first time the word “rape” featured on my radar. It was a sunny afternoon in Paarl, and I had just come back from school. With the carefree curiosity of a child I decided to read the cover story of Die Burger. It was a story about rape.
I read about how a high school pupil from George had walked through a field on her way home. How she was attacked and raped repeatedly. How her assailant had tried to kill her. How she’d wished he had succeeded.
It’s been nearly 15 years and I can still taste that girl’s despair in my mouth.
That news story came into my life like a red tide – staining my childhood with its sudden arrival. After that I heard the word ‘rape’ and ‘verkragting’ more often. Only 10 years old, I didn’t really understand the true meaning of the word. But instinctively I knew it was bad, and that I had to fear it happening to me.
There is not a day that goes by where I am not concerned about my safety. Whether it is walking in Long Street in broad daylight, getting cat-called and told by a man that “He will find me”, or walking to a 7 Eleven a few meters from my house after dark. The fear is always there.
You can talk to any woman and she will tell you the same: We never feel safe. Every day we are targets, no matter where we are, or what we are wearing. (It’s NEVER about your clothes, EVER.)
This past week three rape stories are haunting our newspapers. One in Khayelitsha, where a girl was attacked doing something as simple as going to the bathroom. Another one where a woman was raped going for a run in Newlands forest, merely living her life and going about her routine. And then Franziska, young and full of life, spending time with her family in Tokai forest…
My heart feels heavy when I think about these women and their families, and about all the unreported cases that happen on a daily basis. I have never been one of those “South Africa is the worst country because of its crime” kinds of people, but this week has made it difficult for me to see our country’s beauty.
I am tired of everyday life being tarnished by crime. I am tired of constantly looking over my shoulder. I am tired of always having to think about the fact that someone may want to harm me. I am tired of always fearing my life.
Criminals are walking around freely, because life in SA has become a prison. We close our curtains at night over our burglar bar windows, and we confine ourselves to going places that we regard as ‘safe’.
This country needs to change and it needs to change soon.