Why is vi­o­lence against women so in­grained?

CityPress - - Voices - Nt­siki Mpulo voices@city­press.co.za

Iwas as­saulted. The at­tack was swift and left me reel­ing. It hap­pened on a Fri­day night in Cape Town. I had flown in with my friend for a week­end break. My friend and I were walk­ing down St Ge­orge’s Mall. In Jo­han­nes­burg, I would not be walk­ing the city streets at 7pm.

But this was Cape Town, its cloud­less sky still bright blue. This was the city of fun and hol­i­days, of sus­pended vig­i­lance.

I de­lib­er­ately chose the FNB ATM on St Ge­orge’s Mall, a pedes­trian area, be­cause I did not want to draw money on the street. To ac­cess the ATM you must walk up a flight of steps into a well-lit room, hous­ing a num­ber of ATMs. The room forms part of a re­gal old build­ing, sit­u­ated next to the bank’s en­trance.

It should have been one of the safest places in the city, but it turned out to be one of the most dan­ger­ous.

I walked into what ap­peared to be an ATM scam. Four black men sur­rounded an el­derly white cou­ple. There was a lot of con­fu­sion. The old man had stepped away from the ma­chine, while his wife stood nearby with one of the young black men. He was im­plor­ing her to punch her PIN num­ber into the ma­chine.

With­out hes­i­tat­ing, I walked in be­tween them and pressed the “can­cel” but­ton on the ATM. I turned to her and said: “Just walk away.” She went to her hus­band’s side, out of harm’s way. I thought the cou­ple had left, that the sit­u­a­tion had been dif­fused and the crim­i­nals thwarted, so I went to the next avail­able ATM to get on with my own trans­ac­tion, with­out pay­ing any fur­ther at­ten­tion to the men around us.

Be­fore I knew what was hap­pen­ing, I was sub­jected to a ver­bal tirade. One of the guys – the ring leader, I pre­sume – was shout­ing at me. “Un­ge­naphi wena ku­lend­aba [What busi­ness is this of yours]” is all I can re­mem­ber from the bar­rage of abuse he hurled at me.

He was densely built, com­pact and fierce. He raised his hand, ges­tic­u­lat­ing. I held my card in my hand and had just started to put it into the ma­chine when he started his tirade.

So, I was partly turned to­wards him and partly to­wards the ma­chine. Clearly, he was de­ter­mined to get through to me be­cause the next thing I felt was a bru­tally hard kick on my rear end. He lit­er­ally kicked my arse!

I turned to face him fully. I re­alised I was in danger as this man was about to punch me. It was then that the se­cu­rity guard, sta­tioned at the ATM, fi­nally de­cided to in­ter­vene.

My at­tacker walked out, leav­ing me shak­ing with out­rage and ter­ror. I asked the se­cu­rity guard, a diminu­tive man in a green uni­form, why he had not in­ter­vened be­fore.

He replied that this gang had robbed some­one else the pre­vi­ous day, and he was pow­er­less to stop them. “Why don’t you call the cops?” I asked. I do not re­call his an­swer.

I can­not ex­press ex­actly how I feel about the sit­u­a­tion as I vac­il­late be­tween out­rage, right­eous in­dig­na­tion and de­spair. I have strug­gled to write about it be­cause, al­though the vi­o­la­tion was real and men­ac­ing, it does not be­gin to com­pare with the lev­els of vi­o­lence di­rected at other women in South Africa.

In the same week in which I was as­saulted, a young woman was bru­tally killed. Nolu­vuyo Swelin­dawo (22), who was a mem­ber of Tri­an­gle – a les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der, in­ter­sex and ques­tion­ing ac­tivist group – was found at a foot­bridge near the Drift­sands Na­ture Re­serve in Cape Town. She died from a sin­gle gun­shot wound.

In com­par­i­son, mine was a mi­nor in­ci­dent. The hu­mil­i­a­tion I have felt seems un­founded in the face of the daily hu­mil­i­a­tions other women face at the hands of known and un­known men. I won­der if the crim­i­nal would have re­acted dif­fer­ently had I been a man. I imag­ine he wanted to make me feel small. He wanted to put me in my place.

I won­der how many women en­counter the same kind of bru­tal­ity daily and are pow­er­less to do any­thing about it. I won­der why it is that men use vi­o­lence against women to sub­ju­gate and op­press. I won­der when other men will stop stand­ing by and watch­ing while women are bru­talised.

And I won­der if I will have the courage to in­ter­vene on be­half of an­other vul­ner­a­ble per­son ever again. Mpulo is a se­nior com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fi­cer at Sec­tion 27 and a Shuku­mani Bafazi steer­ing com­mit­tee mem­ber

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