A Life of Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

SOUTH Africa is commemorating her 64th Women’s Month. The predominant feeling among women, however, is not that of the invincibility displayed by the thousands of their counterparts who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria against pass laws. The high rate of rape and femicide in the country has left women looking over their shoulders daily.

An incident left me quaking in my boots recently. It really could have nothing, but could easily have been a catastrophic event like many we hear in the news daily. I believe my life was in danger.  Virtual races and challenges have taken the globe by storm due to the coronavirus pandemic, and I was participating in a 300km challenge, initiated by my sister in Denmark. I try to walk approximately 5km daily, and on this day, decided to walk around 4pm. A few metres before finishing my workout, I noticed a man in front of me, covering himself from the head with a dirty blanket. He appeared to be a vagrant. At some point, he stopped to adjust his blanket, and I felt as if he had looked at me as he did so. He dragged his blanket further down, such that it covered his upper face, then he wrapped his purple scarf around his face. Alarm bells started ringing in my head. I was asking myself if he was trying to hide his face in preparation to strike.  Then I thought, maybe I need to stop watching On the Case with Paula Zahn and all the Investigation Discovery programmes making me see danger everywhere, even when people are just trying to protect themselves from the cold weather. It doesn’t help that I work in the media, where the primary focus on the bad and the ugly is enough to get one unhinged because of a heightened sense of danger.  I also reminded myself that profiling of any kind was unfair. Not everyone who appears down on their luck should be viewed as a thug and potential threat. The man appeared to have somewhat slowed down after noticing me. I decided to pick up pace, he did too, but not enough to overtake me. I saw another man walking behind us, and felt a surge of relief that my tail would surely not pounce on me with another person in the vicinity. But that man appeared to be in a hurry and soon outpaced us. The man I believe was following me switched to the same side I was walking, and seemed determined not to overtake me. I felt, or imagined, his eyes boring into my back, and was relieved when I got to our complex. Sadly, load-shedding had struck and the electrical gate to our complex wouldn’t open. I was, however, sure the man would just walk on by, seeing I was now home. As I stood by the gate, something made me turn back, and there he was, all covered up by his blanket and purple scarf, with only the eyes showing. He was standing about five metres away from me, gazing at me. Then calmly, from behind his blanket, he tilted his head to sweep his eyes up and and down the road, probably checking if there was any person nearby. I checked too, and there was absolutely no one within sight. It was eerily quiet. Except for my heart beating like a sledge hammer in my chest. I feared he would hear it too. Then out of nowhere, a car pulled into the driveway and stopped by the gate, intending to also get into the complex. As soon as the man saw I wasn’t alone anymore, he whispered, “I’ll see you, neh?” and walked away.

A few days after the incident, I saw the man begging at the robots
Image by: Charlotte Chipangura

I was pretty shaken up when someone inside the complex opened the gate for the black car. I got in and just stood there gazing at it until it parked outside a house. I wondered whether to go after the occupants and say thank you for showing up when you did, and kiss their feet. Their arrival probably saved me from something perilous. Gender-based violence is at an all-time high in South Africa, and I could easily have become a statistic. Maybe not, but I believe we should always trust our instincts. When someone’s presence destabilises your spirit, don’t second-guess yourself.  We might want to be good sports who see the best in everyone, but there is no space for such toxic positivity in the world we live in. Women need to constantly look over their shoulders, because there is, almost always, danger lurking in the shadows. It is a depressing way to live. When I got inside the house, I was so relieved to see my children, and be back to safety. I told two of my friends about the encounter, and they all encouraged me to find a walking buddy. Unfortunately, I don’t have one.

The day after the incident, I woke up feeling ballsy and determined to walk again. I would not let some bum ruin my weight loss goals and stop me from finishing my challenge. I have an August birthday and aimed to look great on my special day. I would walk, come hell or high waters. With that, I strode out of the gate, ready to face whatever or whoever came my way in the face. It was cold and windy, so I wore my warm clothes and got out of the gate, I looked up and down the road, and noticed there weren’t any walkers or pedestrians in sight. Everyone seemed to have developed cold feet due to the wintry weather. Seeing the road so quiet creeped me out as I remembered the unwelcome encounter from yesterday. With my tail neatly tucked between my legs, I went back into the house, with the sick feeling that the stalker had won. He possibly is illiterate and sleeps under the bridge, while I attained impressive qualifications from reputable institutions, hold a steady job, and have a decent roof over my head, but there is a certain power he wields over me. He is a man and I’m a woman. He determines whether I run freely on the road or become a couch potato because I feel endangered. When people look at his picture, they might chuckle and say, “Honestly Charlotte? A whole you was afraid of this man?” I was afraid. I’m always afraid and do not even wear earphones during my walk so that I stay alert. As long as you don’t have a penis in South Africa, you need eyes at the back of your head and to sleep with one eye open because men have turned the country into a minefield.

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