'You could be next', that's the feeling SA women live with daily

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Cornered. Vulnerable. Afraid.

Those are the words, but they are not enough to describe the creeping reality of knowing you are prey. But that is the feeling that swept over me when the details of Uyinene Mrwetyana’s death were reported.

This was not the first time, just the latest incident that triggered the reaction.

Women in this country have been living in a heightened state of anxiety; every time a picture of a missing woman is posted, you feel very afraid, because you literally could be next.

The rate of femicide seems to have risen shockingly before our eyes, but it’s a reality we’ve lived with for so long.  While sitting at my desk I was seized with a paralysis and the certain knowledge that no matter what I do I can be killed for having a vagina.

I whispered to a colleague that I didn’t want to go home, the bus I was to take could hold my murderer, the e-hailing service I can try to use is also not to be trusted. 

The neighbour, the friendly petrol attendant who waves as I go by. The taxi driver who sometimes gives me a lift. A man who works in the same building, the casual acquaintance that I discuss lunch spots with, is a potential threat.  

The world shrank.

The knowledge that there is nowhere safe became a choking albatross around my neck.  

My mini-backpack is already heavy with pepper spray, a crutch I hyperventilate if I forget when changing bags. I know to go for the eyes, the soft tissue, to defend myself, words that have been drummed into women for years.

Anger and outrage followed the discovery of the body of missing 19-year-old UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana on September 02, 2019. She had been missing since August 24. A 42-year-old man who worked at the Clareinch Post office allegedly confessed to the rape and murder. Gender-based violence has been a national issue in South Africa for years, with 3 915 women and children being murdered in 2018.

We get friends to track us when travelling, describe in detail the places we visit, take photos of anything strange, look up at self-defence videos, stay away from ‘hotspots’ and end up dying from running errands or focusing on our daily routines. 

A sense of impotent rage filled me.

What more can I do? The message that I am not safe is clear, each body that is violated, each body that is killed is a constant reminder that I am not safe.  We as South African women are under siege. It is enraging to know of the constant minefield that as a woman I must go through every day.

Women manage the moods of men daily - from those we know to those we do not.

 A simple "hello" can be the cause of violence, my voice can be too high, which is an invitation, my voice can be deemed not sweet enough, therefore I must be taught a lesson.  We manage their egos and dodge hands on the busy streets.  

We don’t belong to ourselves, another lesson we have been taught. 

We as women have done all we can, downloaded all the apps we can.  Yet the danger remains.

But I woke up today, navigated my way to my work and I will continue to do so every day, with a watchful eye, a grateful heart and constant updates to let loved ones know where I am and what I’m up to.  

The question is, to the men of the country, what will you be doing?

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