Sprinkles late. Morning clouds. Mild.
I was 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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