Before the Joburg winter of short days began last year, Fenzani Khumalo decided to buy pepper spray.
“I used to carry a screwdriver. I think you feel safer if you think you can at least protect yourself if anything happens,” the 26-year-old says.
She lives in the heart of Joburg’s run-down CBD.
“I try not to wear anything tight. I don’t want to wear jeans or leggings, because they accentuate my shape and that brings the wrong attention,” she says.
“I try to be as invisible as possible. If I wear longer dresses and skirts, I’ll hopefully get less attention.
“When you’re wearing a short skirt they’ll even touch you behind your knee. It’s so disgusting.”
Fezani, who’s originally from KwaZulu-Natal, starts her commute to work at 5.45am. She walks for 20 minutes to catch a taxi to Rosebank.
She tries not to change her routes because Market Street has become “familiar” to her.
Once, she took a shorter route through Polly Street and encountered groups of men.
She started praying. She didn’t want to turn back, out of the street, because she thought the men would definitely come after her.
“The men hadn’t said anything and they weren’t even looking at me, but the fear I had was too much.
“I even bought something that I didn’t want, just to show that at
least I’m supporting their businesses and I’m friendly, hoping they won’t
do anything to me.”
One evening, after work, the “paranoia” became so immense she ran for three blocks towards her apartment block because she thought a man was following her.
“He had been walking a distance behind me and crossed every time I crossed the street. I freaked out and ran,” she says.
“I doubt that, as women, we will ever feel safe. It doesn’t matter where you live.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m afraid of the city or the dark – or am I afraid of men?”