What’s lurking in the shadows?: Carien du Plessis

SA’s women live an odd paradox. We have some of the most progressive laws for advancement in the world, but often there is fear laced into the fabric of living. Public and private spaces can be constructed on fragile foundations where too often property, hate and sexual crimes are risky cocktails, constructing fragile foundations for life. Four City Press staff members share how they negotiate fear and the joy of living

I am not afraid. Fear doesn’t dominate my life.

People ask me if it’s safe to run the streets of Jozi alone. While the violence and rape they imply with their question sometimes happen to runners, in a leafy suburb with security patrols, the potholes and cars are really more frequent threats, especially when the street lights are out.

On balance, when having to choose between staying at home and the magic of hearing my running shoes pound the quiet Jozi streets before 5am, the magic wins hands down.

Some might call me stupid and reckless, and maybe I’m lucky never to have been raped or assaulted (not counting the little incident when I had to shrug off some pimply teenager who inexplicably jumped on my back when I ran along a London canal a few years ago).

At high school in the late 80s, early 90s, around the time the ANC got unbanned, I walked to the township a few kilometres from my home over weekends to spend time with friends. We talked politics and life, and sometimes went to political meetings and marches.

One Saturday afternoon, two (black) guys, a year or two my senior, asked me in the township if I’m not afraid. I asked why I should be. One of them said: “You walk like you’re not afraid. That’s good.”

Out of what was possibly sincere concern, one of my teachers warned me that white girls get raped at protest marches. Not having much regard for her anti-left wing politics, I just shrugged and never took her “warning” into regard.

Without consciously meaning it, some white people think a place is dangerous or deserted when really there are many black people, ordinary men and women, who live and walk there.

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