Five weeks ago, I was left speechless. It had to do with the daily national newspaper “The STAR” and three images that were splashed on the cover page. Scenes of the previous day’s Youth Unemployment Subsidy Protest March were the focal point of many a story from there on out. For me, the images were haunting. A woman looked up, face bloodied. In another picture, a man raised his hand, one gripping a bottle and aiming at a woman. I suspect the photographer took the picture in stages. He had time for those shots, but apparently had no time to stop the man from hitting the woman with the bottle.
The newspapers never mentioned the obvious in their headlines. Instead of picking up on what people have clearly become desensitized about, the newspapers perpetuated the continued “blind man’s approach” to women and their trials on the continent and in the country. They politicized the violence. Instead of the captions reading, “man at protest march beats woman,” the captions read “Cosatu members attack DA members,” Just like that, the issue was designated to a political system that ignores women.
South Africa, though she and her inhabitants beg to differ, is a part of the African continent, and nowhere is it more prevalent than in the negotiations for survival that women must endure each day. Despite having the most liberal, progressive democracy in Africa, the woman and child in Africa are under siege. I’ve been living under an elitist rock, the same one that many of my fellow “non-blacks” (to go into the detail of race in South Africa would be time-consuming) choose to dwell under. Like many privileged youth, I’ve grown up protected, shielded even from my own country and her demons.
Six months ago, my only concern was to get a job after graduating from university and live a great big “city life”, like Gossip Girl or even Hart of Dixie. Today, my outlook has shifted so drastically that I struggle with it. I still feel like I’m wading through murky waters with sharks swimming around.
I met Sheila (pronounced Shaylah) from Mozambique as I was walking through the streets of Joburg, looking for women to share their experiences about being black in South Africa. I saw a teenager busy trying to take photos of some of the weirdest innate objects in Walkerville. Curious, I asked her what she was doing. Her mother appeared out of nowhere, shuffling towards me and yelling (at first I couldn’t understand what she was saying, then I realised that she was speaking Portuguese) that her daughter didn’t speak English. Her own English was weak as well, but I took this as an opportunity. They didn’t understand the dynamics and complications of South African standards of race and class, so we were on equal footing…at least, that’s what I thought.
Sheila was all smiles, excited, full of energy…and didn’t seem to have that guard up that most South African women, including myself, have. I asked her why she was visiting the country, what she had expected to see and was she happy that she came. Loaded questions, I thought, to which I received a bubbly reply that “is sudafrica…is beautiful”. Maybe I needed to restructure my question? I tried again. This time, her mother stepped in, she was trying to find a job here, start a new life, and send her daughter to culinary school. She handed me a well preserved flyer for Capsicum culinary school. I asked her what she thought about safety. Was her child going to survive this country? Her answer was blunt: We are all trying to survive.
I am trying to journal our struggle for survival on this continent, because we are struggling to survive. Every part of Africa is dominated by stringent patriarchal rule. The southern part pairs it with harsh tribalism, whilst Sharia law still prevails in many parts of the north.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. For much too long, we have been the “Dark Continent”, the one in shambles, and I have to believe that there is more than activism, that there is a change coming for the better. I’m just trying to find the light.
Meeting Sheila is one of my positive highlights. She was a traveler who had the best of what I hope to see for South Africa and the rest of the continent; hope, assurance and above all, a feeling of security in her surroundings. I still haven’t found the answers I was looking for when I bumped into Sheila. But I’m one step closer.