Sexual harassment in public places

Khanyi Gumpo is a native of Kariba, who lives and works in Johannesburg. In this emotionally charged story, she writes about the horrors she faces on the streets, both at home and in Jozi.

Sexual harassment - image from DailyVox.co.za

Sexual harassment – image from DailyVox.co.za

I took a taxi (combi) ride to town, feeling very excited because I was going to buy a bus ticket for the long trip back home. After a long year of slaving away in the City of Gold, nothing feels better than the anticipation of returning home to be with family, of waking up to the aroma of Tanganda Tea boiled strong. That is how my father likes it and my tastes buds do not despise that home brewed tea sipped slowly over chit-chats and updates of the year. Home must have been the place they meant when they said “There is no hurry in Africa”, because Johannesburg with its dizzying pace defies all that.

Fear grips me

Through the taxi window, I see the commotion outside and panic attacks me!  Festive season Johannesburg is packed with human traffic. With so many people travelling at once, I may not get a ticket for a seat on the coach that I want. I always purchase my ticket at the last minute, but the thought of not getting one at the Central Park Station and having to go to the other bus rank, Newton, tightens my intestines into several knots. God knows I hate that place so much. The majority of the crowd at the Newtown rank are uncivilised. Even those at the Power house rank are equally bad news.  Zvinoita kunge zvivana zvemunhu one kufumuka, they have no shame at all.

Are these men or apes?

I particularly loathe their unwanted comments.  Every time I step into those grounds, I become a victim of profanities spewed at us women by men who think it is OK to harass us because of our gender.  Those abhorrent sexual remarks overtly declared by men from my own country, my kinsmen. What gives them a right to humiliate another person like that? What is in them that makes them behave like apes when they see women?  To call them apes is an insult to the entire ape species of this planet, but I refuse to give them the honour of calling them human.  I do not feel safe at all when I am on those grounds.  How can I feel safe in the midst of men who take turns  making loud sexually explicit remarks about my female anatomy and make reference to sexual activities that will  leave any woman seething with rage,  a wounded spirit  and murderous thoughts?

Criminalise sexual harassment

Women live with sexual harassment in public spaces as an everyday occurrence. The attacks are everywhere, but these men I am talking of go unchecked. Sexual harassment of any kind must be criminalised, but who will hear us? Our society has normalised this kind behaviour and made it acceptable for men to objectify women.  I hear in Western countries, the law does not take lightly these offences. But, in this part of the world, our struggle continues.  We are forced to accept it, shrug it off and try hard to not let those unsolicited remarks seep into the core of our humanity.

Only fictional characters overcome

I am reminded of a passage in the novel Shavi Rechikadzi by Zimbabwean writer, Masimba Musodza.  The heroine, Nomusa, confronts a man who was leering at her and uttering lewd remarks. In such great spectacle, she cuts him to size. I felt vindicated reading that scene. But, that is a scene from a narrative of fiction. What would a woman do in the real world when she is surrounded by hordes of men who think it is ok to sexually harass her?  The reality is we are powerless. My reconstructed tooth is an ugly reminder that if you dare defend yourself, it may not end well. What is even more disheartening is that, in many cases, members of the police, who are supposed to protect us, are part of the problem.  Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that “good” men look on and do nothing about it. Could it be that they co- sign this behaviour?  Or is it because they do not care, after all they are not the victims?  I have no answer to that.

Nigerian men

Sexual harassment towards women in public places comes in many forms from explicit slurs to those pestering demands for a woman’s name and telephone number. On that one, a lot of our Nigerian brothers take the cup. Many times I have found myself uttering, in frustration, “This is not Nigeria where you are allowed to treat women with such disregard for their rights!”

At the Central Park Station, luck is on my side; I obtain a ticket for the coach. I am relieved that there is no need for me to go elsewhere. But, I know that, like every other woman, I live to face another day of sexual harassment on the soils that we call home. Harare awaits me and there is no sunshine in the fact that these offenders are everywhere there.

I remain watchful

I scurry through town, avoiding places with groups of men. I have developed an inner warning system that spots potential threats.  Once again, my mind takes me home to those naughty baboons (the animals, not human lechers) that go about in people’s yards doing all kinds of mischief.  In my hometown, where the sun sets a golden yellow and the hippos splash in the waters of Lake Kariba, that is how we coexist with nature.  I frown at the thought of baboons disturbing my holiday sleep when they wake me up too early with unbearable noises of their nuisance activities above the roof. But that is what it means for me to take a break, so I go along with this nice feeling and temporarily forget about sexual harassment.

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Khanyi Gumpo likes to write, especially on issues that pertain to black female experiences.  A natural hair advocate, who enjoys mixing up homemade hair –care recipes to try out. She is a big lover of the great outdoors, a passion she has from growing up in an adventure filled resort town of Kariba, Zimbabwe.

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