My life is a video game
My avatar is a young black lady with puffy coarse hair and a charming smile
Of course, when I first saw this avatar
I wasn’t too happy. My heart did a little “aw man”
When I saw her
But she’s smart
Sarcastic and resilient
Her smile very literally brings out the sun
And the sparkle in her eyes…
She’s the artistic type and her favourite colours and blue and pink
She doesn’t wear red, lest other avatars think she’s asking for it
She’s only ever actively hunting when the sun is out
Quick to escape home and lock her doors and barricade her windows
Let no one in, lest they think she’s asking for it
She carries a taser as a weapon while the world wields
Manipulation, lies, poverty
Glamourous suffering and struggle as it’s weapons of choice
She never speaks out too loud against these weapons
Lest someone thinking she’s seeking to be subjugated and dominated
She never asks for it
She desires to live as many days in this game as possible
Her idea of a good tomorrow is a pleasant walk to the grocer
To get some nice necessities and maybe a sweet
To arrive home unharried, untouched
And never having to think about pulling out her little pink taser.
To be honest she sometimes glimpses what safety looks like
She might have to exchange a smile
A forced laugh or return some flirtations to get it.
Maybe even her body or a quick joke
But she has seen this safety
It doesn’t come to her as a built-in skill
It is not meant for her
All she can truly dream of
Is a safe walk down the street.
Knowing that one day
At the choosing of another character
Whether she wears red or not
Whether she fights or not
Her one and only life
will be ended
So, I play this avatar
Spitting out the bitterness
The hate and the anger at the world and the characters that be
I make her put on a smile
Hide her body behind layers of blue and pink
Pack her taser in the emergency bag
And we both pretend this will save her.
South Africa is a country on the southernmost tip of the African continent. It’s home to a wide array of cultures, tribes and people. If you ask anyone from the country what it’s like to live there, I can almost 100% bet that you will hear about the country’s biggest issue – crimes against women and children. What most people only have an inkling of or might have heard about in passing is the nation’s long and bloody history and its battle to end a racist and discriminatory system of rule, called Apartheid. This system was intensely focused on segregating and disadvantaging anyone not of the perceived superior white race.
But what most don’t understand is that this was not just a geographic, economic attempt and racial annihilation for the many diverse groups of the country. It was also deeply psychological. Twenty years after the system was denounced, the country and its people bear wounds that may never close and hurts so deep that they continue to affect every citizen.
As much as most do not understand or want to acknowledge it; even the country’s educational system has a habit of glossing over this portion of history and quickly moving it along to lighter topics of study. History as a high school subject has been completely phased out to ensure that the history and the leading cause to the crime, poverty and corruption and many social ills is never acknowledged or fully studied. It continues to deter progress and impede on daily life.
Focusing on one of the major social ills of the country, which is gender-based violence and acknowledging how the past trauma and the existing inequalities can be linked to the apartheid era, we need to understand how it affects some of the most vulnerable in society, we can paint a picture of what the daily life of the average young woman might face.
In a 2018 report by Statistics South Africa, “Crime Against Women,” it was found that a larger portion of women felt unsafe walking in their own neighbourhoods at night than men who only felt it to be a bit unsafe. The phenomenon of gender-based violence has such a far-reaching effect on these young women that it shapes daily habits, thoughts and perception. As a woman of this country, I can describe to you the guardedness and the alertness needed from me to go to the shop at the end of my street and come back home unharmed – the unnatural amount of survival instincts one must pump into daily interaction to ensure that you do not become one of the “one in 5 women daily” statistic. This report also found that even during the day, more than 10 percent of women still find it unsafe to walk in their own neighbourhoods during the day and these are 2018 figures, the 2021 figures have surely risen past this.
During the months following the announcement of our country’s first lock down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a horrific trend began to make itself known. Since entire families were home together all the time, the women and children who got a short reprieve from household abuse due to work, or maybe their ability to hide away with relatives for a short while had that cut. No one was going to work. They were all home together with abusers, job losses hit everyone, loss of incomes caused even greater stress. The accumulation of the factors surrounding abuse in South Africa formed a perfect breeding ground for even more abuse and violence at home. The resulting rise in femicide and brutal murders of women and children felt like a wave of grief that blanketed the entire country. It was a daily tweet or post or petition seeking justice for her, and then her and then those children, so much so that these began to blur together for me. Forcing me to put away my phone as I could not stand to look anymore. The mounting crimes were so much so that one would wonder as to what was killing more people – the pandemic or gender-based violence.
Everyone knows at least 3 victims here, or they are themselves victims of violence and assault. Not enough of us know justice. I’ve become accustomed to the numbness that overwhelms me when I have to hear another story of violence and abuse against vulnerable peoples. The cold calm and the mask of composure one must pull when a close friend confides in me that they have at some point in their lifetime experienced abuse, the deep grief in their eyes and the expressionless way they robotically tell me their story so they do not cry. Our shared look of acceptance as we know that the only form of closure of peace they will experience will have to come from within, that more often than not, the perpetrator is still walking free, either through bribery or an ever-failing court system.
Our pain is something that comes built in, when I talk to my friends about these issues, we often discuss how the men in our environments behave, we discuss the way that one male colleague is always ready to ruin their day and give snarky comments while trying to get unnecessarily too close during coffee breaks, we talk about the fear of being in a taxi service alone with the driver. The instincts we have learned that allow us to defuse unwanted flirtations, at that point we know that we have to negotiate, a phone number or possible assault and death. It’s not easy living in a country where you catch yourself having to ask, “how many women have been made victims today?”
Having said this and knowing the extreme sport that is being black and female and unmarried in a society that can sometimes frown on the way you breathe, there is joy in being here. The revolutionary act of my continued existence brings such hope, we can still fight. In our own big and small ways. We are beautiful, colourful, bold. There is such happiness in our laughter, you wouldn’t know we are the same grieving people. We learn, we grow and we continue to break boundaries and pioneer new schools of thought. It’s not always shine, but I could never exchange who I am here with my sisters, my big loud family, the incredible cooking of my mom or the way the sun set over our mountains making everything glow pink and red for anything. So, we continue to dance, and sing and be completely joyful in our togetherness. Daring to dream just a little further than the women of all those marches past, pushing and pushing on until someday, my child’s child can walk down the street with a smile.
About the author:
I am a person of the world with a window that allows me many lives. Music and good food are why I'm still here. Apples are my arch enemy.