On Wednesday morning last week, at around 11h00, I rushed into Durham Street in Harfield Village, Claremont, in response to the terrified screams of a woman. She was being confronted by an aggressive man (who turned out to be her partner), acting menacingly towards her. Moving between them, I attempted to shield the woman from physical attack, while trying to calm the situation down sufficiently to establish what was needed to ensure her safety.
My efforts at safeguarding her were only partially successful – the man still managed to swing his leg around me and give the woman a hard kick. Fortunately, at this stage a passing motorist stopped to assist. He joined the barrier, and vocally and angrily educated the man (and the passive bystanders) about the scourge and shame of gender based violence which is so pervasive in South African society. The situation finally de-escalated, and the woman left for her workplace nearby – asking that we take the matter no further.
To the man in the bakkie who stopped and rendered assistance, thank you. I really appreciated it. The situation was volatile and unsafe – and alone I was inadequately resourced to counter the aggression of the attacker. When the man driving by stopped, the attacker was outnumbered – and the dynamics of the situation changed. Two intervenors was definitely better than one.
The sad reality, however, is that I needn’t have been alone in the intervention in the minutes before the arrival of the man in the bakkie. There were a number of other people, all men, in Durham Street not more than 50 metres from where the confrontation was taking place. And they just stood and watched as bystanders.
I don’t know why they chose not to help – perhaps it was disinterest, perhaps a fear for their own safety, or maybe it was due to a sense of helplessness. What I do know is that inaction in the face of gender-based violence – in whatever form we encounter it – is simply unacceptable. GBV will not stop for as long as there are bystanders who witness what is happening, but choose not to intervene or take a stand.
An uncomfortable footnote is that this incident took place barely 200 m from the Clareinch Post Office, where UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana was brutally raped and murdered. Apart from the odd ribbon which has evidently been forgotten in the clean-up, and the fragments of a protest poster remaining on the fence of Livingstone High School opposite the post office, there is nothing left to serve as a reminder of the horror which took place there less than six months ago.