By Ida Malthe-Sorenssen
”There’s too much crime and shooting. People get robbed every day in Khayelitsha”. This quote is from one of the many people I interviewed while I was doing a survey for Rape Crisis about crime and violence in Khaylitsha. Having looked at the official statistics about the crime rates in Khayelitsha before coming to South Africa, I was not suprised to hear about the enormoity of the crime rates. What particulary surprised me was the overwhelming fear people in Khayelitsha felt – both men and women. It was unsafe for the children to play in the street if they were not supervised by their parents. Women and children living in informal settlements feared going to the toilet in the bush, because they could be raped there. People I spoke to were afraid of being robbed in the street in the middle of the day. They feared housbreaking and hijacking. Parents took their children out of school because of gang shootings.
What does it do to people to be scared all the time? To feel unsafe to go to the toilet because someone might attack you on your way? Where I come from, Norway, I can walk around at night without being scared of robbery or rape. Of course I take precautions and may avoid certain areas in the city during the night. But back home my children can play in the street without fearing kidnapping or rape. Of course, these things also happen in Norway, but it occurs so rarely that it doesn’t affect our daily lives.
While doing the survey in Khayelitsha, we took many precautions. We stayed together in groups of two for safety. According to the protocol, we were supposed to wait for all the groups before moving on to the next street. One day we didn’t follow the protocol, and all the sudden no one knew about the whereabouts of the others. This day all of us felt very unsafe. The next day, however, we all stuck to the protocol. Being together as a big group all the time made us feel a lot more safe. Sadly, the people in Khayelitsha cannot stay together in big groups all the time. They cannot call their neighbours when they need to go to the toilet in the bush, and they cannot ask friends to join them when going to the grocery store.
One of the women I met in Khayelitsha was a mother of two, just like myself. As most of the others I interviewed, she was afraid of housebreaking and robbery. However, what she feared the most, were the ones who raped and killed her mother several years ago. When this woman found out who the murderers were, she went to the police. Two or three men were arrested, but then got bailed and the next day they were back in the community. This woman was then pursued by the men she had reported to the police. One night they came with a big knife looking for her. Her children hid under the blankets in their beds. She herself had been warned, so she was not at home. Now her biggest fear is that something may happen to her children. Being a mother of two myself, I can imagine what it must be like to fear for your children all the time. When returning back home I will hug my own kids– more aware than ever of how lucky they are to live in a safe place.
Read more stories about our experience in Khayelitsha here. You can also support our work by donating to our volunteer training.
A special thank you from Rape Crisis to Ida Malthe-Sorenssen, Neil Raw, Alia Marie Ep Alhwash and Laura Fernandez from the University of York who conducted these surveys alongside our volunteers and worked long hours analysing the data. We are grateful for your hard work.