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#TotalShutdown march was for all women who still lead lives of anxiety and fear

05 August 2018 - 00:00 By LERATO MOTAUNG

In April 2017 our social media platforms were filled with images of the late Karabo Mokoena. Accompanying her image was the chilling word "missing," written in bold capital letters, along with contact details of those who might have a clue about her whereabouts.
We shared and retweeted her face, hoping that someone, anyone, on our timelines would know where she was, hoping that she would be found alive.
A few weeks later we were informed that her charred remains had been found. We would, over the course of the year, be taken through one of the most gruesome stories of gender-based violence in this country. Sandile Mantsoe, her ex-boyfriend, would subsequently be found guilty of murder in a court case that revealed the chilling details of the last few hours of Karabo's life.
SA has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, with one in five women estimated to have been subjected to physical violence at some point in their lives.
However, these are just the numbers. These numbers do not reveal the anger, fatigue and frustration that many of us live through.They do not tell the story of the little girl who was taught from any early age how to make herself smaller so that she doesn't attract the unwanted attention of men. They do not tell you how, as a woman, your life is made smaller and smaller by the hands that feel entitled to your body everywhere you go. They do not tell you about the unimaginable fear Karabo felt in the last moments of her life. They do not tell you my story and the stories of countless other women who have learned to live with fear as a way to safeguard their lives. The numbers lie.I was only a child when I heard the phrase, khula shlahla sizodla amapentjies (grow, tree, so we can pluck your peaches) - a crude way of urging a young girl to grow so men can sleep with her.
For as long as I can remember I have always known that I was an object to be consumed by men; a subject of their entitled lust. Like many women in this country, I walked around armed with a voetsek (go away) pepper spray and a taser because I've always known that my body was not mine; it was always something that could be taken and consumed at any time without my consent. I could not fight. I was not allowed to fight because the moment I chose to own myself, the response has always been and will always be violent.
By the time #TotalShutdown was created on Facebook I was already beaten and bruised. I had been subjected to decades of unrelenting violence. A violence so common it disappeared into my consciousness. I, like many women in this country, had learnt to normalise violence so that I could get to do everything else in my life that needed my attention.
On Wednesday I gathered all my anxiety into a neat little ball and took a bus to Pretoria. I left behind my fear and chose to march with thousands of women who carried in their guts that same ball of anxiety that we had learnt to live with because men have turned our lives into raging balls of anxiety. I took all the stories I had learnt to swallow in accepted silence and carried them to the Union Buildings, prepared to hand them over to President Cyril Ramaphosa along with the 24-point memorandum.I walked for hours on end, holding a friend's hand, carrying my mother's untold stories of violence. And as the sun beat down on our violated bodies, as if to amplify the wounds we all carried, I questioned if another march was enough to end my anxiety. Still, we walked. We sang, we danced, we laughed and cried together because often the only thing we have is this shared rage and anxiety.
When we finally got to the park at the foot of the Union Buildings, overlooking a giant statue of Nelson Mandela, we hugged each other, grateful for the end of a long, tiring journey. Along the way men mocked us while some of those who we selling ice cream and cooldrink in the scorching heat took the opportunity to leer and tell me just how we were their "size".
I cried because even here, in a movement where men were specifically told to not attend, they found a way to infiltrate and reduce me to a piece of meat.
I doubt any of them knew what the march was about, and even as we chanted "No means no, enough is enough!" they found a way to make all of that null and void.
I was tired. Where could I be safe? But I was marching for all the women who didn't make it to the Union Buildings and in whose name #TotalShutdown was organised.
• Motaung is a black radical feminist and freelance writer..

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