Franziska Blochlinger and Anene Booysen… those are two names I wish I had never learned. They were two South African girls I should never have been acquainted with in any way or sense.
I wish I had never had to see their names splashed across every possible local news platform. I wish I had never seen Anene’s ID photo printed in the daily newspaper or watched Franziska’s parents break down in an online video.
Yet, I did. I can’t erase their names or faces from my memory or my thoughts. I hate that I can call them to mind just as easily as I can the faces of my loved ones and that every time I hear mention of them now, I go cold and something dies a little inside of me. I can’t forget their names any more than I can unlearn the cold, hard facts, which recount the inhumane torment that these two young girls suffered at the hands of utter monsters.
I wish I had never unearthed the latest gory details surrounding their deaths and rapes on social media- and news-channels. I wish I didn’t know that Franziska was due to embark on a travel experience to Switzerland that could have changed her life or that Anene grew up in the small, coastal town (Bredasdorp) so close to my favourite holiday spot.
I wish Anene had not been brutalised a day after my 19th birthday on February 2nd, 2013. I had passed through her hometown barely twenty-four hours before she suffered grievous bodily, emotional and mental wounds.
I wish, too, that Franziska hadn’t gone for a jog in the Tokai forest on that fateful afternoon and that such an atrocity had not occurred in the heart of my favourite Cape Town suburb and truthfully, the area I would most love to live and raise a family in someday. I wish so much had not happened but it has.
Exactly three days before Franziska’s death on Monday, March 7th, I trekked to the Signal Hill Noonday Cannon. I made my way up solitary city streets, on that unsuspecting Friday morning alone.
There weren’t many people around, not even when I passed through the Bo-Kaap suburb and the truth is, even though I felt safe, in the back of my mind a small voice kept saying, “You shouldn’t be walking here alone. It’s too quiet. It’s too deserted… It’s too risky.”
A few blocks on, when I stopped to ask a lady for directions to the cannon, her male friend told me to head back down into the city and make my way up from there.
Then, he almost reluctantly admitted that I could, in actual fact, just as easily keep going straight because there were two routes, though he carefully added that, “it isn’t safe for someone walking alone.” I saw his hesitation so I knew what he meant there and I understood that his words really translated into: “It’s not safe for a woman to be walking alone.”
As I drew closer to the cannon and walked past a dense gum tree forest on Signal Hill’s lower slope, with scarcely another human being in sight and only the occasional sound of halting bird calls to break the silence, I knew I had made a mistake. I glanced around me and thought, “Sh**, you’re being way too careless here, Tamlyn. You’re a South African woman and you ought to know better by now!”
Further on, just past the Signal Hill Lodge, a man stopped his bakkie alongside me and my hackles immediately went up when he greeted me.
I knew he wasn’t about to ask me the time or for directions and I was scared, I have no qualms about admitting it. He told me that I could walk but it’s a long way and he was going up there anyway, as he works near the cannon.
Even as alarm bells were going off in my head and I cautiously said hello and eyed his vehicle with faint mistrust, I saw a child standing alongside him on the passenger’s seat. A baby girl, maybe three years old at most. She was leaning against him and I realised that he must be her father.
Additionally, he appeared to be wearing a uniform so I suppose I was more trusting of him than I would ordinarily have been.
I would not usually under any circumstances get into a stranger’s car – least of all a man’s – but something told me it was okay to trust him and, when I got in alongside them, he said to me, “I stopped because it’s not always safe to walk here alone, you know.”
Yeah, I sure did know. I knew about the muggings and had indeed read about the gang rape of a foreign student (while her boyfriend watched on in horror) atop Signal Hill late one night some years past now.
I also know that people have been attacked and murdered (or worse) all over the city in recent years and there is nothing that makes them any different to me… those things might have and still could happen to me. I know that, please don’t think I don’t.
Maybe that is why I’d silently uttered a prayer of safety only moments before that bakkie stopped next to me and a kind man and concerned father/city worker gave me a lift up to the Noonday Cannon.
Perhaps his arrival was in direct answer to my prayer… and yes, I do believe in that sort of thing, as much as I believe, too, that we are each, nevertheless, personally responsible for our own well-being and safety to a certain degree and that, if something had happened to me that day, I would only have had myself to blame for it. Our choices define our lives, after all.
I thanked him repeatedly because honestly, I was grateful. I was taking a chance but let’s face it, sometimes I have to get around and I don’t have a personal chauffeur (or a car yet for that matter) and taking public transport isn’t always a solution so I often have no choice but to walk the city alone.
I’m a travel writer and a passionate ‘outdoor person’ so to expect me to stay cooped up inside 24/7, even on weekends, is completely unrealistic and almost intolerable to me.
Last year, I started hiking popular trails like Platteklip Gorge and Lion’s Head on my own. Sure, I was cautious and I timed my hikes carefully so that, even on weekends (which are famously quiet here in the CBD, as the Mother City literally turns into a ghost town), I was outdoors when the hiking trails would be most frequented or when they would at least have enough people on them for me to feel safe enough.
However, I know that’s no guarantee of safety in this day and age because truthfully, people are too afraid to get involved and intervene when someone is being threatened, robbed or attacked.
We’ll call the police or emergency services and maybe even console them after the attackers or thieves have fled, but we will not necessarily come to their rescue. Our own lives matter too, and we all have to look out for ourselves, do we not?
You can’t trust anyone you do not know well and in some instances, you cannot even trust those people. (Look at Anene’s murder and rape if you need evidence to support this.)
Still, being surrounded by a crowd of people or walking in a group (even if they are total strangers) does place a kind of safety blanket over it all, right? This false sense of security shows our naivety but it also shows our natural inclination towards trusting those around us.
For – and I have said this before and I will say it again – humans were not created to be mistrustful or suspicious by default – but sadly, over time, humanity as a whole has ensured that we can afford to be nothing if not a little paranoid, overcautious and guarded 99.9% of the time.
Back to my hiking and general solitary city walks though… As a young South African woman, I know there are risks involved every time I step out my front door.
I know that every cursory glance from a man on the street and every vehicle driving alongside me is a possible threat to my safety, my womanhood and above all, my life – the most sacred of all things.
I know that doing things on my own isn’t just some way of touting ‘female independence’ but of testing my personal bravery, each and every time.
Men cannot possibly understand the fear that we, as women, live with on a daily basis. I am not implying that men are not raped, attacked or murdered because I know all too well that they are but in South Africa, and indeed any country in the world, as a woman, there is somehow more at stake.
There are more predatory eyes on you, more things you can do alone but that, all the same, you know you shouldn’t, more limitations and niggling doubts than any man can possibly imagine.
I have been with trustworthy men when I’ve been scared or have felt threatened or mildly unsafe and, even though I know these are good men, who would do virtually anything necessary to protect or keep me safe (if it was in their power to do so), nothing they say or do can ever completely take away my harboured fears.
I don’t think, “If we get mugged or attacked, we’ll both be in big trouble.” I think: “If anyone comes to threaten or harm us, they will either attack or mug him and they will rape me.” I actually think that and I have done so on a few occasions now.
Once, last year, I voiced this very real and dreadful thought aloud to a guy friend and even though he instantly and protectively drew me closer to him and assured me that he wouldn’t let anyone harm either of us, I knew that he would be powerless to stop it if it came to that – and what’s more, when I mentioned what would happen to me, as a woman, he didn’t try to deny it.
Instead, he looked visibly worried too then, and I knew he had also just recognised the very real fear lurking in the back of both our minds.
Terrible things, like rapes and killings, can happen to anyone, at any time and the sick bastards behind such utterly inconceivable acts of cruelty and cowardice do not discriminate against gender, age, skin colour/race, religion or nationality.
The perpetrators don’t care about your fellow humanness or your strengths and frailties. They are not concerned about or affected by your pleas for mercy or the shrillness of your screams.
They aren’t bothered about your future plans or everyone who will mourn your loss of life, any more than they are to be overpowered, unsettled or scared off by your struggles or protests.
Nothing that affects any other remotely good human being will have even the faintest effect on these unspeakably evil and unforgivably twisted beings.
Nothing and no one is sacred and precious to them and it doesn’t matter one bit whether you are an acquaintance, a lover, a friend or a total stranger… if they mean to hurt or annihilate you, they will.
Last Tuesday, when I first stumbled across EWN‘s developing string of Tweets relating to Franziske’s death, a chill ran through my body and I couldn’t help but think: “Four days ago, this could just as easily have been about me.”
So what does that mean for us as people (women especially) in South Africa and the world at large?
Does this mean that after Franziska’s death – and all the appalling accounts and heartbreaking details that have arisen since her life was so tragically destroyed in every possible way – that we should never again jog in the Tokai Forest or hike up Platteklip Gorge on our own? Does it mean that we must needs travel ‘in packs’ or stay only where there is obvious security?
Are we to hide away in fear for the rest of our lives because crime is on the rise and the world is inhabited by far too many revolting, twisted or cruel people for us to even comprehend, let alone possibly risk facing or encountering?
My answer is simple but in no way ‘reassuring’ – and it is this: if we do any or all of the above, then Franziska’s horrific death has been almost entirely in vain and Anene’s brief life, in turn, has been rendered pointless, as have the lives and subsequent deaths of every victim who came before them.
Their attacks are reminders to us all that no one is safe but personally (and I am taking great liberty in saying this now, so I hope I am not causing offence or outrage), I don’t believe either of those girls would wish for anyone to hide away in fear, never set foot outside again or run even the slightest risk of encountering danger again.
I think they both knew enough about life to know that it is short and that people cannot always be trusted, that humans hurt others just for the sake of having something to do and that life is sacred to some, but never to all.
Yes, perhaps they would caution us, and maybe they would never have gone out if they had known what would happen to them as a result.
Maybe then, none of this would ever have happened and we, as a nation, would never have been scarred and deeply affected by their horrific rapes and killlings… we would have remained blissfully ignorant and we’d still feel relatively, well, safe.
Though the fact is that these things did happen and all we can hope is that – as Franziska’s father essentially said recently – this will not happen to anyone’s child, partner or parent going forwards.
And even though we know in the deepest part of our hearts that it possibly will, their deaths have taught us one thing: for every criminal out there, there are millions of good people who will always be around to condemn such heinous acts of violence or be emotionally ripped apart and shattered by stories such as these along with the victims’ loved ones, and that we will never allow evil to prevail. We’ve come too far as a nation and as a world to surrender to it now.
The unbearable things that happened to these two girls, could just as easily have happened to you or me and what’s worse is that they happen to so many other seemingly faceless and nameless people every day across the globe…
Certainly, fate has allowed these two particular local stories to be told, but what about all the stories that are not told or revealed to the public? There are so many Franziskas and Anenes out there… and already one is one too many. Enough is enough.
To Franziska and Anene, I truly wish that I had never heard your names, for maybe then it might have meant that you could have both known goodness and happiness in your young lives.
I wish, too, that you could have both grown up and lived to be old and yet, never once have had the media report on anything remotely connected to either you or your now-heartbroken families – but I have heard your names and now I, for one, will never forget either of them for as long as I live.
May you, and indeed Sinoxolo Mafevuka (raped and murdered in Khayelitsha on March 2nd), rest in peace.
Many thanks to EWN for the additional info. and to Liz Curtis Higgs’s Here Burns My Candle novel for the photos of quotes used in the above post.
[Please Note: All opinions, views and sentiments expressed herein are entirely my own and in no way reflect upon any other person or institution other than myself. Additionally, I have personally endeavoured to treat this piece with as much respect for the victims and their families as possible. Thank you.]
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