Favourite things to do while running: Worry about the car that’s stalking me

On a visit to my parents, who still live in my hometown, I decided to go for a run. My mother was a bit wary when she saw me tie up my shoe laces. “You must be careful,” she said.

In another world, perhaps you would interpret that as her being concerned that I don’t trip and hurt myself. But I don’t live in another world, and what she really meant was, don’t get attacked.

Honestly, I was unsure about running, also weighing out whether it would be safe or not. So my mother’s comment didn’t do much to put me at ease. I decided to “run forth” when I remembered  that two days before, I was in the busy Jo’burg CBD waiting for an Uber. An act which is probably the most dangerous thing I’ve done this year. So nothing else could be worse.

I did a safety-check before stepping outside the perimeter of my parents’ yard. Up straight, shoulders back, look purposeful and not like I’m lost in the neighbourhood I spent 18 years of my life.

It had been 10 years since I first started running outside the sports ground. I was still in high school and I ran with my friends. A decade on and the same fears I had back then, remain. Permanently resting inside of me, like I was carrying a load in my belly which ironically was not the previous night’s dinner. I could feel the tension in my chest whenever I passed by someone.

I swung my arms widely along my sides as I walked, like I was on a mission and too busy to greet a stranger.

I set my watched, looked at the passing cars and started off. At this point if you think running comes naturally to me, it doesn’t. I’m always overwhelmed by the rush of oxygenated blood to my brain. And the Sun, it’s like I always choose to run at the worst time of the day because I’m always looking for trees to shadow me. Then there’s my speed, I’m always trying to regulate it.

So you see with all these other things I’m trying to figure out while running, a potential offender is really just the last thing I need.

I had finished my first lap, congratulated myself for firstly making it without stopping and secondly for dodging any dangerous people, like these two things are comparable. I was doing my second lap when I passed a group of women and instantly felt safer. I was approaching one guy and automatically felt threatened.

I realize how conceited I am to think that everyone on the street was obsessed with my running.

When I eventually passed him, he didn’t say anything. He looked at me in the same way the women and the drivers did. So I concluded he was not a threat. As I continued a man and his wife set up chairs outside their yard, ready to read newspapers. It made me feel safer because I thought if anything went wrong I could always scream for help and they would hear me. In retrospect I realize how conceited I am to think that everyone on the street was obsessed with my running.

I was on my third round when I saw a silver Toyota ride past me, nothing strange, just people going about their business. I passed the lonesome guy again, this time he said I should keep going. Further proof that he is not a creep that’s going to pull out a knife on me, I suppose.

I passed the women again and then the silver Toyota. In the next three seconds that passed I rationalized that I was being followed by this Toyota. I told myself it wasn’t the same one but then I also told myself there can’t be two different silver Toyotas circling the same track in such a short space of time. I comforted myself with the knowledge that there is always an option to pray.

I continued running to the couple reading their papers.

And then as I approached a junction, I saw my mother’s SUV pull up. I waved hysterically at her, thinking she was going to the shops to get something for lunch. Her windows automatically lowered down in the most suburban way which is confusing because we live in a township. As I approached the vehicle the first thing she said was: “Is it safe?”

Yes. Not, “Hey I see you too,” or “Do you need water?” Even though she could see that I was perfectly fine she asked if it was still safe to run in the neighbourhood. This is probably the worst 21st Century problem of all time.

I assured her that I was fine and that I was finishing soon. The silver Toyota freaked me out a bit and I didn’t want to pass the couple reading the newspapers again.

I walked off my final lap and finished the rest of my workout in my parents’ yard.

A few years back I tried running in the neighbourhood I now live in, but was accosted by a man who uttered some really threatening comments. I have not run alone again since. Instead I opt to run in a park with a friend. It’s usually a controlled environment, on a particular day of the week at a certain time, and we’re normally surrounded by other runners.

I had asked my friend, who is also a woman, if she considered running in the park by herself at some other time and she was highly against it. She even found an app which generates routes to run in our area, but chose not to run this particular route because it went through a “dangerous” part of the neighbourhood.

I’ve wondered if guys worry about their safety this much whenever they have to do something as simple as running. I know my brother doesn’t. He has been running the same route I took in my hometown for years and my parents are totally okay with it. I think only once I heard them tell him not to run, because it was getting dark and they were worried that the cars would not see him. Nice life problems.

In another world, I probably wouldn’t have a whole debate in my head every time I went out. I probably wouldn’t have to check my pepper spray either or remind myself which pressure points to strike if I ended up in an undesirable situation.

In another world, I probably wouldn’t stop running.

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Financial advice to my 20-year-old self

Women’s life expectancy at 83 years is greater than men, who on average will live to 78. Research shows that 33% of marriages end in divorce and 50% of women over the age of 65 are either widowed or divorced. At some stage in their lives, 8/10 women will have to take care of their own finances, but not all of them are prepared for this.

Speaking at the Alexander Forbes Women’s Day event at Summer Place on Thursday 6 August 2015,  Jenny Gordon, Head of Retail Legal Support, says that women should empower themselves with the necessary skills and knowledge to manage their finances. We need fewer “Cinderellas” and more women who take care of their finances, says Gordon.

Most women do not work with financial advisors and those that do have higher assets and greater confidence and preparedness to meet financial goals. Women often wait for crises like divorce, retirement, retrenchment and critical illness. Gordon advises how women can prepare in advance for these events to turn them into “manageable moments”.

Divorce

According to the Sanlam’s Survey on the Retirement Crisis, divorce is the fourth most emotionally devastating event. This is after death, loss of money and unexpected accident other than a motor vehicle accident, says Gordon.

After a divorce, both parties’ standard of living declines, because they have to run two households. If the parties shared a retirement fund, the proceeds that are split may not be enough. Research shows that more women wish to divorce than men, but less women initiate a divorce because they do not have the finances for litigation. “Building up a nest egg for a life crisis is not disloyal to your marriage, it is necessary,” says Gordon. Women should also start taking a more active role in the household’s finances.

Critical illness

“If you have a critical illness, you will survive if you can pay for medical treatment,” says Gordon. Quoting Dr Marius Barnard who developed the critical illness policy, Gordon says that dread disease becomes a probability over the age of 70.

The usual culprits are heart disease, cancer or a stroke, but dementia is the “real scourge”. “Alzheimer’s is a sad disease because it robs a person of who they are,” says Gordon. It is necessary to have conversations with your families about this. Most people appoint a family member to take care of their affairs through the power of attorney, once they are declared of unsound mind. However, this is a fallacy in South African law, as no one will be empowered to deal with your affairs, explains Gordon.

There are three remedies. One can apply for a curatorship, which is a more expensive option, costing between R50 000 and R60 000. There is also a new procedure where a person can apply for an administration order, which takes three months and two medical recommendations. The final option is a Trust fund.

Retirement

On average, people only live off a third of their earnings while they were working. Only 10% of people retire with enough money and 2% retire comfortably, says Gordon.

Another challenge is that money is not enough to make people happy. “One needs to develop a passion for something and that takes one a long way,” says Gordon. Experiences, relationships and hobbies are far more fulfilling than money. These passions are developed before retirement.  Spending money on small luxuries for other people provides a “greater rush” than buying large scale items, like a sports car, for yourself, says Gordon.

Last will

Do not make the mistake of dying intestate, advises Gordon. “Don’t let anyone else have your last word. Your last word is your will.” When dealing with a will, it is important to update it regularly. Let heirs know where to find important documents and passwords in the event of your death.

Assets can also be distributed through a retirement fund or a trust. Marriage is another way to distribute your inheritance. If you have a life-partner, be sure to get a cohabitation agreement to protect your rights.

This article was featured on Finweek.com.

Woman in power

Photo: Roxanne Joseph

Photo: Roxanne Joseph

Prianka Padayachee, 4th year BSc Mining Engineering, is the first female president of the Students Mining Engineering Society on campus.  About 40% of the School of Mining Engineering is made up of female students.  Both males and females voted for her to take up the position.

What is it like being a female president in a male-dominated faculty?

It’s difficult, obviously.  It takes a lot of getting used to, especially because the guys in the school were not used to it.  But over time it has become more acceptable for women to be in leadership.

Would you call yourself a feminist?

I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist but I do believe there shouldn’t be a division in what women can and can’t do.  You don’t need to be anti-men to be pro-women.  Women should start believing in their abilities.

Why did you choose to do engineering?

I was always interested in the sciences and practical work, and getting my hands dirty.  I never saw myself sitting in an office for the rest of my life.

What are some of your most notable achievements?

Well, apart from being the first female president of the Students Mining Engineering Society, last year I was chosen to be the main liaison between the school and the [then] minister of mineral resources, Susan Shabangu, for the mining conference hosted at Wits.  I was chosen by the school to deal with the minister, discussing anything she needed to know.

What was that experience like, working with someone with such a high standing in society?

It was an eye-opener.  It’s so easy to sit in front of a TV and judge someone’s work.  Mining is no longer just about getting minerals and metals out of Earth.  It involves politics and many other factors that govern the industry as a whole.

What are some of the false perceptions women have about engineering?

It’s really not a dirty job.  It’s not necessarily “unfashionable”, you won’t always get grease under your nails.  It’s not only for men.  There is another side of engineering.  It is logical, creative and innovative and women tend to excel in those fields.

Who inspires you?

Khanyisile Kweyama, a business director at Anglo American.  She is in a top position and she makes important decisions about mining.  She is the perfect representation of the influence women have in mining.

This article was featured in the Wits Vuvuzela

Rape Culture evident in society

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NOT MY PROBLEM: An anti-rape campaign by Make Your Move! Sourced from yoganonymous.com

If you are a man, you are part of rape culture. Recent social media campaigns like #YesAllWomen and #AllMenCan have stimulated conversation about the solutions in place to create safer environments for women.

Although both men and women are victims of rape, men are the main perpetrators of the crime.  Male feminist, Zaron Burnett proposed that men, perpetuators of rape culture, have the responsibility to change it.  Read his article here: A gentleman’s guide to rape culture.

BLAME GAME: An anti-rape campaign by Make Your Move! sourced from yoganonymous.com

BLAME GAME: An anti-rape campaign by Make Your Move!
Sourced from yoganonymous.com

After talking to some students on Wits University campus to hear their take on rape culture, this is what they had to say:

Rophiwa Madzena’s fears as a woman hold her back from enjoying life.  “I don’t like to go out in the evenings because I’m afraid a guy is going to grab me.  A rape is a really, it’s a scary thing and it’s instilled a lot of fears in women to the extent that you can’t live a normal life because at the back of your mind you’re always just thinking something bad could happen to me, even if it’s just paranoia”.

Some of her vulnerabilities in the presence of a man stem from not being able to assert herself in a culture where masculinity is valued.  “As a woman; you’re supposed to know your place.   That makes you more vulnerable to a rape situation”.

She said that because men have a stigma of violence attached to them, it is difficult for them to do anything to make women feel safe.  In their presence, “You get comfortable, but you don’t get too comfortable”.

She believes the responsibility to keep women safe is shared by both men and women.

This opinion is shared by Phoebe Mabelane, who believes there is nothing men can do to change female perceptions about rape.  “These fears are within me regardless of whatever anyone says; or how they (men) present themselves”.

She said, “I don’t think it’s their (men) responsibility to make me feel safe.  That’s my responsibility, I have to do it on my own; I can’t rely on men”.

Her fears are, besides potentially being a victim of rape, but knowing someone who is a victim and not being able to help them in any way.

Mabelane wants to take self-defence classes to better prepare herself in unwanted situations of violence.  She also relies on prayer and does not think much about finding herself in situations where she might be threatened.

Amongst her peers, she said, “with girls I feel safe because I know they won’t do anything to me.  With guys I feel safe because I know they will protect me from offences by outsiders.”

For men to change female perceptions of rape, she believes people should not down-play little incidents.  “We won’t speak out about bigger incidents if people do not show support and understanding about the little incidents.”

I am the weaker sex, not as strong as a man, if a man were to rape me, I’m not sure I could defend myself.

Siphelele Ncube is also interested in using martial arts to protect herself. Her fears as a woman are related to the fact that men are stronger than women.  “I am the weaker sex, not as strong as a man, if a man were to rape me, I’m not sure I could defend myself.”

To counter her fears on a daily basis, she avoids “uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situations”.

As for feeling unsafe around men, she said, “How much you know about a person puts you at ease, you always hold back until you know a person well enough to be comfortable with them”.

HOOK UP?: Sourced from yoganonymous.com

HOOK UP?:An anti-rape campaign by Make Your Move! Sourced from yoganonymous.com

Kirsty Sanders believes that in order to change perceptions that men are the main perpetrators of rape; more emphasis should be placed on cases where women are perpetrators.  “In majority cases of rape, men are the perpetrators, and the cases where women are the perpetrators are not publicized”.

Sanders believes rape is not a problem in isolation, but rather part of a bigger crime problem, “Every woman is scared she will be raped.  But I would not say I’m particularly fearful of being raped.  In South Africa, there’s a high crime rate.  So you are careful of where you go and who you with”.

Steps she takes to protect herself in vulnerable situations include, “taking crime prevention measures… evaluate your options to get out of an unsafe situation”.

Like Mabelane and Madzena she believes responsibility for safety falls on both men and women, “It’s a shared responsibility.  We need to develop a society where women feel safe.  It’s a combination of women taking realistic precautionary means, and men taking means to protect women and feel safe.”

From a man’s perspective, to make a woman feel safe Oupa Sibeko said, “It’s not about how you touch a woman but how you interact with her.   It depends on how men approach women. We should change how we interact.  Our opinions should not inflict violence or demean the other person”.

He said most men influence each-others behaviour.  “You’re always trying to prove a point that you man enough”.

“It is hard to tell if a woman fears you”, but their behaviour around you (a man) says a lot.  “Sometimes women do show us they fear us, but then we (men) use that to take advantage (of them).”

When interacting with women he said, “It all starts with respect for the self.  I respect myself, so when I’m around a woman, I’m around a human, so I treat them as such.”

Men have always had this problem of having to feel superior

Luntu Quntana echoes his sentiments, “men have always had this problem of having to feel superior.  Due to this pressure society puts on men, they become violent”.

Pride and the fear of being ostracized prevents men from speaking out against rape.  He said to solve the problem, “Men should be more proactive in speaking to young men, encouraging them”.

“The biggest issue is self-confidence in young men.  We can eradicate this problem by mentorship.  Tell young men it’s okay to have emotions and to be weak at times.”  When men stand up against rape, they are labelled as gay or weak, according to Quntana.

He can tell if a woman fears him, “you can see if a woman is afraid, you can tell by her body language.  Talking to them, they are more distant, hesitant when speaking. And they seem very caged up.”

To make women feel less vulnerable he is conscious of his signals to make women feel safe.  “Be honest with them.  I allow myself to be weak around them, to show them that I’m not trying to put up some image”.

LONELY HEART: Sourced from yoganonymous.com

ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT: An anti-rape campaign by Make Your Move! Sourced from yoganonymous.com

Maria Wanyane an advisor from the Sexual Harassment Office at Wits said there are programmes in place to educate both men and women on campus about sexual harassment.

“We do partner with a number of organisations and units on campus to work together because we do realise that violence against men and women is not something that can be dealt with by one institution, it requires a collective collaboration” she said.

The Sexual Harassment Office works with the Transformation office, Counselling and Careers Development Unit and different faculties on campus.

The office deals with all matters relating to sexual harassment and is responsible for the management of those cases.  Students and staff contact the office directly or are referred to the Sexual Harassment Office by sister organisations on campus.

“In terms of how we manage the case depends on the choice of the complainant.  We have a sexual harassment policy.  You can choose any of the options, counselling, formal processes where we conduct an investigation about what happened and based on available information take a decision about appropriate intervention.  We also refer matters to the police.”

“You can report sexual harassment to almost anyone on campus and they will make sure that you are okay by referring you to us,” she added.

With the roles of men and women constantly changing, there is still room to raise awareness of rape culture and to educate men and women to take a stand against it.