Street Harassment in South Africa Needs To Stop

Daniel Sincuba June 02, 2014
Courtesy of

street harassment

Courtesy of

In 2014, street harassment remains — along with other outlets of patriarchy — a social problem globally, yet it remains largely ignored and underpublicized. Sexual prejudice and oppression continues to be patriarchial force that is pushed down our throats, particularly in South Africa.

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It is a standard thing in South Africa for men to try and stop women and even school girls on the street and try to “flirt” with them through cat calling, whistling, verbal abuse — the works — despite the women’s obvious disgust on most occasions. It’s not a once or twice kind of occurrence either, and we’ve all seen it. As a matter of fact, we all see it. Just today, I saw a young man try to stop a girl who ignored him flatly and kept walking. He tried to force her to stop by holding her hand.

This was in the middle of a crowded shopping centre.

There is next to nothing being done about ending street harassment in South Africa. Recently, I was in a conversation about the idea that billboards instructing men on appropriate and inappropriate behavior would help. I argued that while the method was good thinking, the reaction has to be on scale with the offense, which is as big as we know it to be but bigger than what our reaction to it would suggest.

Let me explain.

Whenever I speak to people about poverty or corruption or racism, I say that you can’t simply erase a problem by looking at the surface of it. One needs to look after the cause, then positive results will look after themselves. Usually it is right to say that the problem is a by-product of society, not a gross departure from it. Therefore it is elements in society and social conventions/systems that need changing.

In this case, one cannot simply say, “Stop touching peoples’ butts on the street!” and expect anything to happen. Our nemeses are our mind-set, history, compliance, conventions, etc. The conversation between the good guys and the bad is much more complex than a billboard or a tweet.

I think that a billboard or an advertisement or a discussion among innocent people is largely an exercise in futility. You can never get the message across in that space/time to someone who still has the wrong attitude in 2014. I think you need more time and intimacy. An equal and opposite force like Newton’s law.

We often say, as Black South Africans, that colonialism/White supremacy/Apartheid acted against the interests of people of color for about 350 years and that we can’t expect that 20 years of freedom (and I use that word very, very loosely) will reverse all of that.

So how can silence, conversation, or an advertisement remove an outlet of patriarchy?

Also, people have to buy in to it first. People buy in to patriarchy because they were walked in to it by convention and a social system that is blatantly patriarchal. So without the appropriate respect for women, a billboard advertising something with the use of female sexuality is acceptable. Or when you have no respect for a TV show, a billboard about it holds no interest to you. Also, it’s easy and facilitates our selfishness.

We weren’t told, “OK, it’s time to be patriarchal,” we were trained and continue to be trained on a daily (hourly even?) basis.

That is what has to happen in reverse to reverse the curse.

In any case, are we not undermining the intelligence of people by assuming that they don’t know that it’s wrong to harass other humans? It would seem to me that this is case of arrogance, conformism, laziness, cowardice, opportunism, being normal, and stupidity.

Not ignorance.

Furthermore, we are currently being afforded the opportunity to look away from our weakness. We don’t have to confront the current level of noise on patriarchy because it just isn’t forceful. Even if one finds him/herself engaged in a conversation, it is easy to wait a few days to convince yourself that it never happened or that it was just one person’s opinion. It is also the natural reaction to get defensive and feel hard done when your stupidity is confronted, as I did in my conversation.

You scapegoat feminism in the heat of trying to remove yourself from the blame.

In the aforementioned conversation (which led me to writing this,) I suggested that the troops over at StopStreetHarassment were on the right track. They hold talks to teach people about street harassment. And rather than targeting adults who are often slow or resistant to change, why not focus on school children and discuss not just street harassment but sexual respect and equality and more?

There are free workshops to teach people how to run businesses, free tertiary education, free religious services and workshops, free sport workshops, and more.

Do we not have the time or will for the safety and respect of humans?

In any event, I think the real question is the following: why is it that most of us (including yours truly) are only talking about this and speculating instead of doing things to stop the flow of bullsh*t?

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Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: June 19, 2018


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