I recently made my readers a promise to write more, because so many said that’s what kept them coming back here. That being said, today I went all out. I actually started writing this piece over a year ago, because I’ve been wanting to share this story for a long time, but for some reason I held back. I’ve kept it mostly to myself and among loved ones for five years now, but I finally feel like I’m ready to talk about it with all of you.
Let’s start things off with a bit of background information such as the unwavering fact that I tend to say what I think and feel. I’m a Libra, and nothing fires a Libra up more than witnessing or experiencing unfair treatment. It gets a bit exhausting often being the only one to say exactly what everyone is thinking. I know that life at some point is unfair to everyone, but I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as remaining neutral because it always favours the oppressor.
Okay. Now let’s get to the story already.
In a nutshell, in June 2011, when I was 21 years old, I took a punch in the face (literally) from a 27 year old young man after I verbally reprimanded him for very loud, proud, horrifically racist proclamations in a movie theatre at the Waterfront.
It all started when I went with a group of about 8 friends to watch the five-hour live stream of EFC’s Fight Night (don’t ask), and behind us sat a group of about seven guys in their late twenties. As soon as the fights began, the man seated directly behind me began acting out in what I can only imagine was a desperate cry for attention from his friends, and/or pure stupidity.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not naïve enough to expect a movie theatre full of mostly men not to react and call out to what they see happening while watching very aggressive, live fights. But this foul man, for a lack of a better description, was not cheering for the fights. He cheered for the white guy beating up the black guy. He jeered at the top of his voice, in a volume that could be heard above everyone else, “Take that AWB leather [glove] in your bek you dom p**s darkie.” If you think I’m exaggerating this man’s profanity, he then began singing a re-worked racist version of “I’m Little Teapot”. Then, when the “dom p**s darkie” ended up knocking out Mr “AWB Leather“, he said the blacks were going to toi-toi from happiness, and started singing Zuma’s renowned song, “Umshiniwam”, even though the fighter was from Congo. It all rolled off his tongue with ease and delight.
Some friends of ours who sat about four rows ahead of us texted us asking if we could focus on the fights, and complained that they could hear this guy and it was so distracting for them even sitting so far away. He was continuously disruptive and threw the K-word around like it was nothing. And he was in the seat directly behind me.
I don’t know what bothered me more; how incredibly vocally racist he was, or how everyone was clearly irritated, but said nothing, only choosing to cast the occasional look of distaste and focus on Fight Night instead. Those glances appeared to encourage him as he already found himself to be hilarious.
Everyone is all “yes I’m proudly South African” but in a moment where true patriotism counted pertaining to OUR country, no one demonstrated it. I mean, so many of those in attendance frequented the ring as fighters themselves, yet not one of them could find that same strength or courage to stand up to this person. After an hour and a half of this man acting like a complete hooligan, I had enough and couldn’t let it go on any longer. Anger boiled up inside me. I turned my head around and asked him, “Do you really have to be so flipping racist? Have a bit of respect or I’m calling management.”
His response was, “Sweetie, I paid to be here, I can say whatever the f*** I want” to which I responded, “Well, I didn’t pay to listen to you act like a racist bigot.”
As I turned to slump back in my seat, my face hot with anger and embarrassment because no one really had my back, he leaned over the back of my chair, put his cheek up against mine and said, “Baby, you are way too pretty to work yourself up like that.” I pushed him off me, which probably made him feel like less of a man in front of his friends, because right after that he stood up, leaned more fully over my seat again and punched me in the face with his fist, a straight blow in the side of my head.
I sat back in my seat dizzy and in pain while everyone suddenly found their voices, stood up and yelled “Dude, WHAT THE HELL!?”
Humiliated, angry and hurt, I ran out of the theatre and straight to security who came back with me and escorted him to their holding rooms. The police came, they cuffed him, and took him away. While he was cuffed he screamed various threats at me while I gave my statement, called me an array of names, called my friend a “stinky stoned Rasta” just because she had dreads. He was not at all taking the whole “you have the right to remain silent” thing seriously.
The police at the Waterfront station were amazing, helpful and compassionate. They watched his behaviour in awe and encouraged me to lay a charge. Meanwhile, his friends pulled me aside and apologised to me profusely, and said his behaviour has often landed him in trouble of a similar nature, but suggested I let the matter go because “his uncle is a big shot attorney” who would “grill me alive in court” if I took it further. I was a 21 year old with little to no self confidence, not nearly enough knowledge and the threats honestly scared me. But how could I drop it? What type of woman would I be? What type of South African would I be? I laid a charge of assault and went home with a swollen face.
Six months later, our court date was set, and I was ready. I wanted to take him down, on some level at least. He was wrong. He was so, so unbelievably wrong. And just when I thought I was ready to face the music, three days before court, I received a call from the police to come down to the station. I asked the same detective who clearly took my side on the night why I was there, and he responded,
“The man who you laid the assault charge against, came in today and has now laid an assault charge against you after all these months. He says you didn’t shove him away from yourself. He says you couldn’t handle the noise so you punched him, and in his ‘dazed reaction’ he happened to hit you ‘by accident’ because his vision was blurry from your punch. My girl, between me and you I saw how he acted that night. And he is doing this because he has no leg to stand on, and he’s hoping you will offer to drop your charge against him if he drops his charge against you in exchange. That’s going to be his tactic, this is why he has only laid the charge now, six months later.”
I couldn’t believe it. He had six months to regret what he had said and done, and instead had the cowardly audacity to try and pin it on me.
The court date came and the prosecutor heard both our sides of the story. This man sat there, suddenly adopting a putrid attempt at a soft-spoken persona insisting that he “hit me by accident and didn’t think I would take it seriously enough to bring him to court”. He denied absolutely all racial slurs and disruptive behaviour and he denied that he threatened to “get me” when it was all over. He tried to make it seem as if I was the crazy one and overly emotional or sensitive.
It was very clear that this prosecutor didn’t believe him at all. The prosecutor reminded him about our country’s sensitive history, the respect and compassion it deserves. He reminded him people didn’t go through years of oppression so he could scream the K-word in a theatre to impress his friends. The prosecutor asked him, “so if you didn’t say all those things why do you believe this young lady who doesn’t know you would have been annoyed with you and how did we end up here?” and his answer was “honestly this whole thing is so ridiculous and it was a misunderstanding. Everyone was shouting that night, she probably thought she heard something and it got her fired up.”
When I told him my friends who sat rows ahead heard everything, he continued to insist he didn’t know what he did wrong and maintained he didn’t say anything racist or lean over my seat just to punch me. When I said I have almost witnesses, he said he had witnesses too, in other words friends willing to lie for him. Upon the request of the prosecutor, he gave me a remorseless apology, with a tone that STILL implied I was crazy for bringing this situation to court.
With his charge against me and our verbal statements on record, from a legal perspective it was his word against mine, and to be taken further would be a huge procedure, require our various witnesses, and I would not be able to leave the country for my trip to Europe a week from then that was being paid for only partially by me, the rest was sponsored by my dad and aunt. I couldn’t waste their money, and I felt he had taken enough from me. He had me in a corner, and I caved to his offer where we scrap the charges laid against one another, while he was given an additional warning.
At the end of the session I told him, “You and I both know what happened that night. I don’t want your fake apology. I’m letting this go, but only because I know someone like you is guaranteed to get yourself into even bigger trouble one day.”
I had no real choice in the ending, but I still felt so guilty because he got off way too easily. It felt so wrong. Furthermore, I felt so embarrassed then because aside from my friend, Lameez, the one he called a “stoner rasta”, no one stood up with me that night. But I’ve learned the hard way in many ways since that night, that doing the right thing can often leave you pretty much on your own.
It’s now been five years since then, and until this day, I will never understand how no one in that movie theatre stood up and said something. I can’t help but wonder if he’s dated/dating someone and if he’s learned from it or if he hit her and verbally abused her too.
For a long time, part of me still felt humiliated even though I know I did the right thing by saying something. Part of that humiliation may have had something to do with the fact that aside for Lameez, no one I was there with was truly my friend to begin with. Nonetheless, that feeling mixed with overwhelming guilt for letting him go freely while I enjoyed a nice vacation abroad is why I never told too many people until now. As much as I fear no man on this earth, I never shared it because I felt alone in a cause that should have been everyone’s, and when you’re that young, it’s harder being the odd one out. I thought everyone else would stick to their comfort zone too and not support me.
Today in South Africa, 60 years ago, 20 000 women marched for change in our country, so I don’t feel so alone or unsupported in what I did anymore. Remembering that brings me a sense of closure on an issue that traumatised me at the time more than I would have liked to admit.
2015 and 2016 have displayed viral examples of men and women digitally enforcing zero tolerance toward racism, which also finally gave me courage to share this story. I wish this man had Linked-in and I had a bigger following back then so I could have sent the trusty members of the Anti Racism Internet Jury after him. Where the law couldn’t fix things, maybe he would have been fired at the very least, which seems to be the standard sentence given to racists by insistent tweeters pressuring employers on the interwebs, ála Justine Sacco, Nicole de Klerk and the likes.
On that note, I have to keep reminding myself, we have to keep reminding ourselves, generations before us didn’t fight, die, get tortured and arrested so that we can sit and accept having the K-word screamed multiple times within our earshot while we enjoy the perks of freedom. Our freedom wasn’t for free. Activists didn’t fill up jail cells, have their faces urinated on and struggle for decades so that we can accept this kind of behaviour as acceptable or even facilitate it because it’s easier.
We know what happened on this day in 1956. We know what our country has been through. When will the magnitude truly sink in? How is any of that worth forgetting, for the sake of “keeping” our blinded, convenient notion of “the peace”?