There is a lot of madness in the air during the lead up to Comrades and we all become a little unreasonable about our peak weeks, HAVE TO long runs and anyone with a sniffle that comes within a 1000m radius.
Now fully ensconced in the hype, my friend Sue and I managed to make complicated childcare arrangements and, after a long work week, we were ready to drive out of Cape Town on Friday evening to spend the night with friends in Langebaan, so that we could wake at 4am, run 42km and drive straight home again. The West Coast marathon. It is the perfectly hilly preamble to Comrades and I wanted to test #brokenbum on a longer, tougher run. All very reasonable, except that Cape Town experienced the mother of all storms late Friday afternoon. There was debris on the roads and that unsettled vibe in the air. We were heading out on a long, dark, unfamiliar road and just before reversing the car out of her driveway we took a look at each other and simultaneously abandoned our plan. Something didn’t feel right. We unpacked our “padkos” and ate dinner feeling quite proud of our sensibility as her two sweet daughters cheered their mother’s decision to stay home.
Somewhere during the blue cheese, chips and crackers part of the evening, while I waited for Quinton to fetch me, Sue mentioned the Brave.RUN. I recalled being tagged in a Facebook post promoting the event earlier in the week, so we googled a little and decided it would be a great replacement run, and that we wouldn’t be veering off the all important training plan TOO badly if we took part. I scuttled home to get some sleep and hug my babies tight.
Right, so we were too scared to drive to Langebaan in a storm, but we had decided it was perfectly reasonable to meet up again the next morning around 6am, drive to town, catch a taxi to Khayelitsha and run 30-something kilometres through some of Cape Town’s most troubled suburbs, back to the city centre. Admittedly I did not research the “cause” in too much detail, but the summary sounded like something worth knowing more about.
The website said:
“30 km of sending a message of support to all women and girls, no matter where they live, letting everyone along the way know that we are not afraid, but united.”
And that is how Sue, her lovely friend Shelley and I found ourselves in a taxi on the N2 shortly after sunrise, heading to the Harare police station in Khayelitsha. We were briefed by a tiny dynamo of a woman called India Baird. India runs an organisation called Rock Girls.
“a grassroots movement to inspire, encourage, and invest in women and girls”
Rock Girls was founded to uplift, protect, inspire and motivate young girls that live their entire lives at risk. The more I listened to India speak, the more I realised there was probably a very valid reason we had ended up in Khayelitsha and not Langebaan that morning. I always say that South African communities need to listen, understand, and give back; this run seemed to be an authentic opportunity to do so. With the ever-growing violence against women in our society, and the gruesome and heart breaking murders of Sinoxolo Mafevuko and Franziska Blochliger still fresh in our memories, movements such as Rock Girls form a vital component in changing the status quo for the girls of South Africa.
India explained that we would run with the protection of traffic officers and that police stations would welcome us in each suburb. Off we set at a slowish pace, with our support vehicle ready to offer any of the 50-odd runners water, gels, chocolates, bananas or a break, if they needed it. We were a mixed group with varying backgrounds, and the colourful conversation took our minds off the long trot ahead.
It needs to be said that I am NOT pro “poverty tourism”. I find the idea of wealthy folk touring the townships to “see how the other half live” quite appalling. These are communities of fellow South Africans, not tourist attractions. For the most part, these communities are fighting incredible odds and so, running through the streets of gang riddled Manenberg, I felt a little like a fraud. Many of the girls living in these suburbs have been regularly terrorised by gangsterism and they fear for their safety every single day. As the men, women and children of these communities stared at the mad group of runners passing their ramshackle homes and make shift wash lines, some cheered us on, but many must have wondered what the hell we were up to with our police protection and our big cheesey smiles, disturbing their otherwise average Saturday morning routines.
Kids ran beside us, dogs chased us, and one group of men became enraged that there was a group of runners in their suburb with police protection, while crime in the area escalates daily. Surely the police had better things to do? They had a point, absolutely, but they also didn’t have the background on the run and its intention.
And then the girls joined us. For a short time the girls that benefit from the Rock Girls efforts took our hands and enjoyed a bit of a run / walk with us. Their smiles were enormous, their laughter infectious. These girls, the ones that live in daily fear, reminded me of the bigger picture and what this run had set out to achieve. It is about connection, understanding, empathy. About putting systems in place to create safety, improve the education of these youngsters; help them to be BRAVE.
These enthusiastic girls in their eclectic mix of running outfits reminded me that waking at 3 or 4am to train or race is a privilege; many do so simply to find their way to unreliable public transport in the hope of making it to school or work safely, and on time. Their neighbourhoods reminded me that the aftermath of a storm might be an inconvenience for me, but it is simply devastating for a community that lives in shacks. When I talk or write about facing my fears I most certainly include rape right at the top of the list, women are at risk in any neighbourhood, but I also include facing tougher races, longer runs, faster times. These girls simply want to get through their childhoods without trauma and with a decent education. Being BRAVE is survival for them.
Safer streets for women. That’s worth supporting.
Go to http://www.rockgirlsa.org/ if you would like to know more, to donate or for updates on the 2017 Brave.RUN. I’ll be there for sure.