Ellen Fedele, Plumstead
“I walk along the same route as always, the same time going by as I approach my school a few blocks away.
“As per usual, my headphones are blaring loudly and I am mouthing the words along with the artist. In a flash, someone huge steps in front of me and I cannot stop and bump into this behemoth – I know immediately this is not going to end well.
“A gun snakes from behind his back and he slowly and coolly brings it up towards my face, as if I am staggering through jelly, trying to move but unable to.
“The gun, gleaming in the sun, stops directly in front of my forehead, behind which my brain is working feverishly at the horror that has befallen me. And I know this man! He doesn’t say a word but I know what he wants – I very reluctantly hand over my phone, headphones and money from my wallet in a flash he is gone and it’s over but just beginning.”
One of my beloved former pupils survived this ordeal when he was in Grade 10 – never said a word, simply showing me the slip of paper from the court.
He was a witness in picking out this miscreant and his accomplices. Many other children were chased after school, girls followed by suspicious cars after matric exams and when roads were quiet, too many incidents to mention. I wished I could envelope each of these children in a cocoon of safety but had to resort to speaking to them about safety procedures whenever I could.
Never walk alone to or from a bus stop, train stop, nearing school or nearing home – try and stick to groups of children even if they are not from your own school. Ask your parents to call a meeting for the children of the road or area and discuss who can walk with whom and at what times, if parents are not available.
Do notand I cannot emphasise this enough do not walk with your earphones blaring so that what is happening around you is obscured – whether it be a prowler or an out of control car. Remember the rule of the road – walk against traffic. If you are on a bicycle, never have your headphones on and wear your bike helmet at all times (yes, even if makes you look “uncool”).
Hide some money in a school book or other inconspicuous book so that if your wallet is stolen at least you have money to get home via taxi or train. The same goes for the monthly tickets that children often have hanging on lanyards.
Do not keep quiet when something happens – immediately find an adult and report the crime while the details are still fresh in your mind – scars the thieves may have had, their getaway car colour and licence plate if you can recall them, etc.
You are not to blame – in a normal society, we should be able to walk with music playing without looking over our shoulders every few minutes or worrying if we are going to lose our lives for a few pieces of electronic equipment.
Speak to your friends (who might have gone through the same thing), your parents, priest/imam, guidance counsellor. All police stations have trauma rooms where trained counsellors can listen to you and help you cope with what has happened.
Go to your court dates and help the police identify and get justice for yourself – and for all the other youngsters whom these miscreants no doubt harmed emotionally and robbed physically in the same manner in which they did to you.
Be aware of all your surroundings at all times – be vigilant. Black municipal dustbins make good hiding places, as do huge tree trunks, and around building corners. If you feel your gut instinct kick in – listen to it! Cross the road, turn around and go to a corner shop, scream loudly, use a whistle or personal alarm if you have one, find other children with which to walk.
Play mind games to recall details about people, places, cars, etc – for example a black SUV of a certain make could be abbreviated to “BVS60 – 4” (colour, make, model and number of occupants). I do this with most vehicles that pass me on the road or highway as a matter of course to exercise my brain to recall details in an easier fashion should the need arise.
Keep all emergency contacts in your diary (police, fire, ambulance, law enforcement etc) should your phone be stolen, you will be in a fight or flight response still and might not recall important numbers like your ID or your parents’ work number, or the phone’s IMEI number which may be needed by your network and so forth.