I was physically assaulted at Cape Town station on Thursday. A few youths hemmed me in as I tried to enter the bustling concourse. One pinned me against the wall. Flailing, I fought back. In a crazed blur, another rushed to help him as I struggled.
Thankfully, I broke free unscathed. I made a dash to the security barrier and the relative safety of the platforms.
These youths looked familiar. At the same entrance on Tuesday, one tried to shake my hand while mumbling something about a cigarette. Aware of my vulnerability, I veered away; he responded by grabbing my hand. Fortunately I managed to shake him off and run.
I get the impression that these guys hover about at the station just waiting to prey on vulnerable commuters. But not only that. I may be wrong, but it seemed like money or material gain was not the prime motivation for attacking me. Something deeper, more sinister, lay beneath the surface – perhaps reinforced by the muttered words: “We’ve been waiting for you.”
The expression I saw on those faces as they swaggered towards me was one of cocky resentment. It gave me the impression that they felt like teaching a middleclass white boy a lesson. My “crime”? Using the train to get to college each day.
The fact that there was no visible policing in the vicinity is an indictment on Metrorail’s ability to protect its customers. The only thing that saved me was the presence of so many people and the fact I was physically prepared to defend myself.
It is frightening that personal space can be violated like that in a busy, public area in the centre of Cape Town. To use another station entrance will probably ensure I stay unharmed but it does not solve the problem.
Having reported this incident to Metrorail’s security help desk, it remains to be seen whether there will be an improvement in safety at the station. For the sake of my fellow regular commuters, occasional tourists and whoever else who happens to use public transport, I certainly hope so.