I am lucky enough to live in a city that allows me the freedom to run. I open my front door in the morning while it is still dark, move out of my front gate and run freely through the streets. The streets are lined with beautiful trees and I get to watch the sun rise above them. It is my ritual and allows me to start the day off feeling like my soul has literally been woken up with the light of day.
A few years ago I lived in Cape Town. Here I was free to run the promenade in the dark mornings, the moon reflecting off the ocean. A few people said that it wasn’t so safe but I never felt afraid, only invigorated and alive. This is my freedom.
Unfortunately though there are many people in South Africa who are not safe to run their streets and there are many places that do not allow women the freedom to own a public space as if it is their own. Criminals, rapists, drug lords and gangs take ownership of these streets, pushing us into the shadows, keeping us locked up with fear. Cities will always have run down areas where a few cannot be free, but there is hope.
In the Johannesburg CBD amazing things are happening with rejuvenation and regeneration, encouraging people to take back their freedom to walk the streets, to be proud of their city once again. Buildings are being refurbished, restaurants and cafes are spilling out onto the streets and a creative culture is infiltrating areas that were previously so unsafe that the police kept them under constant surveillance. In Cape Town, urban renewal has already progressed to the extent that it can be proud of creations like the Fan Walk, giving people the freedom to walk from the centre of the city to the soccer stadium or the sea.
Last month I ran Run Jozi, a 10 kilometre run through the streets of Johannesburg inner city. Over 10 000 people turned up, despite the rain, decked in bright yellow t-shirts, paint and spirit. Ayoba was thick in the air as residents of the city came out onto the balconies and into the streets to support the runners, blowing vuvuzelas and cheering. I got goose bumps and I felt free, my feet pelting on the tar of one of the most beautiful cities. Everyone out there that night was united with that same freedom, a beautiful thing to experience on Human Right’s Day.
We all have the right to run our streets, free from worry or fear. We have a right to feel free in our cities and to be proud of them too. Freedom includes being able to feel at home, in the dark, on the road as the sun rises.