The waves of change have been coming in over the past months. We have felt them rising. I felt them in the crowds of the protest march I attended in September. Thousands of women, dressed in black. There was a deep grieving taking place and a communal realization that we have been accepting something unacceptable for much too long. The tide of anger and grief had mounted to a point of no return, it had to break like a wave, and the stronger it became, the more particles it collected and the more it swelled and churned, like a tidal wave, swirling into every home and every bedroom.
Factors that led to this protest action included a spate of horror stories in the press, which had pushed us, the citizens, to a new level of anger and grief at a system that not only does not protect women from Gender-Based Violence when they most need it but a system that actually, in a way has created it. A beautiful young gifted and intelligent woman film student had been raped and murdered in a place, which should be a safe community place of integrity – the Post Office. What’s more, her murder was one of three horrific murders reported in the press in one week.
Historically, the post office has always been perceived as a centre of safe, orderly conduct and security in a village or community. If you have ever watched the fabulous English period drama series “Larkrise to Candleford”, you would truly understand how the role of the postmaster or mistress has historically been central to the business of every small town, and how important it is that the post office clerk be a trustworthy person of integrity. Their job entailed reading and writing every telegram and safely delivering every precious letter and parcel. Yet, here was this situation where a person with ill-intent had lured the woman into a trap, by lying to her and telling her to come to collect her parcel after hours. Then physically attacking, raping and killing her with a post office scale. It was like a scene from a bad thriller. What’s more, none of the police in the police station, which is next door to the post office in the upmarket suburb of Claremont, were alert to her screams. The murderer was found by a private investigation paid for by the girls family. Not the police.
This was the final straw in a breaking down of society to a point where one naturally concluded as a woman that there was no safe place left for a girl to go alone. So there was a very strong need to protest. We as the woman had to take a stand on mass. We had to save our daughters and our society.
Yet, when the women united and marched in peaceful protest, they were met with an army of police in full riot gear. They were dispersed with water cannons. The use of water as a weapon against peacefully protesting women was deeply disturbing. This was a city where water had been a very scarce resource a season ago. The reality of water scarcity was made by both the actions of the council and a media campaign into a cause for great anxiety, especially for women, who still find themselves in the role of having to do the cleaning, washing and cooking. We had learned to cherish every drop, to recycle it for secondary uses, and to collect it from the mountain springs for drinking.
We have the clear understanding of the statement that water is life. We have had to live with the threat of losing it. Water is not taken for granted anymore in Cape Town. Water is the one resource that is most affected by climate change and the one that we most need to value and treat with respect.
Metaphorically, water represents emotions. It is the element of tears. Yet the response to a call for an end to gender-based violence was met with a further violation of all this. The police force who are the ones one expects to go to for help and protection, were using water as a weapon against the victims and the sisters and mothers grieving the violence against. It was a huge violation in itself, causing trauma on trauma. It showed what kind of mentality we were up against.
(What’s more, it reminded us of the anti-apartheid student march in this same city over 20 years ago, when the police used the same kind of water cannons to blast the crowd with purple dye. They then set about arresting anyone with purple splashed on them! “Power to the purple!” became a new tongue in cheek slogan among the people, who were just as outraged by the police then. )
As I stepped into the crowd on the second day of protests, I felt tears well up in my eyes. There was so much emotional pain. So much sadness and betrayal and deep anger at how the patriarchal system had treated the mothers, the sisters, the wives and the daughters of our society, and how much loss and trauma there had been on a personal level for everyone there.
In South Africa, where the rate of rape is one in every two women, it is most likely that you either know someone who has been directly affected by gender-based violence or been a victim yourself.
It was a healing experience to be there among all these women, gathered together in unity to express the same important sentiment. I felt that an unconscious heaviness we all have to carry as women was finally being acknowledged and made conscious. The light was being shone on this burden and by shining the light on it and acknowledging it this way, it was being lightened in every sense of the word. There fact that there were so many of us made the statement a stronger. An inevitable shift was taking place through the action of standing up together: no longer are we prepared to live with the levels of constant abuse and domestic violence we have had to accept as normal.
A barometer of what was acceptable by society was being pushed back from the doldrums of complete brutality to something more manageable. There was a call for respect and the men in the crowd stood for this too. The level of acceptance for the totally unacceptable was lifting just through the process of being there, acknowledging and standing up together to state that we no longer accepted it. There was liberation in the strength we found was gathering simply by standing together against it. We were saying no! There must be a different way. We no longer accept this. We are strong. We are women. We belong and we command respect and dignity.
The president addressed the massive crowd and promised to do something immediately. He promised that he was going to be holding a meeting to talk about this.
” We don’t want talk! We want action!” Shouted the women. “Men must learn to take out their own trash!” Read one sign. “Men are trash!” Read a whole hashtag social media campaign. This became a matter of much debate. It’s a Men-tality problem, read a man’s handwritten t-shirt slogan. I think this one hits the nail on the head. It’s not that men are trash, it’s that they have not learned to take out their own personal shadow trash. They have not learned to look at it. We do not have a culture of men talking about their feelings in this country. It’s something that needs to happen. Men are supposed to be tough and showing your feelings is “weak” is the old patriachal attitude.
It’s time for men to be supported in sitting together and facing their shadow stuff and shine the light on it. There is so much around male sexuality and expectations that sits and festers in the dark. Men who are bullied, men who take their low self-esteem and frustration into a dark place of hurting others who can’t defend themselves. The porn industry, the economic climate that forces women to sell their bodies for sex. The conditioning that causes men to believe that their wives are their “chattel” to use as they please. Men’s groups are needed like the Mankind project. Safe places where men can gather in a supported environment and process their feelings. Facing ones feeling and dealing with one’s “trash” is not easy or romantic. It’s a tough thing todo.
The president Rhamoposa gave the crowd permission to leave their messages on the fences of parliament. They decorated more than just the fence with messages. The statue of “a warrior” on a horse was decorated too.
The police stood, anonymously googling out from under their motorbike helmets, in a large formation against the gates of parliament, holding up their battle shields, while women wept and laid flowers and pictures of the friends, daughters, sisters and mothers they had lost to rape and murder at their feet. Franziska Blochlinga’s picture was there. She was a girl from my daughter’s school. She was only 15 and 200 meters from her mother in a suburban forest when she was snatched by a gang who left her broken, bruised and barely breathing. She died, gang-raped. She is the reason I can’t let my children out of my sight, even as they grow a little older and demand to spread their wings and run free like she did that dreadful day. I can’t take the risk, because there are crocodiles everywhere.
Yet that day in the crowd in front of Parliament, there was a revolution taking place and I was there with my daughters and their teenage friends. There was a rising tide of a new kind of thinking rising from a new generation, an earth centred feminine force that had been oppressed for too long. She is rising up like a wave.
Since then there have been protests in every suburb. I have witnessed women in black standing on the side of the road in the gangland of Lavender hill in burka’s and scarves, holding signs. These are the signs that things are changing because enough is enough. A whole dialogue has been sparked. There are regular groups meeting to discuss these matters. Places of safety are needed for therapy for the women who have been abused for so long that they take abuse as normality. Groups are needed for men to start discussing the issues they have kept too long in the shadows. Light needs to be shone in all these dark places. The police force needs to be re-educated and given a whole new focus so that they take rape victims seriously in places where they most need it. The justice system also needs an overhaul. Too often rapists are let out on bail and given short sentences. The whole system needs to be changed to match the new level of what’s acceptable. It’s a big job, but the wheels are turning apparently.
I believe president Rhamaphosa did take action immediately after the march, because recently, I attended a summit for Airbnb Experiences in Cape Town. The international organisation had invited a who runs the Saartjie Bartman Centre for Women and Children to talk about safety for women. She filled in a bit of background contextualization of the situation in South Africa for the international delegates. She had an interesting piece of insight to share about the history of our country. The oppression that took place during apartheid is still being dealt with psychologically.
“We never really dealt with it, properly. ” She said. “Nelson Mandela said let’s forgive and forget. But ordinary people from all national groups around South Africa never had the opportunity to talk about the anger or the hurt they experienced as a result of the apartheid laws. From the White policeman who beat up people in the townships, when he came home … How did they raise their children? They are also suffering. I am talking about all of that.” she pointed out. She also said she had recently heard that our president had indeed put a large number of funds aside to improve and shift things. After her speech, the question was put to the floor, “What can we do about it? ” They were actually asking how Airbnb Experience hosts could keep their guests safe, but most of us were looking at the bigger picture, which we had all been so affected by and troubled by. “We must teach men to respect women.” Said Xolisa, an Airbnb experience host from the Khayalitsha, who takes tourists to see organic gardening projects in the township. “We must teach people to respect women, just as they need to learn to respect the soil. Because the earth is our mother.” He said. It was so spot on. That is exactly what needs to change. It was so good to hear a man say that. So there is hope. The tide is turning.
The following week millions of young people all around the world took to the streets to protest the extinction of animals and plants, the 6th extinction known to man and the only one caused by one of the creatures on the planet in the history of the planet. The creature is mankind and it’s happening because of an economic system which is set up in an unconscious state of disrespect for women and the earth’s resources. (It all started back in the days when they began burning the witches, as we know.) However, a wave is rising. She is the divine feminine force within and all of this interlinked.
The women and children can see what is happening. They are the sensitive ones who care. We can’t watch this destruction anymore. Greta Thunberg is one powerful young leader speaking up for our environment, but there are many people standing up and stating the obvious in a clear way. Somebody needs to speak for the birds and the animals, and she is doing a very good job.
Although there is a lot of resistance, the penny is dropping in more ways than one. It’s going to have to change. We are going to have to become aware of and respect our mother earth again. We are going to start treating her as a sacred living being again. We are going to have to apologise and change our ways. We are going to have to make peace with the earth and the animals and the water and the air and the trees.
We can no longer take the earth that we stand on and the water that we drink or the food on our table for granted, just as we can no longer take the women in our lives for granted.
There are some (men in power) who are still behaving like toddlers having tantrums holding onto their patriarchal power system and what it allows them to get away with. It feels like all of this is coming to a head. These characters are so self-centred that they are prepared to destroy everything for everyone else in order to have their way. These are the forces who are actually setting out to make war and destroy what is left. Their egos are so important to them that shaming them is a good way to flip things. They are being shamed by global society, but are too vain and in denial to see it. However, it will get through if we are persistent.
It is up to us to make sure this kind of arrogant self-serving patriarchal bullying is not tolerated any more. We have to be brave and strong to stand up to these old men behaving like toddlers having tantrums. It’s an ironic time when children are playing the roles of adults and adults are behaving like children. We all have to be warriors of the light. The women and children will save the earth. And now’s the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party before the last forests of the world burn down, and they are burning quickly. The Amazon, the rainforests of Central Africa, even the forests in Greenland and Siberia have been burning out of control. Climate Change is really upon us now. There is no denying it.
We have to move fast, but the tide is rising. We must believe in our own power to make a difference. Each one of us must do what we can. It starts at home. It’s a mentality thing. Self-empowerment is a good first step. Creating awareness is another. So is facing one’s shadow and becoming a warrior of the light.