Storytelling Helps Tell Complex Story of Gender-Based Violence and LGBTQ Rights in South Africa
Day 4: Cape Town, South Africa—Gender-Based Violence & Trafficking; Cultural Resistance; LGBTQ Rights
Our Day’s Itinerary:
- Meeting with Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and Embrace Dignity
- Meeting with Fatima Dike
- Meeting with Beverly Soldaat
- Visit to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Our day began with meeting Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge—a South African leader with a long and distinguished history of campaigning for human rights and the founder of Embrace Dignity. She brought with her two survivors: Grizelda as a main speaker and Monica as support for Grizelda. We sat in circle with them to learn about the work being done to end commercial and sexual exploitation in South Africa.
Grizelda started off powerfully by sharing her story to help us better understand the South African context and to show that survivors should have control over their own stories. She explained how being displaced in the aftermath of apartheid increased her vulnerability to exploitation and how it overlaps with the HIV/AIDS crisis. She described discrimination from the community as a survivor, ongoing PTSD, and the struggle to find her identity anew. She criticized the narrow and judgmental programs available to her: “I don’t need people to tell me what to do to be a survivor. I need them to support me in what I want to do.”
We followed with a robust discussion on various aspects of this complex issue. How sexual exploitation is a continuation of the violence of colonization, slavery, apartheid, and capitalism – passed down from generation to generation. How to enforce criminalization of buying sex and how that would impact prostituted women. The need for parallel safety nets and economic policies so women truly have other viable options for how to support themselves financially. The need to make sure LGBTQ who engage in prostitution are included in policy decisions. These complexities fired up the Movement Makers and they continued to have conversations throughout lunch.
After lunch, we had the honor of meeting with the “Mother of South African Drama”, Fatima Dike. Arts, culture, storytelling, and performance are critical mediums for helping oppressed communities make sense of and share their experiences and perspectives. In her work as Director of Siyasanga Cape Town Theatre Company, Fatima helps South African women tell their stories – and either perform or publish them. Her own plays weave together the realities of black African culture, customs and rituals as well as violence against women and the LGBT community.
Fatima told us about clan songs as a way to remember history and establish relationship. She explained parts of the Xhosa language. She reflected on how modernization and individualism were breaking down ubuntu and commodifying rituals of marriage and manhood, and making us forget how to properly honor our ancestors. She recited heartbreaking poems on the injustices of apartheid and the killing of children in the Soweto Uprising. And interwoven throughout, she danced with us, played jazz music from Sibongile Khumalo, gave us blessings, and brought joy and hope into our hearts. She demonstrated – in her simple and powerful way – how we can use the arts to collectively grieve, fight for justice, and bring lightness and love to our work.
Beverly Soldaat, an LGBTI rights activist, accompanied Fatima to open a discussion on the intense discrimination experienced by the LGBTI community. Even though South Africa legalized same-sex marriage almost 10 years ago and there are constitutional protections for LGBT people, the day-to-day reality of most poor, black LGBT South Africans is marked by harassment, fear, lack of safety, and family rejection. There is little recourse from the police or the courts if they are victims of violence or other violations. It was a sobering picture and many Movement Makers offered ideas, referrals to other organizations, and heartfelt messages of solidarity.
Building off our experience with Fatima, being in South Africa has special meaning for the members of the cohort with African heritage, with this being the first time on the continent for many of them. The experience of feeling rooted on the land of their ancestors, while living with the legacy of slavery that has violently erased their pasts, has been powerful. To give them an opportunity to connect with the land once more, as well as a way to celebrate our last night in Cape Town, we spent the evening at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. It is 528 hectares (1300 acres) and the first botanical garden in the world focused on preserving a country’s unique flora. To make it even more special, Mary Tal, Herschelle Milford, Fatima, Beverly, and a few other guests joined us for dinner and we ended the night with dance and song.
This international learning exchange was planned in conjunction with our esteemed partners at International Development Exchange (IDEX).