At the backdrop of recent alarming reports of the harrowing sexual violations experienced by several women, most of whom were kidnapped and raped in and around the township of Soweto, the Soweto Women’s Forum was promptly formed in vehement response against socially constructed attitudes which lead to a spectrum of abusive acts against women. Joburg Post’s Katlego Mereko finds out more from a representative of the Soweto Women’s Forum Working Committee.
Katlego Mereko: The first public meeting of the Soweto Women’s Forum took place on Sunday, 2 April ’17. How was the ambiance and what where some of the issues discussed?
Soweto Woman’s Forum Working Committee: We met as Women of Soweto on Sunday. We sat for 3 hours in an open park under clear blue skies to talk as Black women living in Soweto. We connected as Sisters, Mothers and Daughters who are born Black and woman. Sisters, Mothers and Daughters shared their gratitude and excitement over the newly formed Forum for women who live in Soweto. They expressed that such a Forum comes at a time when Women need it most. All the women present spoke strongly about the defining silence of Women as a collective voice about the recent incidents of violence in Soweto.
We spoke about the urgent need to define ourselves as Black women and to revive the memory of our ancestral Womanhood so as to reclaim the identity of the women we were before the colonial conquest. “Azibuyele emasisweni”- a Mother amongst us commented: putting emphasis on the need to reclaim the memory of who we are as African women before colonialism, racism and apartheid. Her daughter was violated at age six. She spoke about the need to protect young girls.
KM: What was the general attitude towards the creation of the Forum?
SWF WC: Sisters, Mothers and Daughters shared their experiences and fears about joining a Women’s movement. Most women spoke of the need to turn the mirror inward first. It was acknowledged that, the nature of anti-Blackness has organised Black women against themselves. Women who are anti-women. We are the first to judge, punish and hurt another woman. We fail at protecting each other as women, and are thus always vulnerable in a society build against who we are as women. Sisters therefore expressed the strong need to revive sisterhood among us Black women as a primary requisite for building a Forum and a safe space. They pointed out that, we are sometimes our worst enemies. That we have allowed ourselves to be petty instead of standing up against that which divided us.
KM: Through which language will the Forum operate?
SWF WC: Although we use English as a means to communication, we shall not be limited to it. Women should feel free to use any language they are comfortable with. The Forum will do its best to prioritize our indigenous languages when engaging each other as well as our communities.
KM: What were the resolutions that came out of the meeting on Sunday?
SWF WC: There was consensus on the need to respond to the #TaxiRapes cases and for the Forum to make a strong stand against those that perpetuate our suffering as Black women. Sisters are were strongly vocal about being ‘tired of being silent victims’ of violence, Sisters are tired of ‘feeling helpless’ against those that continue to threaten our womanhood. At the centre of our intervention are the women who have suffered this ordeal and how we could find ways to reach out to them as a collective. We are also aware of the failures of the justice system when it comes to responding to crimes such as rape. The Forum will also empower women with information around the recent eruptions of violence against women in taxis and in the community. We need to be armed with facts so that we can devise mechanisms to protect ourselves and prevent further violations. We need to be on the alert!
We have resolved on adopting an educational approach towards building the Forum. We will focus on educational programs to organise and mobilise women throughout Soweto to join and become active activist in SWF. Focusing on our lived experience we will tackle the gender based violence that emanates from sexism, patriarchy and misogyny in the black community. We want the Forum lead with Educational programs aimed at defining who we are as women, while sharpening our thinking and collective wisdom as Mothers, sisters and daughters.
We also had teenage girls in our midst. One made a powerful suggestion that the Forum host “Mother-Daughter Dialogues” to address the brokenness of the black family. This too is the work of mobilization for purposes of self-education and self-actualization. Other educational programs will take the form of Workshops, Community dialogues, Exhibitions, Screenings, Plays, Musical concerts, Door-to-Door campaigns, Imbizo’s, etc.
KM: When is the next public meeting?
SWF WC: Our next gathering is as follows:
SWF Workshop #1
Date: 22 April 2017
Time and Venue: To be Confirmed soon
Theme: “Galemela Lenyatso: Ending Woman-to-Woman hostility”- a conversation.