Sombre silence in solidarity

Protestors marching from the amic deck to the great hall. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protestors marching from the amic deck to the great hall. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protesters united at Wits University today to show their solidarity for victims of sexual violence in South Africa.At 6am this morning protestors at Rhodes University in Grahamstown gathered in preparation for the Silent protest. The silent protest started at Rhodes 6 years ago where about 100 people joined. This year 1500 protesters marched from Alec Mullins at Rhodes and 1150 showed support at Wits University.

This is Wits’ first year joining in the silent protest and were joined by UKZN, UCT and Fort Hare. The protest kicked off at 8am outside the Matrix where purple t-shirts  were distributed and mouths were taped. People who were gagged were silenced and could not eat, drink or talk until they broke their silence at 3pm.

The march started at the bottom of Amic Deck, proceeded down to the Commerce, Law and Management building. The protesters then marched  up Yale road, turned left at the traffic circle, past the old mutual sports building, the matrix and Umthombo building. It then proceeded outside senate house towards Dulce and came to a stop in the senate house concourse.

During the silent procession, all that could be heard was footsteps of the marchers as they  held hands in symbolic support of each other. Saddened, red eyes could be spotted among the protestors. The thick, grey mist that loomed over campus throughout the day seemed to mirror protestors  feelings of pain and uneasiness, and an overriding sense of anxiety could be felt walking with these rape victims.

Protestors were addressed by three speakers. Lauren Gmeiner, intern psychologist at CCDU,  gave shocking statistics of sexual violence in South Africa. “more than 65 000 sexual crimes were reported in South Africa in 2012. One out of 25 women report sexual violence to the police, according SAPS”. “Rape limits human potential – it silences them,” said Gmeiner.

A rape survivor, Tumi, spoke out about her experience of working through the psychological repercussions of sexual violence. “A woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa,” Tumi said.

Actress and activist, Rosie Motene spoke about her experience of physical abuse. Motene took the crowd through the traumatic encounter when she was in university and her boyfriend beat her, leaving her with a cracked rib, a blue eye, bruises and cuts.

Motene said the words of her family and friends, that “It’s not your fault, we are with you,” got her through her struggle. Motene addressed the issue of sexual violence within the university and said, “These stories were swept under the carpet for too long,” and that is the problem. Motene empahsised that students had “a right to be protected.”

“Always make sure your candle is burning bright” said Motene.

Kelly Gillespie, lecturer at the Anthropology department, spoke about sex being pleasurable and not crossing the “bright, red, neon line” of consent. Gillespie said, “ 1 in 3 women will be raped in her lifetime”.

Amid the speakers, 48 rapes between December 27, 2012 and March 14, 2013 were read out to the protestors.

The die-in was then held where people lay down on the floor in silence to give an image of how many people are affected by rape, and how many lose their lives to sexual violence.

A sense of comfort and intimacy filled the room as victims cried, held each other and supported each other. It became a safe place to speak out about their experiences.

The protest ended with  Drama 4 Life students performing a realistc skit of the psychological state of victims post-rape, and the courage it takes to remove the tape and break your silence.

Victims then broke their silence by removing the tape from the mouths and went on to a debrief where they reflected on the events of the day.

Taped mouths to make the biggest noise

By: Dinesh Balliah

Infographic of schedule of events for the Silent Protest @ Wits on April 19, 2013.

PROTESTS of solidarity for victims of sexual violence will take centre stage next week at Wits University.

On April 19 Wits will be participate in a nationwide university campaign along with Rhodes University, University of Cape Town, University of KwaZulu-Natal and Fort Hare University, to create safe spaces for survivors to be heard.

The gathering will start on the lawns on East Campus at 8am.

Thousands are brutally raped and murdered annually while the tragedy gets lost in the numbers. Like the taped mouths, the purpose of a ‘die-in’ is to create another visual cue, allowing people to imagine the statistics. The protest asks the public to be still and imagine how many lives are lost, to become the embodiment of that loss for a short time in order to honour the dead and recommit the living to action to end the violence.

The protest is pro-survivor rather than anti-offender event. The aim of the protest is to provide a visual impact of the statistic that only one in nine people who experience sexual violence report the crime.

A ‘die-in’ will be conducted during lunch hour where all protesters gather and refocus particularly as protesters are unable to eat lunch. It is a means of showing how many people are affected by sexual violence.

Students will remove the tape on their mouths and share their stories and experiences while sharing refreshments together in a breaking of the silence.

The protest is open to the university and anyone can register to participate and support the cause. Students can register at the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) office or the Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU) office where they will receive a t-shirt and tape upon registration.

There are different ways to participate in the day-long protest. People can volunteer to be silent and wear a t-shirt with ‘sexual violence causes silence’ on the front and an explanation on the back with their mouths taped all day, no food or water allowed.

Otherwise they can wear t-shirts with ‘rape survivor’ on the front and an explanation on the back or t-shirts with ‘STOP violence against women: the power of change is in our hands’ on the front and an explanation on the back.

Crime statistics released by government reveal that more than 65000 sexual assaults were reported in South Africa in the last year. From these reports only 6.5% are successfully prosecuted and less than half of 1% of perpetrators will serve jail-time.