THE OTHER RSA
Welcome to the Republic of Sexual Abuse
The bane of women’s existence in South Africa is the country itself. The authorities consistently use the word ‘condemn’ whenever yet another young woman is sexually violated and brutally killed. Gender-based violence has been normalised as just another ‘social woe’ in a country rife with misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy.
The exhibition was inspired by the 16 Days of Activism awareness campaign and the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) that is rampant in South Africa.
The recent protests and marches highlighted that GBV is a matter of urgency, said Roanna Williams, executive creative director at Black River FC, and creative lead and curator on the RSA campaign.
“Knowing that women’s rights are the most abused rights in our country, we could not let another 16 days of activism pass by without using our voices to assist the NGO POWA who are on the frontline fighting this issue every day. People need to be exposed to the ramifications of the brutal facts, statistics and stories that plague our country and affect us all,” she said.
The hard-hitting campaign reveals the shocking reality of GBV in South Africa by focusing on the broader effects and implications of the ongoing violence.
We are all citizens of the Republic of Sexual Abuse.
“You may be feeling outraged, anxious or even fearful by this statement, but the real facts remain: women’s rights are the most abused human rights in our country and the rate of sexual violence and rape is among the highest in the world,” read a statement from POWA.
“We created a country based on the current statistics and facts surrounding gender-based violence. A country that we should not be proud of. We called it the RSA – Republic of Sexual Abuse. Its main characteristic, that is spread across all its provinces, is violence against the vulnerable,” said Williams.
“South Africa is a proud nation. We are proud of our achievements. Proud of our traditions. Proud of our people. But the country that we are so proud of is not the country we actually live in. The country we live in is nothing to be proud of.”
Jeanette Sera, counselling services manager at POWA, said, “We live in a country where a woman is killed every four hours. A country where three children are murdered and 114 women raped every day. A country boasting GBV rates that are five times the global average. A rate so high that it is comparable to countries that are at war.
“We know all this. What is going to change? Why do we preach to the converted? These are just some of the responses we get, especially around 16 Days of Activism.
“And yes, this exhibition is to capture the attention of the media: media that are as beleaguered and defeated as you are with all this news, but our focus is on the students (high school and tertiary) that we are inviting in, that we will be hosting, conversing and debating with. Because while the adults are tired, the youth are not,” she said.
The exhibition is a creative expression of reality. It is also a space and place in which to engage and debate, celebrate and make heroes of NGOs like POWA who are on the frontline of the RSA every day fighting the war, said Williams.
“We want to expose students to the behaviours that have led us, and we want to share the NGOs that are doing so much and who need [our help] to #GetOurCountryBack,” she said.
High school and tertiary students will be given priority entrance to the exhibition and there will be counsellors on hand to engage. “This is not a shaming campaign,” says Sera, “but it is a necessary one for change.”
Instead of celebrities and influencers, it would be great to see students sign up as spokespersons for RSA, said Williams.
“Anyone who wants to make a change – your voice matters, your opinion matters, it’s your future that is at stake. The youth are our watchdog and we want to listen to their reactions to and their thoughts about this exhibition and to the work of NGOs like POWA,” she said.
Williams said the challenging part of creating the exhibition was staying brave and, considering the controversial nature of the theme, they had anticipated disruption.
“We encountered many naysayers along the way. But we let our gut and our hearts guide us, and the support of our client POWA, who believed in the idea from the start,” she said.
To end GBV, Williams said more support and funding must be allocated to NGOs like POWA so they can expand their capabilities to more communities. She said the government must declare 16 Days of Activism as 365 Days of Activism.
Government must also provide a timeline on an updated and modernised sexual offenders’ list, a timeline on harsher minimum sentences, on opposing bail and parole applications, on rehabilitation programmes, a timeline on strengthening emergency rapid response teams, as well as other criminal justice measures such as more specialised courts and care centres, and a timeline on allocating more funds to these measures.
And finally, a commitment to #GetOurCountryBack. DM
The exhibition is at The Zone in Rosebank, Johannesburg (opposite KFC) until 10 December from 10pm to 4pm.