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Cape Town anti-crime activist Roegschanda Pascoe honoured with International Women of Courage Award

The life-long activist was honoured for her work in anti-crime efforts by the US State Department. At a reception held in her honour, she spoke extensively about her family who has been living in witness protection since she testified against a gang. The award ceremony marked the first time that Pascoe's family has gone out together publicly since going into hiding. 

“I think this honour is my children’s honour — it’s not easy to be a child of an activist,” said Roegschanda Pascoe on Monday 14 March in Bishopscourt. Pascoe was honoured with an International Women of Courage (Iwoc)  Award during a virtual ceremony at the US consular general’s home.

The Iwoc Award is given by the US Secretary of State to women across the world who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength and leadership. The award highlights women who have advocated for peace, human rights, justice, gender equity and empowerment of women and girls. 

After the virtual ceremony, a small reception was held in her honour, with guests such as her children, grandchildren, lawmakers and two of Pascoe’s primary school teachers. 

International Women of Courage Award 2022 recipient Roegschanda Pascoe during her speech on Monday 14 March at an event in her honour. (Photo: Supplied/ US Consulate in Cape Town)

Will Stevens, the US Acting Consul General at the US Consulate General in Cape Town, told Pascoe: “you are the very first woman from South Africa and we recognise you for your incredible leadership, your courage in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality at great personal risk”.

Pascoe has been a lifelong activist- from the age of 14, she was part of the resistance movement against apartheid. She has worked as an anti-crime activist and organised anti-crime and anti-gender-based violence marches. Currently, she mentors young people and assists foreign national groups in anti-crime efforts. 

 

Making her speech, Pascoe highlighted her children and said the award was for them. 

“In 2013 my daughter took a bullet for me. She was afraid to go to the bus stop to go to Batavia School [in Claremont]. You know what, I took her by the shoulder that morning and I said ‘stand by the bus stop — claim your power back, get onto the bus. This afternoon you get on the bus and you walk home because the longer you are afraid, the longer the perpetrator will think he has won’. 

“Today she is still standing with her mother… Today she says ‘mommy go for it mommy, go for it — show them’. That is why I say the victory belongs to my children,” Pascoe said. 

Pascoe’s family has been in hiding since 2016 after she testified against Manenberg gangsters in a shooting case.

In July 2016, Pascoe was among a dozen people who witnessed a gang assaulting a young man, metres from her home in Manenberg on the Cape Flats — an area known for gang violence and its high crime rate. GroundUp reported the man later died in hospital. Pascoe was the only person to testify in court and received death threats. In 2019, unknown gunmen opened fire on her home. Pascoe’s children and grandchildren were at home at the time. 

Her whole family has since been placed in witness protection. 

Speaking in an interview prior to the reception, Pascoe explained the troubles and hardship her family endured by fleeing, adding that friends and family had distanced themselves out of fear of also being targetted. “It was just us, it was just each other,” she said.

“This was the first time I asked that my family join me in this moment,” Pascoe said at the reception. “It was as much their celebration as mine”. 

Pascoe said her youngest daughter and eldest grandchildren missed a year of school owing to the upheaval and are a year behind the rest of their peers. Her daughter was supposed to be in matric this year. 

“They have been affected in a horrendous way… they have a lot of trauma, we still have to do a lot of healing — I have to live with that every day,” she said.

“This is the first-ever event that we’ve come out together in three years,” she said. 

The award 

The recipients of the Iwoc are nominated by US diplomatic missions from their respective host countries. Since the inception of the Iwoc 16 years ago, 170 women from 80 countries have been honoured. While the award is usually handed out in Washington, this year’s awards took place virtually. Pascoe is the first South African recipient to receive the award. 

In his citation of her, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “despite three assassination attempts, her work continues”. 

Among this year’s recipients are a jailed journalist and human rights defender from Vietnam, an environmental rights lawyer from Bangladesh, a Brazillian prosecutor tackling drug trafficking, corruption and crime, a transgender rights activist from Nepal and an Afro-Colombian environmental rights defender. Other recipients include Iraq’s Deputy Finance Minister Taif Sami Mohammed and Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush.

See this year’s full list here.

Pascoe said what struck her about this year’s award recipients was “we are all women from different walks of life, but we have the same goal and purpose: to put women in their rightful place and bring equality for them all.” 

What’s next for Roegscanda Pascoe? 

Pascoe is set to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) Virtual exchange, which connects all this year’s awardees with their American counterparts. As part of the award, Pascoe also received desktop computers as well as other office furniture to further aid her work with youth mentorship and assisting foreign nationals.

Pascoe plans to organise a march to the Constitutional Court on 16 June — South Africa’s Youth Day. Pascoe said she is tired of “walking to Parliament with a petition and organising a march. On 16 June, we’re going to the Constitutional Court. In a country of democracy of almost 30 years, why do I have to plead to be heard by the Chief Justice? He has an obligation and a fiduciary obligation to look and respect human rights in this country,” she said during her speech. 

“Our children are afraid of going to the toilet, they are afraid of walking on the pavement,” she said. DM

 

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