Tackling community crises amid the violence of Westbury and shining a light towards better futures
Community Actionist Bridget Munnik Bridget performs regular radio and stage productions about gender-based violence, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and bullying in addition to her role as a community counsellor.
Bridget Munnik, also known as Aunty Bree, became a qualified counsellor 11 years ago. Growing up as an orphan, she knew what it felt like to have nobody to care for her, nobody to guide her, and nobody to congratulate her when she passed her Matric. Early on in life, she made a promise to herself that through her work she would help as many children as she could.
Bridget’s ambition has taken her from working at the child welfare centre and volunteering at the family life centre to eventually become the centre manager of the Westbury Youth Centre, a communal space for young people in one of the most troubled suburbs of Johannesburg.
It was through an audition poster at the youth centre that Bridget first discovered acting and found her most powerful voice.
Westbury is a dangerous place, run by gangs and rife with substance abuse and violence, something that Aunty Bree knows all too well having escaped from a violent and abusive marriage herself. It is through the theatre that she now finds a way to provide a lifeline to those in the community who are too fearful to ask for help, and too scared to speak up.
Bridget performs regular radio and stage productions about gender-based violence (GBV), substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and bullying. The intention is to let people know that they are not alone in their struggles with their loved ones. It is a way to open up conversations and facilitate connections with people who can help.
“The use of performance is so important because Westbury is so dangerous. You know there are things happening but you cannot reach out. What I show on stage is that you are not alone. I tell the neighbours and community members not to judge others, and I tell the victims that we see them. After the show, I have to come out of character and be a counsellor.”
When audiences watch Bridget’s performances there is often a moment where they recognise themselves in the characters. This connection provides a valuable way to give advice and support, without having to put anyone at risk. They are shown that there are resources available to help them and encouraged to go to the police or seek support from a social worker.
“I also run a workshop with the parents who are hurting. In a dark room, I give everyone a candle. I start with me. I talk about my son who was on drugs. After my story, the next person lights a candle and tells their story about their kid who is on drugs. Brightness comes into the room. In the midst of the dark, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. People have the same stresses but we can support each other if we light the candles one by one.”
In Westbury, where speaking up can be fatal, silence is also one of the biggest dangers. Through performance, Aunty Bree has found a powerful way to heal herself whilst also reaching the people who need her. Her voice is loud and her message is clear: “You are not alone and there is help if you need it.” DM
The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.
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