SOCIAL JUSTICE CHAMPION
‘A person of change’ — activist Lorraine Khoza tackles gender-based violence in Mpumalanga communities
When Mpumalanga activist Lorraine Khoza fell victim to gender-based violence (GBV), she realised how little support there was for women and girls in need. Her experience drove her to establish the Lorraine Khoza Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that develops community-based approaches to tackling GBV.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is a widespread problem in South Africa, affecting the lives of thousands of people every year — largely women and girls. Victims of GBV are all too often left with little or no support in the aftermath of incidents. Their efforts to pursue justice through the court system can drag on for years.
Lorraine Khoza, an Mpumalanga woman who experienced first-hand the devastating impact GBV can have on a person’s life, is tackling the issue through the work of her nonprofit organisation, the Lorraine Khoza Foundation. The organisation aims to develop community-based approaches to addressing the root causes of social inequalities, with a primary focus on GBV.
“Someone’s got to do something. I decided that I was going to play my part. Even though I did not have a big platform … I was just going to do the best that I could. And we’ve been doing it. We’ve interacted with … thousands of beneficiaries in almost five years,” Khoza said.
The nonprofit is largely active in the Nkomazi Local Municipality in Mpumalanga, where it services 54 villages with a population of about 450,000 people.
“The organisation could have been headquartered anywhere, but I had to bring it home because … there were only two shelters in that area servicing [people in need],” Khoza said. “In Gauteng, we work with the Tshwane University of Technology, which is my alma mater.”
Making a change
Khoza’s commitment to supporting GBV victims is rooted in personal experience. In 2015, when she was still a university student, a man abducted her while she was looking for accommodation. He held her in his house, where he beat and raped her.
While Khoza managed to escape and report the man to the police, she soon realised that justice for the attack would be far from swift.
“A year [later] in 2016, I got a call from the police. [They] asked me if I still wanted to proceed with the case, which was really shocking because not even once had I communicated with them about withdrawing the case. But I only got asked this question because the man that violated me had now violated another student in the area,” she said.
“With that, I realised there were so many inconsistencies in the system. It means that had this man not violated another student, no one would have reached out to me. He would have continued roaming the streets freely, without any repercussions whatsoever.
“Even during that time, as a student, I realised I needed to do something.”
After Khoza qualified as an internal auditor in 2018, she founded the Lorraine Khoza Foundation. Her hope was to assist others who had been left voiceless and unsure of where to turn after an act of GBV.
“What we do on a day-to-day basis is offer support services to victims, survivors and their families. We offer psychosocial support … [and] legal advice and assistance. If … you don’t have legal representation or you don’t know what legal steps need to be taken, we prepare you for court,” Khoza explained.
The foundation is building a shelter for GBV victims. It also has access to a database of shelters across Mpumalanga, allowing it to quickly refer beneficiaries to the nearest places of safety where needed.
“Had I known of safe spaces, I definitely would have run to them, but because I didn’t know anyone I fell into the wrong hands. So, I decided that … no one [who approaches the foundation] will ever fall into the wrong hands simply because they don’t have a place to stay,” Khoza said.
The value of Khoza’s work was recognised at the fourth annual International Conference on Social Justice on 11 October, hosted by the Stellenbosch University Centre for Social Justice. She received the award for Social Justice Champion of the Year, which identifies an individual who is making a positive difference in the lives of others.
“I feel validated, I feel affirmed. This has really revived my spirit to continue the work that we do, even though we have so many limitations as a nonprofit organisation. To have my work recognised at this level means absolutely everything to me,” Khoza said.
Her sister, Adelaide Khoza, is an office manager at the foundation. She described Lorraine as a “dedicated” person who was eager to help wherever she could.
“[Lorraine] saw the need in our community … especially with gender-based violence cases. She wants to see our community prosper and our community … change when it comes to cases of gender-based violence. She’s a person of change,” Adelaide said.
Throughout the process of growing the foundation, Lorraine Khoza has continued to fight for justice in her own case. In May 2023 — eight years after the assault — her attacker was found guilty. However, his sentencing has been delayed repeatedly.
“I guess I’ve been fortunate to still be alive and still be here, but I’ve been in a very vulnerable position because of what this man has put me through; because of what the courts continue to do to me. I have faced secondary victimisation from the supposed justice system,” she said.
She has noted the same patterns of justice delayed and denied in the cases of women her foundation has supported.
“If you’re someone from the deep rural areas or someone from the township … and you don’t have any proximity to the media … your case will not be prioritised. During almost … five years of doing the work that we do with the organisation, we’ve dealt with so many cases where victims … have their cases withdrawn and they did not consent to that,” she said.
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Many women that the foundation encounters do not recognise that what they are experiencing is GBV, according to Zola Manzini, a wellness counsellor who works with the foundation and serves on its board.
“It feels like it’s a way of life — men are supposed to use them, it’s okay to live like that — until we go out there and Lorraine explains what her NGO does, and she explains what GBV means,” she said.
“Then … a light bulb just lights up for them [when they realise], ‘Oh, I’m actually being abused’. From there, they have to come see me because that brings out so many traumas they’ve had to go through all their lives.”
The nonprofit organisation is attempting to address the root causes of GBV by designing programmes that respond to needs within specific communities. This involves going into these communities to study local structures and interact with residents, Khoza said.
“In all 54 villages, we can never apply the same approach to dealing with GBV [as] you find that here GBV is influenced by culture,” she continued.
One of the most common causes of GBV that Khoza has observed in communities is the lack of economic empowerment for women. As such, the foundation creates long-lasting empowerment initiatives so that women are less dependent on their male counterparts.
“We are not only looking at bringing in instant support services; we are looking at long-term [solutions] and ensuring that our beneficiaries are able to sustain themselves, even after they have had an interaction with us.” DM