DM168

THE ACTIONISTS

A new approach in the fight for protection against perpetrators of gender-based violence

A new approach in the fight for protection against perpetrators of gender-based violence
The long fight for justice for gender-based violence survivors is a lonely and isolating experience that Norma Mbele vowed she would not let other women go through alone. (Photo: Thom Pierce)

As with so many Actionists, Norma Mbele found her calling through her own traumatic experience. Tosunga Baninga is a gender-based violence (GBV) support organisation. Its mission is to assist the victims of GBV while also educating the broader community. The organisation's approach, however, is slightly different to what you might imagine.

While staying in a women’s shelter as a survivor of a rape for which she never got justice, Norma Mbele experienced how many women are treated while seeking protection from the perpetrator. 

The long ordeal of getting justice for gender-based violence is a lonely and isolating experience that Norma vowed she would not let other women go through alone. So she started the NGO Tosunga Baninga.

Tosunga Baninga is a Lingala phrase from the DRC that means “helping you to help others”. 

As a passionate believer in diversity, it was important for Norma to name the organisation with a phrase that was not from one of the South African languages. She wanted it to reflect the positive cultural diversity which she experiences in her community and which she seeks to promote through her work. 

Tosunga Baninga is a gender-based violence support organisation. Its mission is to assist the victims of GBV while also educating the broader community. The organisation’s approach, however, is slightly different to what you might imagine.

When Norma left the shelter, she committed to helping other women who were victims of gender-based violence. She had no idea how she was going to achieve her goal, but she was steadfast in the conviction that those on the lonely road to seeking justice needed support. 

Observing court proceedings, she noticed that the perpetrators often had many more supporters in the courtroom than the victims, and she watched, on multiple occasions, how the authorities treated the perpetrators more kindly than the victims. 

Norma started to turn up at the trials holding hand-written cardboard signs outside the courthouse containing generic messages of support for the victims. 

As the trials progressed, she began to include quotes from the court proceedings in her messaging. In time, her team began sitting inside the courtroom wearing T-shirts bearing quotes from the previous day’s proceedings, making it clear that every word was being heard and noted by the victim’s support team.

When it became clear that these techniques were having an impact, Norma started experimenting with even more powerful ideas. What began as a need to show solidarity and to prove that supporters were watching and ready to hold the authorities accountable, quickly evolved into a very powerful form of visual activism. 

In 2018, Tosunga Baninga recreated their first crime scene outside a court. 

They wanted to raise public awareness of the crimes and, more importantly, to force a sense of accountability and shame onto the perpetrators and their supporters as they entered and left the courthouse. 

Working with the full consent of the victim’s families, they use “bodies” under blankets, crime scene tape, props and clothing to stage the scenes informed by the details that were available about the crime. 

“The first one was Nomatjala in 2018, on the street outside the court of Sebokeng. Her mother had never seen her body at the scene. We recreated it and the mother almost collapsed. We started at 7.30am so that everyone going to work would see it. It was a way for the mother to get closure. She walked into the court with anger and sat in the front row for the first time.”

They also “carry the bruises and the scars of the victims”, often sitting in the courtroom with bullet wounds and bruises painted on them in the positions of the original injuries.

“We are in solidarity with all women who have been assaulted and are covering bruises under their makeup. We are carrying these bruises so that other women are not alone. I walked the journey alone and I made the promise that no other woman would walk the journey alone.”

Although Norma has almost died, had her home shot at and her windowsill smeared with blood, she is not going to back down. 

She knows there are voices that she needs to make heard and memories that she needs to keep alive for justice to be served. 

“Sometimes you fear for your life, but at the same time, you cannot walk away. In this country, whether you fight or don’t fight, the statistics of women being killed are very high. 

“It’s better for women to make noise and fight.”

For more information, Norma can be contacted at +27 79 034 2676 or via email at [email protected]. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Actionists

This story is one of a series of articles produced by The Actionists in collaboration with the Heinrich Boell Foundation’s Cape Town office to highlight the incredible work of organisations and activists across South Africa in their pursuit of justice and equal rights for all.

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.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at www.theactionists.co.za or email [email protected].

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

X

This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.


Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

Get DM168 delivered to your door

Subscribe to DM168 home delivery and get your favourite newspaper delivered every weekend.

Delivery is available in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape.

Subscribe Now→

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options