In 2011. During my first year at the Market theatre laboratory (school for performance). I auditioned to be in the South African production of a play called “Emotional Creature” by Eve Ensler. I was an angry, bitter child. I was nineteen years old, had no language to describe what had happened to me to make me so angry, so shut down, so broken. My audition was the beginning of a journey that has changed my life. It has led me to discover a way to heal, a way to forgive and a way to dedicate my life to helping other people find healing and Closure. Telling my story was really painful. But I hope by telling it to you, it might help you too.
I grew up in a small town called Messina, near the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe. I was part of a huge family. I lived with my mother, and my father lived nearby. I blocked out a lot of my childhood memories (good/bad) until recently. Never wanted to think about my childhood.
During my high-school years. I was taught about rape, I didn’t think this applied to me. Every young girl at that age knew that this horrible act existed in our homes, schools, community and country. But my Rapist made me feel complicit to feel I had taken part. Surely he didn’t Rape me. I mean after all “What is Rape”?? I asked myself.
An older male relative knew that my father was not living in the house, and he presented himself to me as a loving father figure. I was his favorite. He bought me sweets and toys and spoiled me. If you were favored by him it was an honor to sit on his lap quite often. When I was three years old, he did something terrible to me, something that took a while to understand. It happened again when I was seven, and then when I was twelve. He made me take part, he made love to me. He made me think it was love.
For a long time, I thought it was normal, because it was camouflaged under this umbrella of love. All I could think was why am I feeling such pain? Is everybody feeling such pain? At that age you don’t know. The bleeding and the pain lasted for days on end and nobody recognized it.
When I started working on “Emotional Creature,” Eve Ensler said to me “I see you, I share your pain” Anger is not Power!! and that I had nothing to feel ashamed of. Until then I had a strange sense of holding back. Now I knew that what was done to me was wrong.
After experiencing healing and claiming back my body. I went home and discovered this man had molested many people I know. Some even younger then the age he first Raped me. None of them wanted to go to the police. It was like he had brainwashed us all into thinking it was love. In My country victims very rarely get justice for abuse. If you see your neighbour report abuse and nothing happens and she and her children are left in terrible danger when the man is released you learn to be passive, to do nothing.
The nature of our economy makes reporting perpetrators even more risky. I have had young girls say to me I am a silent victim, I am abused, but my father is the only breadwinner. If I report him to the police, my family will become homeless, and we will not be able to afford to go to school.
I was starting to realize that across this country, and across the world, there are so many young girls like me, where in a safe place called home, something happens, and nobody is doing anything about it. I decided I was going to do something about it.
I travelled across the cities of Johannesburg empowering young women to stand up against rape and abuse, empowering young men to commit to breaking the cycle of abuse. I lead workshops. Young people in My communities are used to hearing lectures about rape, with facts and figures. If you approach them in that way, they shut down, and back away. Often there is a kind of numbness and fatalism around this issue if it doesn’t happen to me, they often say, I don’t want to hear about it. I approach them differently. I ask them what is the future you see for your country? The revolution you envision? I give a brief introduction to my story, then we play games to get to know each other. I always know that in a room where there are twenty girls, there are several victims, and more who are at risk of either losing their lives or being continuously Raped.
My job is to listen, to build up solidarity. In the recent workshops we learn self-defense moves in as fun a way as possible and we develop ways in which the participants can prevent rape or being harmed in their own communities.
There is something magical about approaching these questions through art, poetry, song, dance. It allows people to speak in a different way. They take that art back out into their communities. I believe it gives them the vocabulary I didn’t have until “Emotional Creature,” the vocabulary to know it doesn’t have to be this way, that “the future is in my body.”
Being a youth leader has led me to understand more about how rape and domestic violence became so deeply embedded in my country’s culture. There are “customs” where a young girl of nine or ten will be married off to an old prince/king in some village where the right of expression is hardly practiced, Customs that make it increasingly normal for teenage girls to seek “sugar daddies,” older men who support them in return for sex. It’s called the “give and take” relation…I am constantly asking how do we empower these girls to find their voices?
A large part of this work is reaching out to young men and asking, what do you think about rape? I ask questions that vary from personal to general aspects…it is important to not make the young men feel like monsters but instead brothers in solidarity with us. We draw up commitments and pledges for them to resist becoming part of a culture of rape, to be proud they are not wearing the mask of a rapist.
This is densely interconnected with the culture of domestic violence we have here. I am a victim of domestic violence. My mother is a victim. My grandmother is a victim. It is a generational cycle and somebody has to break the chain. Nobody talks about it. They think we have to think about the family’s reputation, we have to think about what we are going to lose if we do anything about it. There’s something so cruel about violence behind closed doors. About a silent crime. About a young girl who has nowhere to go but the four walls that are surrounding her and every day she’s being abused by her father, her boyfriend, her husband. All violence is terrible but domestic violence is such an intimate crime, and an intimate betrayal.
It is the most sadistic kind of love. I think the greatest tragedy is that you end up loving the perpetrator, and you can even associate violence with love. I have dealt with cases of young girls who date guys who are rough, who throw them around, knowing that this is how a man shows love to a woman.
This can be allowed to happen because too often, customs come before justice, and that is murder for a nation. People say, who are you to stand in front of culture? The youth sometimes say – who are we to go against culture? We are born into a culture where a mother can’t speak up about being abused, because she will lose her marriage, and her family will look down on her. What is her Revolution?
But I know we can change it because I have seen it change in my life. I have had a revolution in how I see these crimes and this proves it can happen for other people too.
One Billion Rising is a movement where we aim to gather all women from different race, culture and standards, not only those who have been victims of abuse to dance together on February 14th each year. At first some people are shocked by this. They say, how can dancing stop rape? How can dancing stop violence?
When I dance, I reclaim my body from my abuser. I say this body, this beautiful body of mine, this body that has been violated and beaten. Correctively Raped is not an object for anyone. It is not a site of pain and hatred. It is a body that is for my self-expression, and beauty, and for dancing with others in solidarity. It says – there is so much beautiful in my body, my hips, my legs, and the dance shows the beauty within me.
And even more importantly, there is a moment in the dance, when we are all together, when we are in sync, with the music, with ourselves, and with millions of others. That feeling of being in sync, of having rhythm, of experiencing joy - that is what i aim for in OBR, it is what we are here for. And we show it with the bodies that were abused, and will not be abused again. RECLAIMING THE BODY!!
It is through this long journey, of telling my story, of empowering women, and of dancing with One Billion Rising, that I have found a process of forgiveness. Sometimes people are shocked when I say this, and I understand why. For me, forgiveness is forgiving yourself for blaming yourself. For me, forgiveness is a way forward. A lot of people mistake forgiveness for giving the perpetrator a way to think he can get away with it but that is not what this was about. What he did was a terrible crime. But since I went on this journey, I have learned that he too was molested as a child. It is no excuse. It doesn’t diminish the crime he committed against me or other girls. But it gave me a sense of understanding. “I Share his history his rising mystery”
There is a part in my piece in the performance of “Emotional Creature” called “I Am Not What You Fear.” I say on stage:
I am your sister, mister
At the end I say the most liberating line ….”We can travel there.” ….To a better future. travel there with my perpetrator. Let’s travel to a point where you understand you violated me, Embark on a journey of healing and forgiveness.
I am 23 years old. I am trying to break the chain. I decided to take the bandage off my wound, the bandage that was so tight and discrete at that first audition because I believed I could finally be healed. I found love and forgiveness within myself.
As told to the One Billion Rising team.
1 in 3 women across the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS. Every February, we rise — in hundreds of countries across the world — to show our local communities and the world what one billion looks like and shine a light on the rampant impunity and injustice that survivors most often face. We rise through dance to express joy and community and and celebrate the fact that we have not been defeated by this violence. We rise to show we are determined to create a new kind of consciousness — one where violence will be resisted until it is unthinkable.
This year we are rising for Revolution. We are initiating a new series, “Building to One Billion Rising Revolution,” where we will be sharing stories of extraordinary activists who embody the creative radical shift in consciousness required to bring about CHANGE.
Grassroots activists who fight for justice and liberation with passion and joy.