Published: 21 March 2013

by Stacey Rozen

Still reeling from the horrific gang rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen, we awoke on V-Day to a shocking bloody valentine. The hash tag #1BillionRising faded in comparison to #OscarPistorius. Then, a 13-year-old girl was raped while crossing Beit Bridge. The Mail and Guardian newspaper declared: ‘Rape: SA Still Does Not Care.’ I felt disheartened, exhausted and disillusioned.

When heartists are born, a lifespan of creation beckons. Heartistry is embedded in my genes and I’m compelled to live with passionate commitment to love, to my world and to what I believe is meaningful. Despite my wariness, when I felt the rising energy of teen girls in Soweto dancing to ‘Break the Chain’ I was moved by their creative spirits. Their bravery embraced me, wholeheartedly. I felt revived and so proud. This was a small, yet significant, pocket of hope arising.

In the year prior to our One Billion Rising (OBR) event, we weaved our stories of heartbreak, abuse, rape and violence within our caring circle. We have shared a strong bond through the innate capacity held in our very own hands. Our homage to handcraft has been our primary source of creativity, dialogue, self-awareness and fulfillment. Fibre artistry has given us a vital and valid voice. It was the driving force to enable our healing and empower us to rise. I’ve ridden the waves of my sisters’ suffering along with my own hidden struggles. The chapters in the Story Scarves yarn have unlocked me far beyond initial intention. The wounded healer has healed.

Freedom of creativity was our platform. A yarn bomb set the stage for our flash mob: trees were draped with crochet blossoms in bloom and hearts of love. Scarf banners of crochet, knit, appliqué and embroidery were our placards. We signed our pledge on a giant shoe made of paper collage. Scarves pirouetted in the air as we soared dancing. Our mascot was a hand-knitted teddy. Traditional Tswana dancers added a distinctive African vibrancy. A naked artist flaunted her sacred body in a handmade nude costume. As Graca Machel says, “Arts give us the opportunity to amplify the space in which women present the extraordinary in the human soul.” Art-with-heart harnesses positive social change and that was our aim.

Two girls shared poems of being violated and we raised our arms in blessing their courage. To be the victim of rape is not a life sentence. We cheered at the monologue ‘My Short Skirt’ as men and boys enthusiastically joined us. There was a definitive sense-of-place. Sowetan teenagers rose on Vilakazi Street. Thirty-six years ago, no youth imagined it would be permissible for their sisters and brothers to protest peacefully just metres away from where the Soweto Uprising occurred. Yes, valiant emotional creatures danced in the face of all oppressors.

In the midst of our circle, Bridget Makhonza courageously stood. The music and dancing became attentive stillness. Bridget is a survivor with a quiet yet powerful presence. We had never previously met and I was honoured she accepted my invitation to address our group. As Bridget completed her telling, she and I were embraced in the centre of a group hug of love by all the V-girls and V-guys including my unwaveringly supportive friends. As I write, the cherished memory brings me tears of joy.

OBR cannot be a repetitive yearly action, building momentum over time. How many more young women will be violated during the process? News is breaking of the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman by 15 men with knob-kerries. Our beloved country is crying. We need to act NOW. This is not a protest or one-act play. This is the catalyst for a crusade.

South Africans must care.

I have found my sisters and they’ve found me. Kin by choice and heart.

And so, we rose… resiliently.

Stacey Rozen, Creative Director – Story Scarves
One Billion Rising
Regional Coordinator, South Africa