Silent Protest at Wits

Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

I offered to be the photographer for this event as soon as I saw the posters on campus a few weeks ago. I knew I wanted to be involved with this event, as I had seen a friend’s pictures from last year’s Silent Protest at Rhodes University.

By the time I arrived on the Library Lawns for the handing out of t-shirts on Friday, April 16, it was already drizzling. This didn’t make people run off, they all just whipped out their umbrella’s and continued to queue for their shirts. There were three different shirts being handed out: shirts specifically for rape survivors (those brave enough to wear them); for supporters of the protest (who had to go a step further and have tape over their mouths) and lastly shirts for supporters who for health reasons could not join in being gagged the whole day.  

Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

From what I understand the reason for taping supporters was that they had to endure the burden of being silenced, in their case for a day. Symbolic of the silent struggle that many rape survivors go through. Those who were taped could not take that tape off until later that afternoon, when they would be able to “break their silence.”

At 12.45 all the R U Silent Wits supporters met at Amic Deck for a silent march through the university. 

The march was powerful in its silence. People are too used to loud protests/marches, which makes them somewhat indifferent to them. In this case the silence of the protesters caused more of a stir for onlookers. There were audible murmurs of people asking one another what was going on, wanting to know how they could join etc. The flip side of that were nasty jeers from people who wanted to belittle the protesters. I heard a group of young men laughing as one amongst them shouted “you have sexy ambitions with this thing you are trying to do,” to which I saw a few faces scrunch up in abhorrence.

The final destination was Senate House Concourse, where a few speakers were expected. Rosie Motene spoke on behalf of POWA, a rape survivor from the crowd Tumi shared her experience and Kelly Gillespie, Wits academic, also addressed the crowd. They all managed to resonate with and inspire the gathered protesters. In between the speakers shocking rape stats were read out to the crowd. Things like 100 year old woman rape, 4 year old raped and mutilated… It made the rape statistics we hear about so much more real.

After this was what they called the “die in,” when all in attendance lay on the floor in remembrance of those who had died from rape related violence. It was at this point I began to see reddened eyes and tears streaming down people’s faces. I saw friends tightly holding one another’s hands and boyfriends mustering up courage to lend strong enough shoulders, or just wiping away tears. It was at this point that I stopped taking pictures, lay next to my friend, to hold her hand.

Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

 

The silence of the “die in” was broken by wails from two actresses who began their skit in the middle of the crowd. A moving piece which illustrated the torment rape victims go through and their struggle to speak out.  After the performance those whose mouths had been taped all day could finally “break their silence” by taking the masking tape off of their mouths. This came at the right time as, the debrief thereafter would be the space in which people could reflect on the day and share their experience

Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

.

No media was allowed in the debrief, so I simply went in my personal capacity. It was a very emotional experience. Brave young women and men took heed to the messages to break the silence and shared their stories. I heard stories I will never forget for as long as I live. I heard things that made the stats resonate, that made them real. The sheer numbers in that lecture venue of survivors made me shudder. One must keep in mind there were probably more who were too afraid to speak out to that large body of people.

I was thoroughly depressed when I left that venue. Drained. But I realised that I needed that experience. I needed to know the reality of the situation. I can only hope that the day helped others in the way that it helped me and that the movement continues to gain momentum.

PS**

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Witsies put their bare feet forward

BAREFOOT BEAUTIES: From left to right, Nelisa Ngcobo, 2nd year BA, Mungi Llale, $th year Dramatic Arts and Ziyanda Ngcobo, 3rd year BA
BAREFOOT BEAUTIES: From left to right, Nelisa Ngcobo, 2nd year BA, Mungi Llale, 4th year Dramatic Arts and Ziyanda Ngcobo, 3rd year BA. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Witsies braved stale urine, glass and camel droppings on April 16 when they came to campus barefoot in support of the One Day Without Shoes initiative.

The Wits Volunteer Programme (WVP) hosted an event to raise awareness for the drive, which aims to collect shoes for underprivileged children. Witsies attended the event barefoot to show their support and donated shoes.
A “path without shoes” was created on library lawns, from sand, dried grass, rocks and bits of Lego. The barefoot students were encouraged to walk across it to make them aware of how tough it could be to walk across these kinds of surfaces.

SHOES FOR WHO?: Students take on the "Path Without Shoes" to understand what it is like to live without shoes. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
SHOES FOR WHO?: Students take on the “Path Without Shoes” to understand what it is like to live without shoes. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

But perhaps a normal walk across campus provided the greatest challenge. Besides camels offering rides, and depositing droppings, on Library Lawns, Wits Vuvuzela caught the scent of urine in corners and saw broken glass on pathways.
“We take shoes for granted…in some developing countries some kids are not allowed to go to school if they don’t have shoes,” said Joanne Tomlinson, 2nd year BA and co-founder of the initiative at Wits.

Some kids were denied the opportunity to get an education, simply because they did not have shoes.Children also get cuts on their feet, which turn septic over time, she said. They caught diseases which were completely preventable.

One Day Without Shoes is an initiative that was originally started by the American shoe company TOMS. “For every pair of shoes they [TOMS] sell they give one away… They have actually handed out some in Diepsloot. They take each individual pair and fit it onto a kid’s feet. They don’t just drop the shoes off,” said Tomlinson.
Asked by Wits Vuvuzela how she had survived her day without shoes, Vivien Teijlingem, 1st year Fine Arts, said: “It’s nice for us to get to experience how tough it is walking without shoes, so we can care and understand what people go through.” BSC student Khosa Solly,added: “We can feel the pain that they [children who go to school without shoes] feel today, which will raise awareness.”

Tomlinson said she was grateful for the support the initiative had received from the WVP. Karuna Singh of the WVP attended the event barefoot.

Those who missed out on Tuesday can still donate shoes at the WVP offices in Senate House, Tomlinson said the shoes collected on campus would be given to the Bryanston Bible Church, who run a number of community outreach initiatives.

 

 

A VoW to clothe the needy

The chill in the air over the past weeks signals the onset of winter – and also the start of the annual Voice of Wits Winter Collection drive.

VoW aims to collect clothing and anything else that will keep people warm in winter. These items will be donated to those in need, according to marketing manager Lucky Mdaweni.

The organisers would be grateful for anything, from scarves and hats to blankets, he said. But they were particularly looking for clothing in good condition. “We don’t want any torn and tattered clothes.”

He asked that people wash their clothing before dropping them in one of the branded boxes placed around campus. Boxes can be found in various strategic spots, including residences.

DROP HERE: Vow FM has placed these collection boxes for winter clothing all over campus. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
DROP HERE: Vow FM has placed these collection boxes for winter clothing all over campus. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

“We will distribute the items we collect to people in the Braamfontein area, as it is the community that supports the radio station,” said Mdaweni.

Wits Students in need would also benefit from the drive. VoW had a partnership with the Wits Volunteer Programme, which would distribute clothing to students on an anonymous basis, said Mdaweni.

The drive will run through the months of April and May and Vow will host on-campus promotions

Harvard graduates ASSIST kids in Alex

ASSISTANTS: Pergan Naicker (left) and Victor Sithole (right) from the Wits Volunteer Programme tutoring in Alexandra. Photo: Provided by Assist
ASSISTANTS: Pergan Naicker (left) and Victor Sithole (right) from the Wits Volunteer Programme tutoring in Alexandra.
Photo: Provided by Assist

Underprivileged children in Alexandra are scoring with some assistance from a non-governmental organisation, the African Sports and Scholastic Initiative for Students in Townships (Assist).

Harvard graduates started Assist last September to aid underprivileged children in Alexandra.

The name of the initiative is a clever play on a basketball term, which means helping someone score a goal. In this case, the assistance comes in the form of a mentorship system to tutor children in their school subjects. 

Harvard graduates from the class of 2012 Dennis Zheng, Patrick Li and Ian Choe started the initiative in September 2012. This came after Zheng and Li had visited South Africa in 2011 to volunteer as basketball coaches at the Special Olympics South Africa.

On this 2011 visit they had the opportunity to work at different schools in Alexandra township with intellectually disabled children. Zheng said: “We then became connected with Harry Nakeng, a local community leader of the Alexandra Basketball Association (ABA), and began coaching basketball with township youth every afternoon.

“What Patrick and I discovered was a testament to the power of athletics; each day after school, 50 players of varying ages took to dusty courts in bare feet or their school shoes to learn the sport,” said Zheng.

The children made such an impact on Li and Zheng that they could not stop thinking about them. They decided to return to Johannesburg with their classmate Choe to found Assist. Zheng said: “The programme aims to leverage Alexandra township youth’s excitement about the emerging sport of basketball in order to catalyze students’ success in the classroom and ultimately improve their lives.”

The founders believe it is important to have a balance between sports and academics. Assist incorporates basketball to encourage physical, emotional and mental health, Zheng added. Sports also promotes a sense of camaraderie and helps to develop traits like discipline, he said.

The initiative has teamed up with the Wits Volunteer Programme (WVP) to outsource tutors. “Forty five Wits students are tutors for the ASSIST project now,” said Karuna Singh who heads the WVP.

These students tutor on Monday to Thursday afternoons and on Saturdays. Assist provides the tutors with transport to Alexandra. They help with subjects like Maths and English, Singh explained.

Zheng agreed: “Their consistent mentorship leads to not only better marks from term to term but also empowers each child to develop and reach his or her life goals.”

The initiative continues to seek funding, Zheng: “We initially funded the first year of the programme through the generosity of supportive friends and family, but we are currently exploring local options for financial support while preparing for another world-wide fundraising campaign.”

Up until now, by April 2013, close to 60 learners have benefited from the initiative. If you wish to assist, and help children, then  find out more about the initiative and go to:

theassist.org. You can also visit the WVP at Senate House, Ground Floor.

The Newsroom 4.5

This week was the first that I haven’t had anything published in the paper.

I don’t or didn’t feel particularly left out or incompetent – just strange. It was weird standing on the sidelines while I subbed things for everyone else, while they filed and scheduled their articles for online.

It even felt weird putting the paper to bed on Thursday afternoon, with not one of the pages on the board bearing my byline. Strange.

However, it was nice being able to take a bit of a breather. I won’t often get to rest on my laurels in future. It was illuminating getting the rare chance to watch things happen and just observe as things unfolded in the newsroom.

That said – it was swak watching my dad looking high and low for my stories in this week’s edition. At which point I whispered that I had done some stuff online. I’m not quite sure what the whisper was for. Or maybe I do.

We Are One

RAINBOW OF COLOURS: What it looked like when we threw the colours at the end of a countdown. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
RAINBOW OF COLOURS: What it looked like when we threw the colours at the end of a countdown. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Never in my life did I think I would have this much fun at an event that emanated from a religious practice.

I had wanted to attend from the minute I heard that Holi One (which later changed to We Are One) was coming to Johannesburg this year.

I had seen the Hindu colour festival on TV before and knew I had to do it at least once in my life.

I dragged my feet on getting tickets, which did not serve me well when they were sold out a few weeks before the event.

Luckily for me I know someone who knows someone and managed to get a ticket the day before.

Within in the first five minutes of walking into the venue some over eager festival go-er decided to throw some colour on me robbing me of the before picture I wanted to take.

15 000 people had bought tickets and those same 15 000 were on the grounds of Emmarentia Dam.

I imagined it would be chaotic but it really wasn’t. There were enough bars, food stalls and toilets to cater to everyone’s needs.

There was also ample space for people to move around. I never felt uncomfortable in the crowds.

The highlight of the day for me, were the colour throws that happened every hour. Being in the crowd when they happened was the reason we were all there in the first place.

When you threw your colour up into the air it felt like a New Year’s countdown. Then it felt like you were in the midst of a dessert battlefield as all the colours came down and their residue hung in the air.

AFTERMATH: Moments after the countdown colour throw - torturous to the lungs. Photo: Pheadi Sethusa
AFTERMATH: Moments after the countdown colour throw – torturous to the lungs. Photo: Pheadi Sethusa

The music was great throughout the day. Various DJ’s made our bodies move to their sounds. Goodluck were the headline act and ushered us into the night beautifully.

They also announced that due to the support this festival had received, the band would be travelling to Germany for a Holi One festival later this year.

The festivities started at 11am and were due to end at 8pm. By the time 7pm came around, my feet and legs were done in for.

Towards the same time, none of us looked colourful anymore, just dirty.

It took me a full 40 minute shower to scrub myself clean and an additional 20 minutes to clean all the contents of my handbag. By which time I was exhausted from the day’s events.

I only began to understand the “we are one” title by the end of the day, when we all looked the same.

WE WERE ONE: From left to right, Megan Hamilton-Hall, Paige Fenenga, Pheladi Sethusa and Kayleigh Pierce. Photo: Tracey Hamilton-Hall
WE WERE ONE: From left to right, Megan Hamilton-Hall, Paige Fenenga, Pheladi Sethusa and Kayleigh Pierce. Photo: Tracey Hamilton-Hall

Even though we were all covered in a rainbow of colours, we all looked the same and indeed were the same in that moment.

The day I got to wear my Hogwarts uniform

Photo: Prelene Singh
Photo: Prelene Singh

*self-gratifying sigh*

Here I am. Fifteen years later. This is THE DAY it’s all been about.

The day I get a piece of very expensive paper that says: this girl is smart. This girl knows stuff and she deserves a shot at making that paper (money). This girl is finally a cog in the machine.

Okay, that is not where I was going with this but what the heck I’ll just roll with it. While I am super excited about this so called milestone, it is the beginning of the end isn’t it?
I have been in professional day-care for fifteen years and guess what? I just signed myself up for more. Because a degree isn’t enough anymore – I could very well work in sales for the rest of my life. Bleak prospect.

So I’m bumping myself up a bit, to get that deluxe you-deserve-a-job-ticket. I have decided to do this through the one thing I am good at, writing. Well two things I’m good at – writing and questioning. But I fear that after I have completed my Honours in Journalism degree. It might not be enough, then what do I do?

Many qualified graduates in South Africa are left either jobless or stuck in less than desirable jobs once they have graduated. (This information comes courtesy of a Stats module I did.) I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

This piece is about the day that commemorates how far I have come. Somehow all the naps in lectures, Mike Ross-like skim reading and verbosity in essays have paid off.

Okay, let me stop being self-deprecating (holla to English Literature for that one). I actually did work my way through my undergraduate degree. Probably not as consistently as I would have liked, but I’m here.

I am very thankful for having indulgent parents who let me sign up for things that took my interest. They could have easily forced me to do something more “stable” that would make me a shit load of money. But they didn’t and I will always be thankful for that.

They let me have debates about Biko, the evils of capitalism and the origins of man. They let my young self, already keenly literary, truly bask in a plethora of works I would otherwise have never engaged with.

What I studied is directly proportional to the person I have become.

*drops mike and walks off stage*