by Lisa Vetten, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu and Sanja Bornman

Tomorrow, 25 November, marks the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. Activities led by government emphasise the importance of taking action to end gender-based violence but do political parties walk the talk?


Mduduzi Manana has resigned from his position as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training and been convicted and sentenced for committing assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. But he is neither the first nor the only political representative to behave violently towards women. During this year’s 16 Days of Activism, the Women and Democracy Initiative (WDI) of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Lawyers for Human Rights, and gender violence specialist Lisa Vetten turn the spotlight on political representatives and the protectors and keepers who enable their sexual misconduct and abuse. Each day the group will release the name and facts of a different case of a leader embroiled in sexual abuse charges. The aim is to reflect both on the incidents themselves, as well as the responses of the political parties to which these men belong, their actions proving a litmus test of their true commitment to addressing sexual violence.

South Africa’s political representatives are the guardians of the Constitution and rights it contains, including the right to gender equality and the right to be free from all forms of violence, whether from public or private sources. It is their responsibility to develop laws that advance these rights, hold government departments to account for their (in)action in this regard, and approve budgets that make these rights realities. But political representatives’ ability to improve women and men’s lives is compromised when they appoint abusive men to positions of power.

“Political parties that appoint these men, then fail to act against them, or protect them, are hypocritical. Over the next 16 days, we will hear a lot of public condemnation of violence against women and children from various leaders, but this campaign turns the focus on what politicians and parties actually do, not what they say,” said Sanja Bornman of the Lawyers for Human Rights’ Gender Equality programme. Parties undermine efforts to address gendered forms of violence when they fail to develop systems and procedures addressing sexual violence, or fail to put their policies and procedures into effect. They also hamper South Africa’s efforts to meet Goal 5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Target 5.5 of this goal is to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.” Yet women’s political participation and representation is undermined in environments where sexual violence and abuse go unchecked.

Says Lisa Vetten: “These problems are not new and if they are allowed to persist there is a risk they will become permanent features of our political landscape. As the country currently debates the quality of its political representatives this dimension of their conduct should not be overlooked.”

The individuals we will be focusing on are #NotOurLeaders and we demand that political structures act decisively and urgently to tackle the problems we will be highlighting during the 16 Days.


Lisa Vetten is a gender violence specialist based in Johannesburg, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu works at the Women and Democracy Initiative of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape and Sanja Bornman works for Lawyers for Human Rights.


Take Action If You Said #MeToo


Speak Out member, Chipo. Photo by Alexa Sedge.

By Kathleen Dey

I appeal to anyone who posted or followed #MeToo on social media to join our I ACT Campaign and donate R100 every month to fund our free counselling service to rape survivors.

The #MeToo campaign was initially used by North American community organiser Tarana Burke in 2006 as part of a campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among black women who had experienced sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities.


Tarana Burke (via justbeinc.org)

It gained global momentum after accusations of sexual harrassment – and rape – were brought against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein in 2017. Actress Alyssa Milano encouraged posting the phrase as part of an awareness campaign to show the scale of the problem.

She tweeted Tarana Burke’s call to action: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote #MeToo as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

According to Wikipedia the phrase was used by more than 4.7 million people in 12 million posts during the first 24 hours.

I am aware of so many women who posted #MeToo on social media platforms and told their stories of harassment, violence and abuse – and many more who were moved by the trend but for good reason did not post the hashtag or tell their painful stories. If each of these took action by donating R100 a month Rape Crisis, we could kick start the I ACT Campaign, a campaign designed to address some of the enormous helplessness and anger we feel when we see how widespread and severe the scale of the problem is. #MeToo demonstrated this only too well.

There were some strong posts from men in support of the women who posted #MeToo, many were shocked by the prevalence and some men said #MeToo as survivors themselves. This is a campaign that men can support just as well. What better way of showing support than a tangible gesture? Many can then say, “I ACT for women’s empowerment” and mean it.

Members of the LGBTQIA community could say an even stronger #MeToo having experienced the intersecting trauma of being sexually harassed and being targeted because of their sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity. Many have not posted because #MeToo did not recognise this but only saw violence through the eyes of women. The fact is there are many intersections in our society that most people are completely oblivious to. Black women might not have the luxury of posting #MeToo but many of the rape survivors we see at rape crisis experience these multiple forms of harassment. On behalf of all of them we say #MeToo and ask you all to say #I-ACT in return.

Just R100 ensures a one hour counselling session for a rape survivor including transport money if needed. In this space where survivors feel safe to tell their stories they find their own coping strategies, learn to move forward, make well informed decisions and connect more closely to others. Please take action to support them so we can all say I-ACT.



Kathleen Dey is the Director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.

On #MeToo

By Sam Waterhouse

We are posting with different private meanings and experiences behind that phrase. Many of us are talking about rape, assault, and abuse as well as ‘harassment’. We are talking about sexual violence. We are publicly exposing something deeply personal, for some of us we know we are also being political, and in the posting we are being more socially connected about experiences that we mostly share in smaller spaces. If we share it at all. There is, even for me, some discomfort in the choice to #MeToo, I hesitated and waited – for what purpose? Am I going to hang this out on the line to be minimised, looked over, celebrated, commiserated, diminished, pitied? My personal and social meanings collide in the choice.

And then I saw women I perceive as powerful, who I respect and aspire to posting and I was enabled. #MeToo

I’m interested in seeing who posts and who doesn’t. I’m interested in who doesn’t because my Facebook is not only linked to feminists, to women who are alive to the scaffolding that holds sexual violence up and seek to name it, dismantle it and build networks of compassion and power. My Facebook people are also girls, women and men who live in other ways and who have lived sexual violence. Many of these are not participating in this public way. May you continue to do what keeps you safe, may some of you be emboldened, may you choose what’s best for you.

I’m interested in who reacts. On mine so far all women. On some other posts I see the smattering of woke men who perhaps understand better or who feel they have permission to react. So this seems to me to be another exercise of women speaking to women about something that men and our society creates. And I pragmatically see the value of women talking to women. There is power there. But I get pissed off because we are not posting this only for other women. Angry because I think most men are turning away from this pervasive reality and then also considering (generously?) maybe they don’t know if they can react or how to.

I’m interested in how I’ve reacted to posts and how I’ve felt about the reactions to mine. Depending on the content and my closeness to the person who posts I react differently. I do this because experiences of sexual violence do not invoke one set of static feelings. We have different meanings at different times. I think for many of us posting we have built strength around the experiences. For me the sad face is uncomfortable I don’t want people to be sad for me. I am not sad now. I didn’t post in sorrow. I posted with heart and with defiance. But I also know the sorrow and the loss and the sense of weakness and I know that for some you are posting – or not posting – with those feelings closer to the surface.

May we have these conversations more openly after this flash of activity.


Sam Waterhouse works at the University of the Western Cape’s Dullah Omar Institute. She was a counselling volunteer at Rape Crisis in the mid 1990s and went on to run our court support project as an advocacy coordinator before continuing as an actvist against violence against women in a broad range of spaces including Facebook, where she originally posted this piece.

From University to Cape Town: 10 Weeks Later

As I walked into the Rape Crisis office on my first day, I felt out of place, unqualified, and unsure of how I had come to be here, thousands of miles away from home. I had stumbled upon this internship through my university’s website and jumped at the chance for such an experience. I had few to no expectations as to how everything would actually work out. But as I met staff who welcomed me and introduced themselves, those anxious feelings started to dissipate.

Having finished my first year at university as a media studies major, I was hoping to see how the words in my textbook could be applied. Within my major, I focus on advocacy and change which explores how media can be most effectively utilized to create social development and growth. While I have spent ample time reading about topics such as the importance of appealing to a certain audience or the ethics of communication, I was curious to see how these topics would be implemented in a real setting.

At Rape Crisis, I have learned the specific and sometimes delicate nature of finding out what is needed to appeal to one’s audience. Ethical concerns are of utmost importance. At any nonprofit, but especially one such as Rape Crisis that deals with sensitive stories, the human aspect and respect for empathy are a priority. When planning and then helping out at the organisation’s annual Mandela Day event, I was astounded by the spirit and dedication of the community. The good intentions of the volunteers were evident in the time and thought that went into packing care packs for rape survivors to use after forensic examinations. While it can sometimes be tempting to be pessimistic regarding rape culture, events such as this one showed that progress is being made. During my time, I was continually impressed by the level of emotional intelligence at Rape Crisis.

In addition, I was interested to see how the presence of rape culture manifested in contrasting environments: my university and the Cape Town community. Affected by the distinct factors in each community, the issue of rape culture develops differently. However, from what I have learned, I look forward to helping to address the issue of sexual assault on my own campus. While I will be leaving the physical organization, I hope to continue to contribute while I am back in the States.

The experiences I have gained at Rape Crisis have further confirmed my passion for nonprofit work. I have been exposed to all parts of the job, from sitting in the storage room taking stock to being in meetings for the creation of a new campaign. My favorite project while at work was the development of the I ACT campaign. This campaign allowed me to utilize many different skills: creating effective messaging, taking portraits, and envisioning the aesthetics of the website. I look forward to the launch of this campaign and hope that our work will aid in fundraising for counsellors.

Ten weeks later as I prepare to head back to the States, I can’t imagine how I could have ever felt nervous around any of the people at Rape Crisis. Every morning, I look forward to being greeted by everyone in the office. They work with such honest passion that I hope to embody in my own studies and future career. Thank you to everyone who has made my time in Cape Town so memorable.

Rachel Yen

Rachel is currently a second year student studying sociology, media studies, and Spanish at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is interning with the communications team to gain skills in media and nonprofit work.