Durban Manor: 1 December 2018

National Chairperson of the IFP Women’s Brigade, the Hon. Mrs Thembeni kaMadlopha-Mthethwa MPL; the Deputy Chairperson and executive leadership of the Women’s Brigade; our leadership in the National Executive Committee and the National Council; and all our activists for justice, dignity and equality –

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this important summit as the world commemorates 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

The first of December, as we know, also marks World Aids Day, a day on which we recommit to the battle against HIV/Aids. In the IFP, we honour the memory of those who have succumbed to the onslaught of this disease, and we pay tribute to the amazing women and men who are working to save lives, improve lives and claim victories in this long battle.

I am personally invested in winning this battle, for my wife and I have lost two of our own children to Aids. Just over a month ago, we buried one of our grandchildren as well. Our daughter, Princess Mandisi Sibukakonke passed away on the 5th of August 2004, just months after we lost her brother, Prince Nelisuzulu Benedict. Every day since then, I have worn the red Aids ribbon on my lapel, because I am determined to start conversations everywhere I go about the need to fight HIV/Aids.

These conversations have shown me that I am far from alone. There are many families who have been affected by HIV/Aids and there are many warriors working on the frontlines, whether they are medically trained or simply people of deep compassion. Within our communities, there are many grandmothers and aunts who are raising children whose parents have passed away. We must honour these women, and stand in support of their commitment.

I know, as well, that I am not alone in fighting the curse of violence and abuse perpetrated against women and children. It is conversations like this – where we speak openly with one another – that help us to see our shared convictions. When we see that this fight is shared by so many; that so many of our friends and colleagues and comrades feel the same way we do, it becomes easier to believe that the fight can be won.

The greatest misconception among victims of abuse and violence is that they are alone. This sense of isolation is exploited, and indeed often created, by the abuser, to ensure that their victim never seeks help. It is in silence and in secret that abuse festers.

I therefore want to send out a clarion call today, to all members of the IFP. We are activists and people of goodwill. We are champions of justice and dignity. Let us therefore launch a massive campaign of defence on behalf of all those who think they are alone. Let us reach them with the message that our hands are open to take their hand, and our hearts are open to hear their story. Let us be sisters and brothers to all who are suffering, so that their suffering will end.

Too often people fear getting involved. They suspect that something is happening; that a child is being abused or a woman is being hit, but they don’t want to act without concrete evidence. They don’t want to be the one who goes to the police, especially if the victim is someone in their own family. They fear a backlash of disbelief, ridicule, arguments and hatred.

But we need to look at this from a different perspective. We are not outsiders looking in, wondering whether we have a right to ask questions. We are not just the neighbour, or the teacher, or the fellow congregant at church. If we suspect, even for an instant, that someone is being hurt or abused, we become their sister. We become their brother. We become the person who is meant to help them.

It is our responsibility to act. We do have a right to ask questions. And if the person shuts us down, we cannot be offended, because we have to acknowledge that there is a tremendous amount of fear and shame that accompanies abuse. If they shut you down, don’t walk away. You are still their sister. Take their hand and walk with them. As you continue the journey together, they may find the confidence to confide in you.

People need to know they are not being judged. They are not being blamed, and they are not going to be shamed. They need to know that you are there as a sister.

I am extremely proud of the young women who have agreed to speak to us today about their personal experience of abuse. When they stand up and say, “I am a survivor” they are doing so much more than telling a story. Their stories have the power to heal. They have the power to influence and to change hearts. Their stories have the power to break the silence, inspiring other women to stand up as well and begin their own walk to survival.

So I thank our survivors for having the courage to speak. May this experience empower you to continue as activists for hope.

I also thank the former Chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality, Mr Mfanozelwe Shozi, for accepting the invitation to join us today. It is important for us to understand the role of the Commission and how it fits into the broader framework created by our Constitution to protect and promote gender equality. Our democratic Constitution enshrines the right of all women to security and dignity, not only in the home, but in the workplace, and in all spheres of society.

Women are equally entitled to protection from an employer or a colleague, as they are to protection from a boyfriend, a husband or a father. There is a conversation that must take place in South Africa, and that is the conversation around power relations. As a Commissioner in the Inquiry into Sexual Harassment at the SABC, Mr Shozi has heard a great deal recently about workplace power relations between men and women, and how an entrenched misconception about those power relations leads to cover-ups and complicity in abuse.

Let me give you an example. If a junior male colleague slaps a woman on the bottom, she may feel quite confident reporting this to Human Resources, knowing that he will face disciplinary action. But if a woman’s senior manager slaps her on the bottom, she is far less likely to report it, believing that he is far less likely to face disciplinary action, and that she herself might actually get into trouble. This is absolutely unacceptable.

The laws and policies in place in our country, from national legislation to individual workplace guidelines, must be adhered to without fear or favour. The problem comes in where the unspoken corporate policy is that seniority grants the privilege of not being held accountable. In a workforce where men are still preferred over women for senior positions, gender-based abuse feeds off the traditional power relations of employer and employee.

But what happens when the abuse is not taking place within the formal environment of a workplace, where there are written policies and guidelines? The majority of cases of gender-based violence happen within the home. The perpetrator is generally someone known to, and often close to, the victim. It is someone with some degree of authority over them, granted by the power relations our society so readily accepts.

How do we convey to a young girl that her father or her uncle has no right to hurt her? How do we convince a young woman that her boyfriend has no right to call her names because of something she did or didn’t do? And how do we persuade the grandmother whose grant money is being stolen by her own children, that she has a right to report them?

Our society needs to change its perspective. The value of women and girls needs to be elevated. If men faced this kind of abuse, they would probably solve it with their fists. That is not true in every instance, of course. There are many men and boys who suffer abuse, feeling helpless to stop it for any number of reasons. But in general, if you were to ask a man what he would do if someone took his money, or called him names, or pushed him around, he would say, “I’d punch them!”

Very few women and girls have the physical strength to take on their abuser and win in a fist fight. And none of them should have to. The law is on your side. The Constitution is on your side. Morality is on your side. So use the weapons at your disposal to defend yourself. Report the abuse. Go to the police. And if your life or the lives of your children are in danger, leave. Go to a shelter. You don’t want to live with regret, or die for no reason.

It is so painful to hear the statistics of rape, murder, attempted murder and grievous bodily harm perpetrated against women in South Africa. Ours is one of the most dangerous countries for a woman to live – what a terrible indictment on us all. We cannot become inure to the horror. Every woman who becomes a statistic is still a woman. Behind every number on our national crime stats is a human being whose body and spirit have been attacked.

We are among the walking wounded, wherever we go. I feel that is something we should always remember. In all our interactions, we must remind ourselves that we don’t know the battle that person is fighting. We don’t know the scars written on their heart, or how those scars have shaped their character. Don’t assume that a woman is cold. She may simply have no reason to trust.

Give her a reason. Be a sister or a brother. In a country like ours where there is so much hurt, every one of us should intentionally live lives of healing, kindness and compassion. We have it within us to mend broken hearts, to rescue those who are drowning, and to walk with those who feel alone. It is our duty as activists and people of goodwill. It is our duty as patriots. And undoubtedly it is our duty as members of the IFP, for this a party of social activism. We are people who care, and who care deeply.

When the IFP Women’s Brigade invited me to speak today, they said something that really touched my heart. They said, “Umntwana, you’ve been married to Princess Irene for 66 years without any quarrels. You inspire us.”

I can tell you, Princess Irene and I have had our quarrels. But whenever we have disagreed we have done so respectfully, never losing sight of one another’s intrinsic value and human dignity. I would rather lose in a battle of wills, than lose my wife’s respect. And if I treat winning an argument as more important than showing my love, she will have no reason to respect me.

Princess Irene is my equal. Indeed, in many ways I think she is far superior. She has far more patience than I have ever had, and her generosity of spirit is overwhelming.

If there is any secret to a long and good marriage it is this: be gentle. Listen gently. Speak gently. My message to South Africa’s men is this: be gentlemen, in every sense of the word. Honour our women.

I thank you.