When it happens at a gender activist’s door during 16 Days

When it happens at a gender activist’s door during 16 Days

Date: December 5, 2011
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It’s 5.30 in the morning, still blurry-eyed I sit up to feed my nine month old daughter who is busy cooing as she attempts to utter her first few words. It is the beep on my phone that fully awakens me and I curse at how information technology has revolutionised the way we live. People can even enter your bedroom.

The message that I received is from my helper Angela.* When literally translated into English the message read “Good morning, Mom (as she calls me in our indigenous language), I am asking for help to get my son David* out of jail. This requires a lawyer and money. I am coming back today. Angela.”

I immediately get up and quickly prepare the kids and myself so that my brother and brother-in-law currently standing in for Angela are not overwhelmed during the day. The two young men are fashioned to be the 21st Century crop of husbands who do all the work traditionally thought to be women’s roles with such grace.

I arrive to the office morning, check my emails (since we live in an IT driven world) and set out what I need to do for the day to contribute to promoting gender equality in Southern Africa and ensure that women and men are safe. My core business.

What I battle with at the back of my mind is – how do I deal with this situation as a gender activist intimately involved in the 16 Days campaign, to try and get someone alleged to have perpetrated rape out of jail on bail? Of course, I am fully aware that he has rights so ‘justice’ should prevail.

That is the news that hit me last week on arrival from a business trip outside the country. Police arrested David one and a half weeks ago for allegedly raping his neighbour’s granddaughter. Angela, like any other mother, is prepared to do anything to protect her child regardless of the circumstances. I let her go to look for her son to understand what had happened.

The woman came back in a fit. She could not find her son, so I asked her go back and scout a number of police stations. She was sent from pillar to post between four Johannesburg and Pretoria police stations. There was no case number and his name did not appear in the register. There was just a home address in the police files – the only clue to where David could be. Angela only found her son yesterday.

In between trying to meet my deadlines of reports, donor proposals, meetings and contributing meaningfully to the 16 days of activism against gender violence, I spent part of my day calling on my connections to assist my helper get her son out of prison.

Coincidentally, I have a meeting with a leading men’s organisation at 11.45 a.m. to see how we can involve men in a systematic way to advance key provisions of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which includes a key target to reduce by half the current levels of gender violence by 2015.

Outside the business of the day, my visitors lament that they do not work with these kinds of situations. I call other organisations.

Zimbabweans in exile have a programme run by Human Rights lawyers but they cannot assist since it is a criminal offense, David has to pay legal fees to get a lawyer. The person I talk to says it is better if he is represented by a paid lawyer to ensure that bail is granted.

According to the advice received from my connections “The danger with state provided lawyers is that they may not be as aggressive in representing him to ensure a positive outcome.”

I would need to call ADAPT back because the person who could be of assistance is not in the office. The Legal Aid Centre helpline is not answered.

Thanks to Lisa Vetten, a firebrand women’s rights advocate from Tswaranang Legal Advice Centre who insists that David has rights even as an accused and gives me a name to call at the Johannesburg Legal Aid Centre. They in turn refer me to the Johannesburg Justice Centre on Fox Street in the central business district to see if they can provide a lawyer.

It is almost end of day, when I get back to home I will give my helper the financial assistance she needs and share a few tips that I have gleaned over the course of the day to ensure that her son is granted bail.

David insists that he has been wrongfully accused. I have not heard the other side of the story. But that is beside the point. How does a gender activist who has two young daughters handle a situation like this in the middle of the 16 Days campaign?

As Shuvai Nyoni Kagoro the Gender Links Justice and Governance Manager puts it “Maybe that is what women who have experienced abuse grapple with, how does someone I know and love become my violator?”

On the bright side, my husband will be taking my daughter for her nine month injection tomorrow so something less for me to worry about.

*not their real names. Loveness Jambaya Nyakujarah is the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance Manager. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service and African Woman and Child Feature Service special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence and COP 17 Conference.


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