Lebo Ramafoko gives a SHORT ‘SHARP talk’ to the prestigious Duke Mendell Media Exchange in Johannesburg

In her talk she speaks about the power of storytelling in women’s fight to be freed from the fear of rape and violence, and to write the story of their own lives.

It is April 1994,

Nelson Mandela has been released from prison and for the first time, South Africa holds its first democratic elections.

If you were born black, the images of 27 April 1994 will be etched in your mind forever.

Long lines of people, some of them very old, waiting in line to cast their first vote; to finally belong and become citizens

I stood in those lines too, a black 23 year old woman, hopeful about the future

Hopeful that I could be who I wanted to be

That my dreams mattered, my ambitions mattered, my life mattered

Hopeful because I was finally free

I finally had a government of people that looked like me

I had laws that promised to protect me and safeguard my future.

It is December 2005

One lone voice, a young woman we get to refer to Khwezi, accuses one powerful leader of the party of Nelson Mandela of rape

The trial bursts my bubble

There is freedom but it is not for everyone

Everyone has rights but not women who dare speak out

Not women who tell us of how men, especially powerful men treat them

Yes, the country is free, but it is not our freedom

For women, it is not yet UHURU. This country is not ours! This freedom is not ours!

Not only is the man acquitted and the woman exiled, he ascends to the most powerful sit in the country,

He becomes our leader of choice

It is now  June 2018

and the abuse of women does not stop

In their homes, on their way to work, from work, at work, women’s lives are at risk.

Newspapers compete for headlines of yet another woman who has been killed at the hands of someone who claimed they loved them

Each crime, more gruesome than the other

So how do we respond?

Politicians have been less than impressive

The laws have not protected us

And men want to tell us that “not all men are abusive”

And the women continue to die

Mama Winnie said something profound that I keep returning to. She said:

The overwhelming majority of women accept patriarchy unquestioningly and even protect it, working out the resultant frustrations not against men but against themselves in their competition for men as sons, lovers and husbands. Traditionally the violated wife bides her time and off-loads her built-in aggression on her daughter-in-law. So men dominate women through the agency of women themselves."

Today, like Ma Winnie, we must ask ourselves: how do we change the narrative and turn the world upside down?  How do we change entrenched behaviors, and stir hearts and minds?

There are many ways of addressing sexist and male dominated narratives. These include lobbying to change legislation and advocate outreach. We practice both at Soul City.

But as a feminist leader, I am relentlessly asking my team to harness the incredibly powerful tool of storytelling so that women and girls can tell their stories in their own words.

I am reminded of the powerful and brave act of 4 women, over 10 years after the rape trial, stood silently and symbolically at the IEC results centre, asking us, demanding of us to remember Khwezi

And when she died a few months later, the nation’s conscience had been pricked because 4 brave young women spoke out and spoke truth to power

Stories change hearts in a way that legislation never will.

And it is for this power that they are often the first things to be censored in closed societies

So we need to create spaces for women to speak out about the issues that affect them

Current media spaces do not reflect their voices

Technology is enabling us to interact a lot more than before but with Artificial Intelligence and access of most people, the ideas that get represented in the world are not necessarily more diverse

Even the images of women that we see do not represent the broad spectrum of the women in the world

When you are black, not deemed “sexy” or “appropriate” you hardly feature in the media landscape

Women’s voices are silenced daily

So we need to be deliberate in creating these spaces, especially for young black feminist voices who are not the flavour of the mainstream ideology

That is what we aim to create at Soul City

A radio platform for women, about women, speaking out against patriarchy

Because it is not yet UHURU

This FREEDOM has not arrived for us

And we do not have one moment to waste

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