“Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose
the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution,
but more usually
we must do battle where we are standing.”
― Audre Lorde
When I am asked about my calling or asked where I work (Diepsloot) and what we do at LvA (ensure that womxn and girls have access to a meaningful legal system), it is often followed by a look of pity, followed by a short pause. And then the inevitable questions “but isn’t that depressing, hearing all those rape cases every day? Don’t you get tired?” But, for me, this is not what comes to mind when I am asked about my work. Instead, I often speak of Jessica Horn and her work on vicarious resilience. I answer that I am privileged to witness the resilience of the human spirit, to see first-hand how womxn are able to find strategies that nourish their souls, to keep smiling in a world that scream ‘you do not matter!’ I talk of the womxn in my lineage and how proud I am to use my voice to hold systems to account – the very systems that denied them their own voice.
But while that is the answer that I give now, that is not the answer that I would have given a few months ago…
When President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak in March, we were forced to close the Centre for what was initially a few weeks, but ended up being two months. At the time, we knew that similar lockdowns around the world had resulted in a rise in domestic violence. I could only image what this lockdown would mean for our own clients. For many of the womxn that we serve, the outside world is often safer than their own homes. I could not help but feel tired… broken.
I felt broken because there are no shelters, no escape. Even when our Centre is open, our social worker spends an inordinate amount of time trying to place the victim/survivor in a shelter either because there is just no space or because shelters do not accept foreign nationals. And now, with the Centre closed, our social worker was forced to provide containment sessions and safety planning for our clients over the phone, and even this service would be limited to clients who had access to phones.
I felt broken because a womxn in Diepsloot needs R64.00 travel fare to go to the Randburg Magistrates court to apply for a protection order. LvA usually provides this travel fare for clients who cannot afford it. Who would provide it now? Because the protection order application form must be completed in English and we were not there to help fill out the forms.
I felt broken because young girls at our Centre have almost passed out during therapy sessions due to hunger. And we were not there to prepare a small meal for them.
I felt broken because the political climate was hostile towards foreign migrants and because of this hostility, some of our clients did not receive food parcels during the lockdown. Because we were forced to close the Centre for a few days earlier in the year when the rise in antiforeigner sentiment caused the #DiepslootShutDown. Because one of the police officers who understood trauma and LvA’s work was shot and killed in the line of duty.
I felt broken because our Executive Director was on maternity leave and I was worried that I was not doing enough to support the team, not doing enough for our clients and not present for my loved ones. Because the strategies I had learnt in my debriefing sessions were not having the same effect and I could feel the walls closing in on me.
But one thing I learnt throughout this time is that it is ok to ask for help. I am eternally grateful to Bra El who taught me about boundaries and the importance of self-care and debriefing. I am grateful to Tanaka and Mme Mukansi for their prayers, Lindsay for the long phone calls and my team for their support. I am grateful for my grandmother’s prayers and my sister’s love.
A few weeks ago, one of the graduates of a sexual violence workshop series conducted in 2015 came to tell us that she has been appointed as a police officer in Diepsloot and that she would be making change from within the system. Yesterday, I received news that the perpetrator in a criminal case that LvA has been supporting for several years received a sentence of life imprisonment. I know that this work is important. I know that LvA is making a difference. I also know that I am not the work. Oftentimes we believe that if we are passionate about what we do, then we do not get tired. I guess the purpose of this reflection piece is to remind my sisters who are also in the battle against social injustice that “caring for oneself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
— Rethabile Mosese, Legal Services & State Actor Engagement Programme Manager