Wits Silent Protest 2016 – Solidarity | Disruption | Remembrance | Healing

#SilentProtest #SilentProtestWits #DemandPEP #BreakingTheSilence #1in3 #rememberkhwezi

The power of Womxn’s solidarity and the power of silence in protests has been made evident throughout South Africa’s history. From the Womxn’s march to the Union Building in 1956 to the recent silent protest by four Womxn against rape culture during Zacob Zuma’s post-local elections address at the IEC in Pretoria. Wits University’s Braamfontein campus was painted purple on Wednesday the 17th of August as part of a daylong Silent Protest aimed at raising awareness against gender-based and sexual violence, as well as providing survivors with the comfort of knowing that they do not have to carry the burden alone. This awareness also highlighted the need for rape survivors to not only be heard and feel safe, but to also have access to treatment at hospitals and access to post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to help the body to fight off the chances of HIV infection.

Beginning ten years ago with 80 Womxn in Grahamstown who taped their mouths as a symbol of the silencing around rape and other forms of sexual violence, the Silent Protest has become one of South Africa’s biggest annual protests against sexual violence, with 2016 marking the fourth year that it has taken place at Wits(1). Activations and performances on the Monday were organized by Drama For Life (one of the supporting organizers of the protest) on the main campus at Wits as a build up to the Silent Protest. Aids Healthcare Foundation South Africa along with Wits’ Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) were the main organizers of the event on campus with support from Drama For Life, the Gender Equity Office and Vow FM. Particularly powerful was the presence of some of the founders of the Silent Protest.

Wits Silent Protest by Drama For LifeImage via Drama for Life

The day started with participants receiving one of three different T-shirts identifying their form of participation. The first being a shirt which indicates one as a survivor of rape or any other form of sexual abuse. The second being those who participate as a form of solidarity but who cannot have their mouths taped. The final shirt indicating ones participation as a silent protester. Protestors who volunteer to have their mouths taped spent the day in silence and fasting to represent those who remain silent due to the fear of shaming, blaming and stigmatization often associated with reporting or speaking out about sexual and gender-based violence. Embodiment was a central communicator of the protest’s aims, with the taping of protestor’s mouths and the five minute ‘die in’ as the most potent forms of embodiment acted out publically throughout the day.

Part of the power of the day was the stressing of self-care in healing as well as the deliberate creation and claiming of safe spaces on campus for the day. Circles mapped out on the floor with cloth were safe spaces in which participants could have their mouths taped shut. A larger circle was mapped out with cloth on the Amic Deck, which was the meeting place for the commencing of the silent march during lunch, as well as the space where speeches, stories, reflection and  unburdening took place. A CCDU tent was also present to provide support to anyone who needed it during the protest.

Silent protest 2016_Wits Drama for LifeImage via Drama for Life

During lunch protestors gathered to begin their silent march around the main campus. The only sounds heard were the rhythm of our steps and the few scattered in the crowd who were blowing whistles as a symbol of the need to disrupt the silencing of sexual violence survivors(2). Placards with “Stop the war on women’s bodies” and “PEP for all who need it now!” written on them were boldly raised in the air by men and Womxn. A group of Womxn chose to wear khangas in reference to the president’s rape trial and #rememberkhwezi, as well as to emphasize that it does not matter what a woman/girl is wearing; nothing justifies any form of violation. With the re-grouping of the marchers within the safe zone mapped out on Amic Deck, protestors were asked participate in a ‘die in’ which required lying down for five minutes to embody those who have fallen victim to such violence and not survived. The march ended with the collective removal of tape followed by a rhythmic humming led by Drama For Life to signify the unsilencing that this protest is working towards.

Speeches by Larissa Klazinga and Kwezilomso Mbandazayo called attention to the importance of the day due to the fact that solidarity leads to healing. Kwezilomso quoted bell hooks with the words “solidarity is what intimacy looks like in public”. The protest, as expressed by Kwezilomso, was a moment of disruption. A disruption of hetero-patriarchal power. She continued her address by reflecting on her journey and the support provided by Black Womxnhood. In referring to the continued work, the daily work that needs to be done to overcome this violence, Kwezilomso stated, “as Black Womxn we have always led revolutions. And as Black Womxn we must lead this revolution”. The space was then opened up for other protestors to feel free to publically share thoughts, reflections and stories. This sharing, reflection and catharsis continued in more intimate spaces created in various spaces around campus through poetry, art and theatre.

#SilentProtest #SilentProtestWits #DemandPEP #BreakingTheSilence #1in3 #rememberkhwezi

*To see more images and find out more about the protest or to be part of conversations around sexual violence and rape culture, search any of the hashtags that have been mentioned throughout this article.*

(1)  http://twitter.com/SilentProtestW

(2) https://www.facebook.com/SilentProtestWits





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