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To continue with its pledge to fight Gender Based Violence (GBV), the HIV/AIDS Centre, at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), hosted the 7th Annual Silent Protest 2021 on Microsoft Teams last Wednesday, 11 August 2021.

The 2021 Silent Protest had an increased focus on student voices. Students had the opportunity to share their challenges, experiences, concerns around GBV and discussed possible solutions that can help the University address these global challenges.

Facilitating the protest was Ms Ayanda Mthethwa, Psychologist at DUT’s Student Counselling Centre and Crispin Hemson, Director at the International Centre of Nonviolence (ICON) at DUT. Meanwhile the sign language interpreter was Ms Sifumene Mncube. Mthethwa said they hoped that the webinar will have an impact at a larger scale as they engage in fruitful discussion of the topic of GBV. She said the event consisted of a three-part series of GBV webinars titled:

  1. Voices of Persons Living with Disabilities around GBV (Student living with disabilities shared their experiences and challenges in relation to GBV).
  2. “Men are Trash” Are you? (Men’s dialogue in which they shared their thoughts of GBV and seeking men to take accountability).
  3. Conversation for Women by Women (Women’s dialogue where they shared their concerns, challenges around GBV).

Delivering the welcome address, DUT’s Dr Naseem Haniff, Director of Student Counselling and Health said it is symbolic that they are holding this campaign in August, which is Women’s Month in South Africa.

“Gender Based Violence is a national scourge and during pandemic times, we are in at the moment, it seems to have increased. Not a day goes by without the national news reporting on all of these horrific acts of violence. It does not only happen at this month, but it happens all the time even in a month we are celebrating women. We continue to see how devastating and an impact this kind of violence has on our society. The sad thing is that we only get to hear about those that get reported. Many other victims remain silent for fear of further victimisation,” said Dr Haniff.

Conveying a message of support, Dr Maditsane Nkonoane, DUT Dean of Students said although most people perceive GBV as being perpetrated against women, there are instances of GBV perpetrated against men. He believed that the event would deepen the need for people to always treat one another with respect and compassion. Dr Nkonoane commended the Silent Protest for growing from a sectoral event to an institutional event, inserted on the institutional calendar under the stewardship and leadership of Dr Haniff. He wished the female students and staff a safe and blessed Women’s Month.

Speaking on the voices of people living with disabilities, Miss Zesizwe Nyawo said it is challenging for deaf students to open up to anyone, even if they are victims of GBV because most people would not understand them. She said most lectures are not efficient in sign language thus making it difficult to communicate with them.

Mr John Pillay from DUT’s Protection Services urged students to report cases of GBV so that they can be investigated. He assured them that his department takes such matters seriously and that there is no case that is too small.

The guest speaker was Mr Greyson Thela, the former Head of Gender and Sexual Equity at the University of the Free State and is currently the Intersection Process Co-ordinator at IAM (Inclusive and Affirming Ministries), an organisation that does work around Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) matters in South Africa.

Referring to hate crimes, Thela raised a question, “At what point does the government effectively intervene?” He said he could imagine that running an administration effectively governing a population of 59 million people is not an easy task. As young people we are misled to believe that the state will protect the dignity, freedom and improve the lives of all people in the new South Africa. This has not in fact been the reality,” said Thela.

He added that the first scourge of hate crimes was documented in 2006 with more than 31 deaths of black lesbians in KwaZulu-Natal. Today, he said the violence continues with more than 40 cases of hate crimes registered since March 2021.

He highlighted that as human rights defenders and activists they have done the campaigning, educating, mobilising however violence persists. Thela said perhaps the government feels hate crimes is not enough of a crisis to be dealt with swiftly.

“There should be proactive initiatives to educate and prevent violence in the first place. The current initiatives do little in a way of recognising and addressing same sex and queer partner violence, training of law enforcement or education to combat the culture of toxic masculinity. Gender Based Violence and Femicide Response Fund launched in February 2020 is a terrific initiative with pledges totalling more than R60 million from the private sector. It promises to fund civil society initiatives, addressing a range of intersecting challenges that women and LGBTQI face,” said Thela.

Furthermore, the concern is whether the fund will be used for its intended purposes or it will be looted. Thela claimed that the highest office on the land has been alerted on hate crimes however has given little response. He revealed that the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill was presented to Parliament for adoption seeking to provide pragmatic results. However, he said its adoption continues to be side-lined time and time again. Furthermore, he said failure of the government should not be a regal occurrence of the institutions of higher learning. In higher education, he said the role is to produce intersectional thinkers and to protect them at all costs, saying knowledge not shared is not knowledge at all. He encouraged the culture of sharing information to ensure that no one is left behind.

The event was ended with a thought-provoking question and answer session, leaving all the attendees revived to break the silence on GBV.

Pictured: Mr Greyson Thela

Simangele Zuma

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