Media statement: Silenced voices a rejection of our Constitution

Somewhere in South Africa a six-month-old baby cannot say she is being consistently raped by her grandfather. In another community a woman in her 20s is killed at the hands of her partner. In a home somewhere in our country a lesbian lives in fear knowing that among her neighbours is someone who intends “correcting” her sexuality.

These silenced voices are neither strange nor rare in South Africa; they represent a violence that is a daily lived experience across class, and that knows no boundaries.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation calls for solidarity with women who continue to be victims of violence and abuse.

All South Africans should heed Madiba’s words in his first State of the Nation Address in 1994: “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.” South Africans must unite to end all violence and oppression against women and we must commit ourselves to dismantling the culture of patriarchy that underlies our society.

We call on all South Africans to mark Women’s Day by examining how they individually and collectively contribute to the perpetuation of violence against women. We need to examine ourselves and ask the difficult questions: How do we contribute to the problem? How do men and women consciously and unconsciously reinforce gender inequality? Have we as a society failed women?

We can draw inspiration from Madiba and how he struggled in his lifetime with his admitted deep-seated chauvinism to become a feminist in his latter years.

Recently, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mduduzi Manana, admitted to assaulting a woman. This act shows that women continue to face violence, even at the hands of those in positions of power. We believe that the time of paying “lip service” to gender equality must end. If we are to build a values-based society, we must consider how this act reflects on society as a whole and what his role as a leader conveys. We call on the Presidency to take appropriate action against Minister Manana.

Through the dialogue work of the Foundation aimed at deconstructing the effects of poverty and inequality, it is clear that the issue of gender inequality cuts across all facets of our society. This is a product of our history and culture that needs urgent attention.

At the same time, we must also focus on practical steps to close the inequality gap.

We are pleased to announce that the Nelson Mandela Foundation will use our flagship Annual Lecture series in 2017 to focus on gender inequality to create a space for a national dialogue on dismantling patriarchy and enabling the creation of a more equal and just society. Many difficult questions and conversations must take place, and we have to create spaces for these conversations to happen.

South African women, particularly rural black women, are faced with a daily struggle against gender inequality fuelled by sexist behaviour, patriarchal practices and a range of violent acts: sexual and other assaults; the violence of poverty; the violence of language; the violence of unequal pay; and the violence of racial discrimination.

It is no longer enough to say that we are opposed to violence against women. Now is the time to act.