16 Days at Pollsmoor Prisons: November 29

On Tuesday, 29th November 2011, Sonke visited Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town to give a talk on gender equality, as part of a series of talks in the prison coinciding with 16 Days of Activism to end Violence against Women and Children.

After a short introduction to the organisation and underlining Sonke’s commitment to both women’s and men’s rights, Emily Keehn and Mzamo Sidelo gave a short talk on the impact of sexual violence: it affects all of us, not only women, but also men, families and communities… Everything is connected…

The room was full. There were about 100 prison warders and you could see the concentration, deep interest and concern on people’s faces during the meeting – especially when the problem of expressing masculinity and using sexual violence as a tool of power and domination emerged… You could hear the silence and sense unspoken understanding. Some people just kept nodding while listening.

When Mzamo talked about the fear we can feel when passing by a group of men and the feeling of relaxation when we see a group of women, people laughed; abruptly they silenced again when he mentioned men’s inability to develop healthy family bonds, the boredom men feel when they lack activities full of adrenaline, the inability to express love, and the anger of those who’ve never learnt love from their fathers. The warders were listening and murmuring with their eyes fixed on the speakers.

Then a comment came up about the lack of respect of the prisoners towards the DCS members; Mzamo promptly answered, stressing the importance of educating all members of the community, both in and outside the prison, to change destructive behaviour and prevent further abuse. Mzamo continued expressing a strong need for cooperation between Sonke and prison warders, explaining that no one is able to change the situation alone: Sonke needs information from the prison workers and the prison workers need Sonke’s support. ”We need to share our experience, we need to learn from you and you need the tools to work with sexual abuse,” he said. After encouraging the warders to intensify networking with Sonke, the reply was uplifting: “Thank you for coming; it is a privilege to listen to you.”

No one approached Emily and Mzamo straight after the talk, but on the way back to the car, a few members passing by turned to Emily and Mzamo, saying:

“Thank you for the information.”
“You informed me with important knowledge and information is power.”
“You have to come again!”

It seems that the DCS members not only feel privileged to listen to Sonke’s message, but they also express a great need for Sonke’s support.

Date: Tuesday 29th November
Time: 07.00-07.40
Topic: Education on Gender Based Violence
Venue: Pollsmoor Admission Centre
Sonke Staff: Emily Keehn and Mzamo Sidelo
Sonke Interns: Joanna Wiera, Deniz Ogu