‘I am Lilian Ngoyi’ Sonke’s Nonhlanhla Skosana on being inspired by the struggle activist

The article below appeared in The Star Women’s Day Special Edition, 09 August 2016
By Nonhlanhla Skosana

The way Nonhlanhla Skosana sees it, men and boys need to hold each other accountable. That’s also why she, as a woman, has taken it upon herself to educate them on gender-based violence, because her knowledge is visceral; theirs is received.

“Sonke for me is a platform where we can talk to men about these issues and also to say to those who aren’t perpetrators that they can’t turn a blind eye; their silence means they are taking part in violence against women.”

Skosana, a community, educa­tion and mobilisation unit man­ager at Sonke Gender Justice, focuses her efforts on men talking about the issues of gender-based violence, equality and prevention. “Being an activist means you are the voice for the voiceless. You can’t be an activist just when things are fine. You have to be on the streets, fighting the battles for those in need.”

One of the projects she’s work­ing on is Amathuthuzela – a one­ stop service space for rape sur­vivors.

Sonke is working with 23 com­munity radio stations to promote these centres through a radio drama called Thuthuzeleka.

“It’s important to talk to men about how they can support vic­tims of sexual violence,” she says.

A team comprising men in the communities runs workshops.

They also attend municipal ward meetings and raise the gender­ based violence issues that are often brushed under the carpet.

“These men,” says Skosana, “become ambassadors in their communities.”

Her passion to mobilise men stems from her wanting to see them become equal partners in the fight against sexual violence: “You don’t see men picketing outside court or showing support when it is necessary. It also affects men, young men who see their moth­ers being abused or sisters being raped. They are affected.”

One case to which Skosana has been dedicating her time is the ongoing one against ex-ANCYL leader Patrick Wisani, who allegedly sjambokked his girl­friend to death. The case is being monitored by Sonke Gender Jus­tice and a fellow organisation in Yeoville.

Out of this, she also has a con­cern that many young men strug­gle to identify with other men who can be their role models: “We need to change that, those stereotypes… That being a provider means to be strong and violent in order to prove your manhood.”

Skosana believes that if men can understand these issues, the effect will roll over to women, who will then be able to be in a space where they can negotiate for con­doms, have open conversations with their partners about how many children they want to have and other “taboo” topics.

She cites a case in which a woman who had been raped by her uncle years later caught her son raping her niece. She reported him and he was eventually jailed. Because of this, the woman was turned into an outcast by her family and community.

But, says Skosana, “those are the hero women, the women who are on the ground, making deci­sions, building their communities
and not paying lip service”.

The activist lives by these words of Lilian Ngoyi: “Let us be brave. We have heard of men shaking in their trousers, but whoever heard of a woman shaking in her skirt?”

She says: “We have no option, we have to stand, we have to be brave.”