There were so many emotions in the Eastern Cape today… at the courthouse in Butterworth with us were two mothers – the mother of Sandiswa Mhlawuli (the 27-year old woman whose ex-boyfriend was on trial for killing her) and the mother of Dorcas, a 14 year old girl who was recently raped and murdered.
Though we celebrated a guilty victory in Sandiswa’s murder, and celebrated the community coming together to speak out against gender-based violence, what kept surfacing was that what is bringing us together (what is happening to our women and children) is just so wrong!
Sandiswa left behind two children. Her mother Noma Italy looks after them without Sandiswa as a breadwinner and mourns the death of her daughter! But Noma Italy smiles a little, and expresses gratitude for the support – from Sonke, from the community action team (CAT), from the strangers wearing t-shirts with her daughter’s face on them. All of this tells her that her daughter is not forgotten, that her daughter is not just a statistic, that her daughter is being honoured and that anger at her daughter’s murder is being channelled into something positive… and she can at least breathe a sigh of relief that the man who killed her daughter no longer walks free, that he finally is held in custody while he awaits sentencing (a minimum of 15-20 years).
And then, there’s Dorcas’ mother. After we spend the morning at the courthouse, pushing for justice for Sandiswa, and celebrate the guilty verdict, we travel to Dorcas’ village. Dozens of women, men and children stand in the hot son, facing Dorcas’ grave, listening to village and community leaders talk about how we all need to work together to stop the violence against women and children. A prayer is said at the 14-year-old girl’s grave (which sits on its own on a hillside near the home of her family), one of her young friends cries, her mother stands at the grave saying how she’s not been able to go there until now, that the support of the people there has given her strength to come and stand at the grave. She says she thinks drugs and alcohol are contributing to this violence. She tells me she’s accepted her child is dead, but now she wants to dedicate her life to fighting gender-based violence (GBV).
There’s some light in all this sadness, but still… standing at the grave of a child with her mother makes you remember that this work is essential, but it also makes you simply lament the fact that we live in a world where people perpetrate such brutalities on other human beings.
— by Czerina Patel
Photos by Czerina Patel