Mandela Day: 400 women, 800+ care packs for rape survivors, one vision of South Africa

Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust on Mandela Day

Since 2010, July 18 has been `celebrated’ as Mandela Day. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela aka Madiba was born on July 18, 1918. Last Saturday, South Africa celebrated this day for the second time since Madiba’s passing. Last year, many bemoaned the empty symbolism of “a day of volunteerism”, and that not even a day but a mere 67 minutes. This year the criticism was less vocal, but not because people have taken on the banner of social justice. Rather, what with Marikana and Nkandla and imploding unions and load shedding and medical stockouts and tavern collapses and so much more, people are tired, tired of being tired at the empty show. The people at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust decided to confront and transform that fatigue.

This year, the Nelson Mandela Foundation called on people to embody Mandela Day, “not as a gesture of charity but as a call to justice.” As Kathleen Dey, the Executive Director of Rape Crisis, explained, “The appeal made no distinction between small, individual acts and bigger gestures as long as the focus was on those in need of help. Perhaps the answer lies in this: that the reason for our detachment is that average citizens don’t treat the poor as human, don’t engage, don’t get too close. For these citizens here is a message: let Mandela Day be the start of your journey to get to know the people you want to help. Let it become an entry point to your longer term involvement with an organisation that works with people and communities in need and that works to bring about structural change… This generation might have failed but the next generation has the chance to make a difference if we show them how.”

The organizers and volunteers at Rape Crisis, many of them rape survivors themselves, decided that the point of the call to justice is to break through the enchantments of and inducements to scale, to understand for at least one day that making justice is a concrete, material action, day by day, year by year.

And so they called on people to come to the Mowbray Town Hall and make something happen, specifically care packs for rape survivors who undergo forensic examinations at a forensic unit to allow them to wash and change into clean underwear after all evidence of the rape has been collected for analysis. These care packs are key to women retaining and reconstructing their individual and collective dignity during a process, in the police station, that often seems dedicated to attack precisely each woman’s last shred of decency.

As Rape Crisis Communications Officer Sandile Ndelu explained, “We want to make sure that we (Rape Crisis) are at each and every step of the way supporting them, comforting them and that’s why the care packs are so important.”

300 people signed up; around 400 pitched up on the day. They made 865 care packs in one day, which is a fantastic intervention, and then there are the numbers yet. According to Kathleen Dey, “As an organisation we need 2600 care packs per annum, the city needs 6000 per annum and the province needs 9000 per annum.” These are the maths of social justice for women in just one province of South Africa, and 67 minutes just won’t do. But 400 people started to work through those numbers to a common vision of social justice, which the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust articulates: “We have a vision of a South Africa in which women are safe in their communities and where the criminal justice system supports and empowers rape survivors in all its interventions.” 400 women, 800+ care packs for rape survivors, one vision of South Africa: that’s very new and very old maths.

Further Reading

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