Saluting Freegender’s Walk For Justice By Cheryl Roberts

4 Feb



ImageImageImageImageOn Saturday, 2 February, I joined a walk for justice. I was there to give support to a social justice campaign against abuse, rape, homophobia, hate. I wanted to be there demanding justice for sportswomen who are victims of abuse and rape.

When one of the youngest participants in the ‘Walk For Justice’, a 10 year old girl footballer (name withheld because she is a minor) was so overcome with grief and sadness, that she broke down along the walk and cried uncontrollably saying ‘I miss Sihle’ (Sihle was a teenage footballer with Winnies football club and became another of Cape Town’s several victims of hate), I knew yet again, not only of the power of grassroots activism but also of the imperative existence of community organizations like ‘Freegender’, who is the voice that roaring and being heard.

I love walking; most of my walks are done daily alongside the Atlantic ocean and the Sea Point promenade where I stay. I had never done this walk before; the one organised by Freegender, with a start in Phillippi East and proceeding to Guguletu. This walk was a call for justice, to hand over a memorandum to Guguletu police station, demanding the arrest of a male rapist and abuser who has been seen out and about in various communities, yet not having been arrested and convicted of his horrific attack on Millicent whose sexuality is lesbian.

On Saturday morning, when I arrived in Luzoko, Phillipi East, the walk was already underway. I joined it after 7am, along Symphony Way, with mixed feelings. I was happy the walk had begun but disappointed in the small number of protesters. I wanted to see thousands of people walking for justice. After all, Freegender had worked hard to pull off this successful protest action. I had also created a ‘Sparkling Women’ supporters event on Facebook; the reason being to create awareness. I didn’t expect thousands to respond to the call for justice, but I wanted to see the reaction. And I desperately wanted thousands of people taking to the streets, demanding justice.

The walk progressed, and I began to see the immediate success of ‘Walk For Justice’. As part of the action, pamphlets were handed out to people walking on the streets: pamphlets pointing out the rapist, thus alerting people to the rapist and reasons for this protest action.

Along the route, cars hooted in support as they saw the walkers/marchers, people came out of their homes and spaza/ container shops to see what was going on, children responded from their playing areas and gave a listen to the singing of the marchers.

Also along this route of about 10km’s, through the streets of Phillippi, Crossroads, Nyanga and Guguletu, people spontaneously joined in whilst the message was shouted out that no longer was abuse and rape of women and lesbians being tolerated. Police action and justice was demanded!

Rooted in the community that is Khayalitsha is Freegender, a fearless, vibrant and fiery community organisation which provides a vital space and interaction for non-conforming and lesbian women. Founded by human rights and LGBTI activist, Funeka Soldaat, Freegender is the safe haven community structure for women who love women. Freegender is not a rich NGO, neither is it funded by foreign donors.

In fact, the NPO that is Freegender has no money and funders. Freegender operates and exists on the passion of the women who make up Freegender. Yet, this community structure gets much more activism done and roars louder than several government events and projects and NGO’s and NPO’s who are funded and have salaried, fulltime employees.

The members of Freegender know they are on their own; they are not waiting for any organization or person from outside to come and save them. Neither are they crying they are victims who can’t help themselves. Freegender are roaring; saying who they are and what type of society they want to live in.

Although a little apprehensive about the route and long walk, there was no way I was backing out. I did tell Funeka during the week that I was definitely in the march for justice but that I mustn’t go and hit golf balls, then wake up with an inflamed knee which would prohibit my movement.

I enjoyed the walk. Snapped several photo’s from my blackberry, watched from the street as I walked ahead and saw justice being demanded. I marveled at the young social justice activists using their voice, and respected the tireless, wiser and older activists who had walked for freedom years ago. And I smiled at the children who clapped their hands and raised their fist in support of the walk.

But most of all, I applauded with pride, the youth players and members of Winnies Ladies football club. They were walking for justice for one of their players, Millicent who was in the walk for justice.

These girl and women footballers didn’t need to be in the march; they could have been playing football, the sport they love. But Winnies Ladies football club is not any other women’s football team. Based in Guguletu, and formed over twenty years ago by the visionary Winnie Qhuma, who never had a chance to play sport, and her husband Jeffrey, Winnies FC has, over the years, had several of their players becoming victims of homophobia, hate, rape and assault. Zoliswa Nkonyane became internationally known seven years ago in death, when the trial of her homophobic murderers went around the world as news.

As I watched the youth football players of Winnies, including the 10 year old player, who told me along the walk how she loved football, was captain of her team who called her ‘Maradona’, had scored two goals and was going to buy her new boots, I knew that this march and many more like this, was absolutely imperative. It was a necessity and imperative until we eliminated homophobia and hate from our society.

By the time we reached the gate of the Guguletu police station, we were tired but enthusiastic about the memorandum handover. I would do it again and again. I started out disappointed with the hundreds who didn’t arrive to participate in the ‘Walk For Justice’ but I finished the walk satisfied that a social justice message had been carried across many, many streets.

I also know that one can’t force people into protest action. Whilst we can make people aware and inform them of events, it’s ultimately up to people to support and participate. I also understand that not all people who would have wanted to support the walk for justice were able to do so because of varying reasons and commitments.

But what I do know, is that few people are committed to social justice activism, whilst many people are quite prepared to go along in life, either remaining quiet or thinking they are not a victim.

However, the statement had been made. The voices roared and the anger was expressed Fists were clenched and raised, the feet walked, and our strength grew during a long community walk of protest action. What the ‘Walk For Justice’ demonstrated was that Freegender was not tolerating homophobia, hate or assault and neither was Freegender waiting for someone from outside the community or an international event to come along and shine the spotlight on their demands.

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