Today, I awoke, I always thought I was awake but clearly I was half-asleep.

Today, the scales fell off my eyes and I could see clearly for the first time in a long while.

Today, my mind was renewed and my inner spirit challenged.

Today I witnessed the start of a revolution.

SA's Dirty Laundry is a visual arts campaign launched to bring awareness to the staggering rape statistics in South Africa.

There I was in Maboneng Precint, Johannesburg staring at a pool of 3,600 panties donated by rape survivors across the country. Sadly, there are thousands more survivors on the continent but more horrifically in our beloved South Africa. The numbers speak for themselves, THREE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED! That is the number of rapes that possibly happen daily in South Africa according to the Medical Research Council.

 

But there was this lone performer

She appeared as a bride in an ugly but beautiful dress made of white panties

On that dress were the stories of many survivors from infants, to toddlers, teenagers, young adults, middle aged to the aged

Survivors from different backgrounds, countless dreams and aspirations but united by this epidemic

Survivors who aren’t afraid to share their experiences through the donation of their panties and united to break the silence

I saw the strength of these survivors despite the pain and anguish 

With the panties shattered all over the ground

She moved from point to point, disoriented, confused looking and clearly not present in the present - a symptom of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that many survivors face

How could such an ordeal be so public and yet so private?

How could we just stand and watch with folded arms and sealed lips? 

How could we watch her fall and try to rise but fall again and we stood still?

As though we were frozen by time, our senses of reason vaporized by the gadgets we so clung onto

All we cared to do was capture the moment with our gadgets 

To many observers, this moment was just another theatrical spectacle

To the performer this was the reproduction of an unforgettable ordeal for her - a life altering, devastating, traumatic and incomprehensible experience

How could we be such a callous society?

Today, little Abiy thinks to herself what she could have done wrong to deserve this kind of degradation at 30 months;

Cecil wonders what was wrong with her to warrant the violent attack that almost left her for dead at the of age 6;

Maria is distraught and has had nightmares for the past decade after suffering this gruesome ordeal for the third time in her 22 years of living;

Yvonne, is the mother of two and wife to Tobi the love of her life who promised to be her protector but now her abuser;

And even grandma, the wrinkles on her face tell more than the story of her ageing…they conceal the scars of her past

The stories are endless but let’s return to the performer one more time who herself is a survivor of rape

Nondumiso Msimanga - a two-time survivor of rape, performed in a white dress made up of panties

Slowly she takes off the dress

She tries letting go of the pain

The hurt

The burden that these women carry 

She undresses

 She is finally stripped of this burden, their burden

 Only now, she has hers to carry

It’s not visible because now she only has one pantie on

Just one. Hers! 

She moves frantically from one point to the other trying to sweep the panties, pack them together as though to comfort its owners, the survivors

She then packs them into her raffia basket 

She thought to herself if only she could wash off the stink

 If only she could open up herself and empty the savage deposited by her attackers, her rapists

She eventually breaks into tears:

For the girl whose childhood was snatched from her

The teenager who never quite enjoyed that phase of her life

 The young lady who cannot trust anymore and is always afraid and sleepless

The wife scared of appearing as a failure for leaving her abusive husband

The grandma who wishes no more but death for life has been cruel to her

She wails, sings and cries as she carries the basket of panties on her head and walks off

 

The 3,600 panties that were on display at Maboneng Precinct were donated by rape survivors from all over

In that moment, the scales fell off my eyes

I could finally see the thousands of women affected by this ordeal daily

I was indeed awake for the first time in a long time

There were suddenly faces to pain and animosity

I always thought I was awake but clearly I was half-asleep

Indeed, it is a start of a revolution

 3600 panties speak – Listen! South Africa

 

This piece was written for White Code Centre by Henrietta Ekefre after she witnessed the powerful exhibition set up by Nondumiso Msimanga and Jenny Nijenhuis. The display of 3,600 panties was raw and in-your-face. But that seems to be what is needed if people are to be stirred to action after encountering the unsettling, unaceeptable reality of how many women (and men) get raped in South Africa daily! Step Forward, Speak Out, ACT! For more, visit: www.sasdirtylaundry.co.za

 

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