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.
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
Slowly she takes off the dress
She tries letting go of the pain
The burden that these women carry
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
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