It is the burning question that behaviour change advocates must face: who will ensure that the work we do is maintained and strengthened after the workshops, talks and events are over? Sonke Gender Justice Network’s answer to this question is the Community Action Teams, or CATs, as they are also known. The methodology is straightforward: enthusiastic and committed participants from our One Man Can workshops are screened and recruited to form CATs to serve their local areas. These CATs behave as the eyes and ears of the community, encouraging people to report crimes, and to work together to create a safe atmosphere for all, especially for the most vulnerable. In addition, CATs mobilise their communities, rallying people to attend events and engage in local processes. Their activities bring an awareness that the community cares and is watching, which promotes community-conscious behaviour and discourages violence and anti-social actions. CATs also support victims of violent crimes, including gender-based violence. They help survivors through their trauma and prepare them for court if they decide to take legal action.
Sonke Gender Justice Network was established in 2006. Today, the organisation has a growing presence on the African continent and plays an active role internationally. Sonke works to create the change necessary for men, women, young people and children to enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies. It works across Africa to strengthen government, civil society and citizen capacity to support men and boys in taking action to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence, and reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS.
In April 2012, Sonke established a new Community Action Team in Freedom Park, a neighbourhood just outside Pretoria. The area has experienced a flurry of violent crimes which appeared to have been perpetrated by a single group of people. On multiple occasions, women and young people walking in certain areas of the township were waylaid, beaten with golf clubs and robbed, raped or even killed. The just-forming CAT expressed the community’s serious concern over what became known as the ‘Golf Stick Gang.’ The enthusiastic CAT had a strong desire to do something about it; to rally solidarity against the crimes and to heal a community daily facing the threat and traumatic after-effects of violence. So they organised an event where the community could collectively visit local sites of violence and rape, an event where people could commemorate both deceased victims and living survivors of violence, and symbolically cleanse the space from its sordid and cruel past. Ten sites were chosen and the event was planned with Sonke’s assistance. The Freedom Park CAT worked with the South African Police Force (SAPS) to mobilise people from the community. They walked around the neighbourhoods with thousands of fliers and a loudhailer, inviting and encouraging people to attend the event. A group of young people designed and made banners with messages about the initiative and with the CAT’s slogan: ‘Together We Can.’
The day, 21 April 2012, finally arrived. The event started with a crowd gathering on the sports field of a local school. A number of speakers exchanged the platform. All spoke about the brutal deeds committed by the so-called Golf Stick Gang and some of the problems which lead to violence in the community. After the speeches and ceremony the crowd took to the streets in police cars and taxis and headed to the tragic sites. The first spot that we went to was on a hill. We climbed the footpath that meanders among rocks until arriving at the place where a woman had been raped. This woman was found by the gang while she was praying. They hit her with a golf stick and raped her.
There is a footpath that crosses this hill from Freedom Park to the industrial area. The guide told us that one of the gang members used to go into people’s houses in Freedom Park, telling them that he is the manager of a company that is currently recruiting. Women would leave their houses with him and when they reached the area where we stood, the gang raped them. At the same site we joined in prayer led by uGobela Baba uThemba Thwala of the South African traditional healers, who also burned incense. Rev Stephen Ketso Mbande, leader of the South African Council of Churches, led a prayer as well. It was decided that the group would to split into two because there were 10 spots to be attended and time was running out.
At the second crime scene, the narrator told us that the gang members had found a boyfriend and a girlfriend together there. They killed the boyfriend with a golf stick and dragged the woman under a tree where they raped her. We were told that the gang used to keep a blanket under the tree to use as their raping bed. In each and every spot that we went to, the traditional healers burnt incense and went into rituals and trances while talking to the ancestors. After they were done the church ministers took their turn to pray.
At the third spot we were told that the gang members waylaid women on their way to or from work. The place is beside a highway with a bridge going over it. There is a footpath that goes up to the highway near the bridge. It is a deserted area where many robberies, assaults and rapes have taken place. A policeman told us that a few months ago a body was discovered there that had been there so long it had barely any flesh; it had almost become a skeleton.
The next spot was in Motsoaledi, where a girl who was going to school was raped until she died and then thrown into a near stream by the gang members. The day was a hard one. Everyone was moved by the stories of horrific violence happening so close to home. Most people shed a few tears, and many shed more than a few. Although there were 10 planned sites to visit, many people felt completely overwhelmed by the one or two that they visited, and could not go on.
Members of the Golf Stick Gang have been arrested, and are awaiting their trials. The cases were moved from the Pretoria Magistrates Court to the High Court in Johannesburg, due to the seriousness of the crimes and the volume of crimes they committed.
The CAT of Freedom Park kicked off their journey as community activists and role models with a thought provoking and deeply emotional event that attempted to reclaim the community’s space, and cleanse places of frequent and brutal violence. No one will easily forget this incredibly moving day, which is a sign of great things to come from the Freedom Park CAT. We are honoured to have collaborated on this event and we are looking forward to the great work that the CAT will do in the future of Freedom Park.
Sonke runs One Man Can in South African communities, including in prisons in Gauteng and the Western Cape, and with refugees and asylum seekers. In addition to other projects like Brothers For Life, MenCare, a global fatherhood project, and medical male circumcision for HIV prevention, Sonke works at a policy advocacy level, influencing policy language to acknowledge the role that men and boys can play in reducing gender-based violence and HIV. It actively engages the media to ensure that the public are consistently exposed to positive male role models and messages of positive, healthy masculinity.
For more about the Sonke Gender Justice Network, refer to www.genderjustice.org.za.