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"Realising the power of your own voice" '16 Voices in 16 Day Campaign'​

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

We are proud to introduce our fifteenth voice in our “16 Voices in 16 Days” Campaign against gender-based violence!

Zolani Mahola is a South African singer, actress, storyteller and world-renowned inspiration speaker, now also known under the stage name The One Who Sings. She is known as the lead singer of the internationally-acclaimed pan-African South African music group Freshly Ground since 2002.

The Justice Desk believes in the power of the everyday person, especially in their ability to create lasting, impactful and effective change in their communities! Through this campaign, we hope to both raise awareness to #GBV, but also to unite and inspire others in order to take action within their own spaces. Ending GBV is not the fight of some, but of us all!

Let us never forget to recognise the incredible power that we as South Africans have, when we come together, to make a change.

By amplifying these 16 remarkable changemakers, we hope to inspire YOU in contributing YOUR own thoughts and voice, as we unite in solidarity in the important fight against gender-based violence.

"I knew my abuser. He was gorgeous to me. As beautiful as he was terrible. I never desired him. But I liked his attention. He trained me to feel that his attention was a gift.

My abuser would do and say things to emphasise a feeling of worthlessness inside me. A feeling of the most profound lack of personal worth. He echoed a feeling that was growing more and more inside myself: a feeling that by myself I was less than nothing.

So I went with him when he called. I did not know it was Abuse. I did not know it was “Gender-Based Violence”. I was only nine. Then ten. Then eleven. Just a child.

I am a woman now. That part of my life existed as a closed chapter that for decades lay locked inside me. This is not to say that I had forgotten it, although I did not fully remember it. The experience lingered inside me like a flame, sometimes candle-light low; at times blazing with the force of a township shack fire, burning everything with meaning leaving only despair.

To therapists, I spoke of a heaviness … of limbs like cement pulling me to the earth. Shame. I developed a lifetime habit of avoiding my Self. I padded my body with food. I used food to silence a scream I could not find in my being for years to come. I lived with a ghost of a scream.

A scream whose reality I could not existentially accept. To acknowledge the scream would have meant that I had been wronged. But you see, I did not feel wronged. Instead, I felt wrong. Deeply deeply intrinsically flawed.

My abuser was a boy. A beautiful and inconceivably entrapped boy. Trapped in his fantasies of what power looks like. Reaching for a sense of importance. Unable to see his own face. I don’t forgive what he did. But I’ve uncoupled myself from his story. Now when I reach out to him across time I sense his powerlessness. I sense his own feeling of being deeply wrong. I observe his need to act out on someone else to push these feelings away, much in the way that I use food/alcohol/entertainment/distraction to push away my own feelings that I don’t know what to do with. I can be with the idea of his anguish and with the idea of a me who is free of his pain. A me who is innocent and a me who has choices.

Gender. Based. Violence. *Was* it Gender-Based Violence that I experienced? It feels like a very alien untouchable label to place on the thing that moved between us. The thing that left me broken on the floor. The thing that left me flying away from my body and gave me the blueprint to disconnect by any means possible as a form of protection.

The thing that did not make him happy. The thing that I (like to) imagine only made him hate himself more.

“What can be done going forward” is one of the questions this article is meant to address… I am an artist and therefore a Creator. So I would start by creating a new blueprint.

I say start with the children. Make it a national - no, global - priority to make the time of childhood sacred.

Educate our children to see themselves as a whole. Educate our children to pay attention to their feelings and to learn that they are not good or bad but that they are indicators from deep inside their souls; that they are to be heeded and worked with instead of shut down. Educate our children to see themselves as individuals with a unique gift to impart to their world.

Educate our children to feel themselves as part of a whole and that they have a part to play in that whole.

Remind our children that they are as perfect as all of nature and that their healing lies in connection with our majestic Earth. That their joy lies in communing with and caring for this world that spins so perfectly in orbit, that keeps us anchored, keeps us held. That they are not a mistake but a deliberate unique and magnificent reflection of all the natural wonders of the world. That they are made from stars.

I suggest we create a species that listens to the young.

I suggest we learn from the young.

Because their experience of being in the world predates any conditioning.

Because their experience makes us wish to be young ourSelves in order to see through their expansive limitless gaze.

Childhood is a precious time. On this, we can all agree … surely?

I believe in propaganda for the good. Yes P R O P A G A N D A baby! I mean a widespread and far-reaching decades-long campaign of elevating the sanctity of the time of childhood. We have done it before - think of the deliberate and consistent campaigns of separation and destruction that show up again and again in history. Think of the myths of patriarchy and race superiority that still work so devastatingly well today.

We’ve done it before - but this time we do it for good and we do it for the well-being of our species.

We start with the children. We grow people who know how to connect with themselves. People who can ask for what they need without needing to break themselves or others. We can do it. We can do anything.

Back to me, briefly. There is something that I did not mention. Something I forgot for a long time. I forgot that I stopped the abuse. That the last time he tried it on me I said “No.”

That I found in my tiny body the strength to stop being a thing for him to use at his leisure. I found a “No” within me that was as quiet as it was fierce. As soft as it was immutable. As gentle as it was impossible to ignore.

As a fully grown woman, I reclaim that part of me that no longer identified as a victim but that realised her own power. That realised the power of her own voice.

That part of me that set aside my step-brother’s feelings of unworthiness, of disempowerment, of anguish, of violence, of the misery of the deep unending Fear.

I reclaim her. I am her. That quiet tiny voice which ends what it will no longer endure."

The One Who Sings (Zolani Mahola)

South African singer and activist

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