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The Royal Visit

Duke and Duchess of Sussex Harry and Meghan applaud

the work of The Justice Desk.

On Monday the 23rd of September 2019, The Justice Desk had the honour and privilege of having the Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit one of our community projects. The air was filled exhilaration as the humble township of Nyanga was anticipating the visit of the Royals. The visit of the Duke and Duchess to the township of Nyanga was one that was greatly appreciated by the community, whose narrative has been marred with high crime statics, murder and violence against women. Nyanga has been named and remains the murder capital of South Africa even though there has been a 6.2% decrease in the number of cases in 2018/19, according to the latest South African police crime statistics.

In light of the negative narrative that is attached to Nyanga, The Justice Desk partnered with members of the community many years ago in a bid to raise and promote the power of everyday activists. The work of The Justice Desk in this community has been to empower local people to understand and defend their human rights, in order to build safer communities for all! The organisation carries out trainings with community members of all age groups, from young children who are still in pre-school, to adult community members. These trainings are underpinned by our belief that by empowering ordinary people to understand and defend their Human Rights, they can transform society in a sustainable way and create a more just and equal world.

The Justice Desk is a human rights NPO that began in 2013, and operates in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Our Executive Director Jessica Dewhurst was recognised as a Queen’s Young Leader in 2016 for the work she carries out along with The Justice Desk and received a medal from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. So this was not the first time the royal family have recognised the work of The Justice Desk. A key mandate of The Justice Desk is to empower communities to change their negative narratives, that are widely held by local and international groups and to highlight the powerful stories of the local community members. Despite the hardships of these communities they continue to overcome adversity. One such initiative is our Mbokodo Club. The Mbokodo Club (The Rock Club) project focuses on offering female empowerment and self-defence classes to girls in vulnerable communities. Self-defence and self-care are promoted, equipping young girls to be able to defend themselves as well as live empowered lives. The motto of this project is “wathint’abafazi wathint’imbokodo” which translates to “you strike a woman; you strike a rock”.

The Duke and Duchess were warmly welcomed by our founder and Executive Director Jessica Dewhurst and the Nyanga community to the sounds and dances of the Nyanga Arts Development Centre Marimba band, the angelic singing of our Mbokodo girls, and ululation of the community. Shortly afterwards, as a true sign of welcome the Royal couple were given a Justice Desk bracelet, which read ‘Justice’ by two little Justice Desk Heroes (aged 4) who also gave away free hugs. The couple took time to mingle with the gathered crowd, stopping for a brief chat here and there and an occasional hug. The Duke and Duchess then interacted with our Mbokodo girls who were in a boxing session as part of their self-defence classes. The Mbokodo girls had a private debriefing session with the royal couple, where the girls shared intimate stories of their lives and how The Justice Desk Mbokodo club has helped to empower them. Commenting on the private session Malcolm Gertse, the Bridging Coordinator at The Justice desk said “it was as if, they (the couple) were not members of the royal family and were like any other person you meet on the street. They were humble and really showed interest in the girl’s stories.” Malcolm also said the couple encouraged the girls to continue to become change agents within their communities and continue raising awareness of gender equality.

The Nyanga Visit by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was particularly important to The Justice Desk and the Nyanga community as it came in the subsequent surge of media focus on gender-based violence that has been making the headlines in the country, despite this being a daily occurrence. The visit brought the worlds attention on the community of Nyanga and the efforts of The Justice Desk to combat this war on women by men. The words of the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry were received with great applause from the Nyanga community as he amplified the many trainings that The Justice Desk has been holding in the community. Prince Harry said that “It’s about redefining masculinity, it’s about creating your own footprints for your children to follow in, so that you can make a positive change for the future.” These words were particularly encouraging as they strengthened the broader work of The Justice Desk in the path of raising everyday activists who challenge injustice and shift the narrative of crime and impunity toward that of empowerment and justice.

The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan’s words were received to a rousing applause as she praised and encouraged women to stand up and fight in the face of injustice and violence. Meghan, added a personal touch to her words which resonated with all that were in attendance, she said, “ While I’m here with my husband and as a member of the royal family, I am here as a mother, a wife, a woman of colour and your sister,” which sparked great applause from the crowd. The Justice Desk was encouraged, by the words of the Royal couple that their eyes will continue to be on South Africa, to ensure that the promises that were made by the South African President, barely a week ago will be fulfilled. When asked about her experience of the day, our Founder and CEO had the following to say:

"Since 2016, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Harry have been such incredible supporters of The Justice Desk. They have offered us mentorship and other opportunities to empower and upskill ourselves so that we can better serve our heroes in South Central Africa. When we got the call that The Duke and Duchess of Sussex wanted to come visit us, we were so excited! It was a truly wonderful day, and I cannot thank them enough for all their love and kindness. They really believe in us and our work and are not afraid to stand up and show it. They had a very clear message, which was that Gender Based-Violence is unacceptable, and that it is up to everyone in a country to address it"

The Justice Desk team is determined to continue in its work to ensure justice is rendered to the many underserved communities in the country. The entire management, staff and volunteers that make up The Justice Desk Family are particularly thankful to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for their visit and their words of empowerment and encouragement. The team also extend its heartfelt thanks to the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, of which Harry is president and Meghan is vice-president, for their continued support of our work, The King’s Boxing Gym, the community of Nyanga and all our partners. The community of Nyanga will never be the same again after the visit of the Duke and Duchess, the community members are particularly grateful for the visit and are empowered in their bid to change the story of Nyanga.

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