For the fourth consecutive year, thousands of women, men and children, marched 5km in absolute silence, from the Maponya Mall in Soweto to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God’s (UCKG’s) Diepkloof Church, taking a stand against violence and abuse. Themed: “I’m not part of it”, their silence spoke louder than verbal protests dominated by voices of anger and fear, with participants conducting themselves with dignity, as a peaceful statement that they do not condone nor accept any form of violence or abuse.
Re-enacting the 1956 march to the Union Buildings by courageous women who protested against injustices and abuse, this silent march showed solidarity with women who have had an impact on society and paid tribute to all those who have made a difference through their example.
Walking behind a banner stating: “Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbhokodo” (You strike a woman, you strike a rock), the crowd, many of whom were dressed in colourful traditional attire, carried placards with slogans showing a silent message to society. These included: I’m not part of it, I’m not silent when I witness violence, I don’t turn a blind eye to violence, I take action when I am aware of abuse, I stand against all forms of violence, If I do nothing, I am guilty too, If I don’t report child abuse, I am as guilty as the abuser, Reporting abuse is my responsibility, If I do nothing, I accept abuse, Doing nothing is not an option.
The march stretched for 1.5 kilometres down Soweto streets with some bystanders choosing to join the protest in a display of unity with the powerful visual message against the abuse of women and children.
When the procession joined the crowd gathered outside the UCKG Church in Diepkloof, they broke the silence with a cry out against violence and abuse, a cry for a peaceful society where women and children are safe.
Founder of Women in Action, a group of pastors’ wives who are actively involved in numerous community social responsibility programmes, Marcia Pires addressed the gathering.
She said: Each one of the 25 000 people who have walked 5km today, have done so with a purpose, just as the 20 000 women did 61 years ago. Those courageous women marched on the Union Buildings and presented their petition to the highest authority in the land, demanding change. As members of the Church, we present our petition to our highest authority, God, for only He can change people and remove abuse completely. But each one of us can make a difference where we are, and that is our message today: Can you say: “I’m not part of it?” Do you stand against abuse? Do you accept your responsibility to report abuse when you are aware of it?
Marcia Pires said: “Perhaps you are not actively involved in abuse but you may be part of it without being aware of your involvement.”
Our message today is three-fold:
1. Awareness and change: By creating awareness of abuse, we hope to change the behaviour of men and women who are perpetrating violence in society, urging them to make a decision not to be part of it any longer. When you hurt others, you hurt yourself too. The consequences of your violent actions may only become evident later in life, but when you abuse others, you damage yourself. Another point I wish to make is that when you generalise or support social media statements which brand all men as abusers, you are being unfair. There are many good men who respect women, just as there are women who are involved in human trafficking and abuse.
2. Break the silence. If you are a victim of violence, or see a neighbour or child being abused, do not turn a blind eye. It is your responsibility not to condone any form of abuse and to report it to the relevant authorities. By speaking out, you can help change the life of another person and improve society. Don’t pretend you haven’t seen it or it is none of your business. In most cases of abuse, someone knew about it but they did nothing to protect the victim. Somebody who is being abused, may be depending on you to help them. If you want to say: I’m not part of it, you need to speak out. Your actions can make a difference.
3. Take it personally: Women are caring and nurturing by nature and may not be hurting others. But by committing to not being part of it, you need to be sure you don’t hurt yourself. Women who have been abused often resort to self-mutilation to release their inner pain, or they may have thoughts of suicide, believing this will remove the burden of them from their families. These are not solutions. Every time you put yourself down, fail to see your potential, your beauty, your power, you are abusing yourself.
Bishop Marcelo Pires, leader of the Church’s evangelical outreach in South Africa, said: “Your silence supports the abuser. Abuse needs to be exposed. The abuser needs to face the consequences of their actions. When they are exposed they may take responsibility for their actions, they may be prosecuted and imprisoned where they have an opportunity to reflect on their behaviour, receive help and change. By speaking out against abuse, there is the possibility that victims and abusers can be reconciled. But nothing, other than more violence and destruction of lives, is achieved through silence.”
He also stressed that although individuals cannot change the world, they can win the war on violence in their own homes. He said: “If someone reports abuse to you, take time to listen, find out the facts, and take action. While we are required to forgive perpetrators, they must be held liable for their choices. Many of those trapped in abusive relationships, do not have the knowledge or strength to overcome it, but with your positive influence and help they can begin the process from hurt to healing. “
Making another important point, Bishop Marcelo said: “You can’t fight abuse with violence. If you have been abused, don’t repeat the pattern by abusing your children. If you beat them, they will grow into adults who do the same. Changing this behaviour is your responsibility.”
Quoting from Proverbs 3:3: he said: “Let not mercy and truth forsake you. Use mercy and truth in all your interactions.”
Women in Action is a group of pastors’ wives who saw the need to help communities by offering information, guidance and support. Women have been trained as trauma counsellors and cancer supporters and run numerous ongoing campaigns to help people in communities where the Church has been established.
The group’s anchor project is in creating cancer awareness and offering emotional support to those diagnosed with the disease, journeying alongside patients and their families through the treatment process. A second ongoing project is helping women who have suffered trauma and abuse, offering trauma counselling to help victims overcome their past and live victorious lives.
For further information, please contact the church’s public relations office on firstname.lastname@example.org.