Tuesday, 9 January 2018

JENNIFER #wetoo  The Baxter Cape Town  4-7 April 2018.

The decision to make public the rape that happened to me more than 20 years ago and naming the perpetrator has had huge implications, not only for myself, but my family, friends and even the broader community of concerned South Africans.
I have been hurtled into a malaise that most victims (and I use that word deliberately) of sexual violence find themselves in. The word ‘malaise’ means sickness and South Africa is suffering from a national disease where sexual violence has become normalised.
The memory of Fezekile Kuzwayo ‘‘Khwezi’’ is painful for many of us. She still hovers in my mind. She suffered humiliation, degradation and insult during her trial as she fought and lost her battle for justice in the law courts in a travesty of justice that found President Zuma 'not guilty'. In a final betrayal, women who should have stood by her, instead burnt effigies outside the courtroom. 'Khwezi' was martyred because she dared speak her truth and seek justice against a figure that symbolises all-pervasive malaise of power: sexual, political and criminal. This abuse of power is being perpetuated downwards from those that hold the highest offices in our country, including my rapist. How do we begin to change the culture of sexual violence and violation when leadership is setting such contaminating examples of toxic sexual behaviour? This is one of the questions that has been pre-occupying my mind over these weeks.

The #metto campaign, started in 2006 has given a platform for survivors of sexual assault and rape to at last share their stories. Tarana Burke, founder of the movement, says it was originally envisaged as a space for conversations of support between survivors. With the disclosures around Harvey Weinstein from the pantheons of Hollywood, it leaped into so much more than just a moment in time. In Sweden nearly every sector of society, from the Swedish Church, the legal field, the medical, the sporting bodies, the parliamentary, the theatre community, the opera and classical world, media and the academic community have almost daily over the last two months come out with organised #metoo disclosures, sometimes with signatories of over 500 in each field. These disclosures have been treated with respect and in some cases there have been investigations and subsequent resignations. It has moved very fast. Feminist historians are referring #metoo as the biggest evolutionary momentum since women were given the vote. Women and men are having to make a paradigm shift where no longer will non-consensual sex be tolerated. Where no longer are men entitled to women’s bodies just because they think they have the power. We cannot afford to lose the momentum of this time despite the complexities of traditional and cultural practices of patriarchy that hold us back.

In the weeks that followed my disclosure, I have been consulting widely with legal and organisational experts working with gender-based violence in South Africa especially Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Lawyers for Human Rights and Centre for Women’s Legal Centre Western Cape as well as Rape Crises. I have journeyed the painful process of trauma counselling. Most importantly has been the process of self-reflection, meditation and prayer for guidance that I may come to the right decision as to what would be the right action to take would be, if any. 
Currently I am in the process of exploring the possibility of a legal route, in consultation with these significant legal organisations. It is hard work and it is taking time. I can only trust the process and at the same time need to take ownership of what is my truth, my choices and more importantly, my authority.

An amazing community of support has manifested around me. My family has walked nearly every step of the way with me. I have shared bitter-sweet communion with other women who have gone through even more traumatic experiences of sexual violence than me and emerged strong. The two other women survivors of my rapist’s sexual harassment and assault have agreed to come out under protected identity and even that might be negotiable with time. We have found a sense of shared sisterhood. A powerful constellation of women I have sat in circle with as we faced motherhood, battled with marriage and relaionships, shared disappointments, dreams and failures and comforted each other in our loss, wept and laughed and realised together...some of these women have taken on this journey in support of me. They have taken midnight calls, on the highways to Soweto and saying final farewells to the children as they fly away..these women have helped in ways I cannot being to number.  I am more than grateful to them. I have experienced the true grace of human kindness and generosity. They know who they are.

In my activism over the years I have always been committed to finding ways of countering the bad, the destructive, with something ‘other’. Something that is aligned with the creative spirit of following the natural 'flow' of things. The Chinese have a word for it: Wu Wei or in our everyday context, ‘Crises and Possibility.’ My mantra is that for every atrocity we have the opportunity to create an equal and opposite response of what is most humane, creative and most beautiful in us. Sometimes we can do it together. Sometimes it could be doing nothing but being still.

A few weeks ago I received a gift. The Concert Hall in The Baxter Theatre Cape Town is available to do a series of concerts from the 4-7th April. We need to cover the basic costs of the musicians’ honorarium, marketing, publicity etc.  A few emails later we had sound sponsored by Eastern Acoustics. An anonymous angelic donor is providing funds for air tickets and some of the essentials. The Baxter is assisting generously where they can. All the musicians and artists are giving of their time, energy and talent without expecting payment. These are indeed the ‘high unsung-souls’ of our society. My dear sisterhood of musicians are not only walking their talk, they are singing it!!
This work or ‘play’, this assertion of the creative, feels most appropriate and empowering for me right now. What else can we do with a sense of integrity, but to celebrate the dignity of our stories, of this story, together? 
In the days of Apartheid, it was the heart of music, songs, poetry, art that kept our hearts open and hope alive. The creation and sharing of that which beautifies and seeks to make our lives more bearable is an expression of our highest collective humanity, after all. 

The meme #wetoo lifts the personal into a collective awareness of our connectedness in our survival and asks for a new definition.  The name JENNIFER is everywoman. It is a name that could be anyone. It was the name that called me.
Last night, Barney Simon, my beloved late teacher and friend, came to me in a dream. He was so tender with me, making jokes as we always did, making tea, happy to see each other again. He had a gift for me; three pairs of small black and white photographs framed in old gold. Each one featured images of me as a young girl in Lartigue-like postures of innocent joy-in-action: one with me, falling, laughing, off a bicycle, another flying carelessly through the air and a third one me waiting with my sister, in a garden. The images are happy. A very different perspective of the memories of childhood I have often felt burdened by.
Each one of the frames was mirrored by another matching image, of my mother, as a young girl, in similar but slightly different time frames. She was mirrored in unexpected postures of joyful abandonment and creative care-freeness. These were not the memories I had chosen to hold,  neither of my mother nor my childhood, memories of the ordinary, everyday unremarkable but yet miraculous joy and innocence. One could call them ‘The Happy Dream.’
Barney had that way of working. He took the most shameful and terrifying aspects of your life-story and placed them in illuminated frames of golden narrative that blessed and made whole.
This is what I want more than anything: to be able to see and understand my life as perfectly designed in every moment, especially the mistakes and the failings.
This dream invites us to see the perfection in even the most violated of terrains. I believe that I, and that #wetoo ,are on the right road.

I am very proud and privileged to be able to announce that I will have beside me, on stage some of South Africa’s most powerful and gifted singer-songwriters based in Cape Town, as special guest artists. They are Zolani Mahola, Karen Zoid and Tina Schouw. Each of these women are renowned not only for their fine artistry but for their integrity, activism and social awareness.They are also as Dalai Lama would put it, role models of what it is to be a 'good person'. It is a blessing indeed to share the stage with them. On the stage I will also be co-creating music with some of Cape Town's most soulful and gifted musicians who have over the years contributed to numerous social awareness musical initiatives. Humble, talented and dedicated men who speak out for women.
They are
Ronan Skillen: percussion
Shaun Johannes: Bass
Mark Fransman: Piano/ Sax/ Guitar.

I bring to the South African stage for the first time, my son Gabriel, 21. He was born in Cape Town, raised in Joburg and Swaziland, and now is based in Sweden. He is a gifted composer and multi-instrumentalist and we have done many collaborative projects together.
My life and creative partner, my husband Anders Nyberg, will be musical director. He is one of Sweden’s most respected choral composers and conductors. He co-wrote the script for the Academy Award nominated ‘As it is in Heaven’ which ran for over a year in SA, and the choral concept explored in the film is based on his approach. He worked for the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Sweden and internationally in eighties. He lived in Cape Town in the eighties collaborating with various choirs in Langa, Khayalitsha and Gugulethu. He is well-loved by many who worked beside him then.

I hope with all my heart that these concerts will be a communion of healing and of heart-song so that even as we mourn the innocence that has been lost in this struggle for freedom, we can also rise with a matured vision for a better world that is born in the spaces we least expected to find it.

 #wetoo rise! sing!

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