Thenjiwe Sibongiseni Mswane- South Africa
An email came into my inbox in March this year from a young woman named Thenjiwe. Thenjiwe, who was in the United Kingdom had just participated in the One Billion Rising for Justice (OBRJ) 2014 campaign in February in London. In her email she expresses great passion about getting involved with the campaign and stated that she was moving back to South Africa. At the time I was in Zimbabwe and When I got back to the United States we had a Skype call that went on for over 2 hours. It was clear to me then that Thenjiwe was energetic and genuinely desired to see violence against women in South Africa come to an end. It was also clear that Thenjiwe was a self motivated young woman who was an activist at heart. I would discover that like many of the young activists I have had the honor of knowing, Thenji works from her heart which she allows to feel deeply. She moves from instinct and as such she moves to where she feels she is needed most. She leads from her heart also and the ability to be compassionate and generous with her resources and her time is what distinguishes her among her peers and draws them close to her.
At 24 years old, Thenji is an accomplished young woman. She holds degrees in anthropology and human rights law. Her efforts to end violence against women and girls date back several years to when she was a high school student. then she was active within the student body, talking to her peers, both boys and girls about the damage caused by sexual violence and rape.
During her years at Rhodes University, Thenji continued her activism for the safety of girls on campus. she was voted the Rhodes University top 100 students for community work (activism ).
Sadly Thenji's years at Rhodes were marred by the rape and death of some of her close friends, something which continues to haunt her today. The death of her friends galvanized her to work harder to end the scourge of rape that characterizes life for young women in South Africa. Thenjiwe was also a Youth of Choice #Champion for Change#, who assisted newly matriculated students to find their way to their university classes. She used her expertise and motivation to assist students overcome obstacles as difficult as not being accepted to the course of their choice.
My first encounter with Thenji the activist was in May when we stood in solidarity with our Nigerian sisters to demand the return of over 200 school girls abducted at night from a boarding school in Chibok by Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has wreaked havoc in Northern Nigeria. Even before the call to action went out, Thenji and her southern African sisters had already mounted a powerful social media campaign using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Sisters in Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe coordinated a demonstrations that took place on the streets and outside the Nigerian embassies in these countries. Johannesburg, Cape town and Grahams town witnessed Risings for the girls of Chibok organized by Thenji and other passionate activists. The social media campaign continued unabated and we kept the sisters in Nigeria energized by tagging them to all the actions that were going on across the African continent. Thenji surprised her sister and fellow activist Nyasha Sengayi by showing up in Harare for a community dialogue about the security of girls in schools.
Last week Thenjiwe organized the 8th Annual silent protests for the end to rape and sexual violence.
The powerful images from the protests require no explanation. However what these images demonstrate to me is the absolute necessity for South Africa to Rise up and work in whatever ways are possible to end rape and the epidemic of violence against women in the country.
Young activists like Thenjiwe are in this struggle because they realize that this is about their very survival and unless they lead revolutions and cause transformation then they are in danger and so are the women who will come after them. The call to the rest of us is to support encourage and capacitate these young leaders and to be a community from which they draw on for their work.
This blog is to celebrate you Thenjiwe this women's month and to thank you for your dedication to a cause which many of your age would rather have nothing to do with. Thank you for answering YES to the call and for leading by example. I bow! Ngiyabonga daughter of the soil!