Giving a voice to victims of abuse

[Image] Bontlebame founder Kea Modise-Moloto, pictured left with businesswoman Lillian Barnard, believes that education is one of the keys to successfully tackling the problem of abuse in our society.
(Image: Janine Erasmus)

[Image] Although most violent abuse is directed by men towards women, perpetrators off all kinds of abuse may be young, old, male, female, and come from any sector of society. Click on the image to see a bigger version.
(Image: UN Regional Information Centre)

Janine Erasmus

NGO Bontlebame works to educate society that abuse of any kind is wrong, and to give vulnerable people the inner confidence to stand their ground against abuse.

“Bontlebame is a Setswana word meaning ‘my core beauty’”, says the organisation’s founder Kea Modise-Moloto. “We encourage and help people to recognise that even though life may be ugly at times, everyone is beautiful inside and we all have our own special talents of which we can be proud.”

The organisation started out with a vision to use a combination of marketing, fundraising and working with individuals, communities and other organisations, to uplift and empower vulnerable people by boosting their inner confidence.

“We’ve shifted our focus,” says Modise-Moloto. “Today, 90% of our efforts go towards creating awareness of abuse. That inner confidence can be eroded by outside noise, which often is abusive. Abuse has become a part of our daily lives, rape is just another word. But if you are brave enough to talk about it, someone somewhere will be healed or inspired.”

As the spotlight falls again and again upon South Africa and the violence that pervades its society, Modise-Moloto is a woman motivated to address the situation. She has a full-time job, is a mother, is completing a degree and owns a beauty salon, but finds the time to also head Bontlebame and drive its programme.

“The will to want to change things keeps me energised.”

She takes the growing view that violence and abuse can only be effectively tackled if it is brought out of hiding.

“We want to bring abuse into the open,” she says, adding that abuse goes beyond the victim, but spills out into the family, the community and the next generation.

“Domestic violence can make you feel less of a person. But for the past three years we’ve held an annual event where people come together to share their experiences and give advice to others, to help the empowerment and healing process along.”

She was personally touched by the 2011 event, she says, which took place in the Ga-Rankuwa community on the Gauteng-North West border about 40km north of Pretoria.

“Women and children were there, local women shared their stories, and men came in because there was a free meal, but they stayed to listen.”

Helping the vulnerable

It’s not just women and children who fall victim to abuse.

“We support all vulnerable people,” says Modise-Moloto, “the elderly, gay people, disabled people, all those who are in danger of being sidelined. Bontlebame wants to change the way we treat each other.”

Bontlebame also has a beneficiary – the Motheo Wa Katlego community project, which cares for vulnerable children in Winterveldt, northwest of Pretoria.

“Having just one beneficiary at the moment means that our contribution can be sustainable, and we can measure the impact we are having.”

In 2011 Bontlebame launched its white beaded ribbon project. The ribbons are handmade by unemployed women and sold to corporates and other organisations as a fundraiser and visible reminder that, according to Modise-Moloto, will extend the organisation’s message and help to make it stick.

“They will speak for our cause when we ourselves have no words to say.”

Education will help to win the war

Despite the interventions of Bontlebame and other organisations with a similar message, the attitude of violence towards the vulnerable does not appear to have diminished much.

“There’s something we are not doing right,” Modise-Moloto says. “Organisations such as Powa have been campaigning for the past 33 years but still the abuse goes on. In recent weeks the war has come out into the open, and we can’t hide it any more.”

Various theories have been put forward to explain the phenomenon. According to Prof Rachel Jewkes, the head of the South African Medical Research Council’s gender and health unit, it lies in the way that boys are raised to be men, so must be addressed at an early stage – but educational programmes should target girls as well as boys.

Mbuyiselo Botha of the Sonke Gender Justice Network believes one of the big factors is the patriarchal mindset that can lead men to believe they are superior to women.

Rhodah Kadalie, executive director of the Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre, commented in an opinion piece published in Beeld, that the high rates of unemployment and poverty have resulted in men taking out their frustrations on women – an opinion also voiced by Botha.

“Men in our society are brought up to believe that they have the responsibility to support the family. If they can’t, they feel helpless,” Botha said at the 2012 annual Bontlebame event. “If men feel disempowered, for instance at work, they find that they can assert themselves at home, often with tragic consequences.”

He also said that in today’s society there are many men who grew up without a positive male role model in their lives, and this makes a huge difference to the calibre of men they will become.

“One way to fight the war is through education,” says Modise-Moloto. “If we take the strategies used to educate people about HIV and Aids and redeploy them to educate communities and organisations about abuse, we can cover more ground. It took years to get the issue of Aids into the minds of people, but today we are seeing results. That can happen with abuse too.”

The issue must become part of the national schools’ curriculum, and that calls for action from the Department of Basic Education. On 28 February the department, with Lead SA, launched the Stop Rape campaign, which is aimed at schoolchildren, some 10.2-million of them.

The campaign takes the form of special assemblies once a week, where teachers, pupils and activists will speak to the pupils for 15 minutes about sexual crimes, and educate them on what to do if they experience such crimes, and how to report them.

Modise-Moloto feels that today’s perpetrators of violence have “created a space where rape is okay. That must change. And targeting young boys is a must, but the message must get out to all levels of society – churches, taxi ranks, boardrooms, shopping centres, entertainment areas.”

She remains optimistic. “There is hope for everyone – people are born pure, but it is what we learn that makes us bad.”