Hundreds of South Africans gathered in New York on Saturday in a show of solidarity against gender-based violence in South Africa. The silent demonstration saw about 200 South Africans from New Jersey, Maryland, California, Colorado, Washington, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania gather in the heart of New York, Times Square.
The demonstrations were organised by South African cultural exchange visitor Iman Jeneker who said when she heard the news from South Africa, she felt numb.
“I felt disconnected from my sisters. I couldn’t be there to stand in solidarity and make my voice heard and mourn with everyone.”
Jeneker took to Facebook to call on South Africans to show their support. Her post gained traction and soon she was organising permits from the New York Police Department.
“I’m proud of us for having the courage to pull this off but at the same time I worry that our voices are not enough. Our president has made promises and we’re praying that he fulfils [them]. Women just want to feel safe, we just want to know that our sisters, mothers and daughters back home can go to the post office without being raped and murdered,” Jeneker said.
South African content creator Lyla Illing, who took part in the demonstration, created a video of the event. She told News24 she had read about the crisis on social media.
“During the first week of September and specifically as the news broke about Uyinene, I was unable to go onto social media without my timeline being filled with gender-based violence, xenophobia and farm murder stories from back home. It felt like there was nothing else but heartbreaking news on my timeline. There was no way of looking away, South Africans were being loud about the fact that this is a crisis.”
Illing said the mood at the gathering was heavy.
“During the silent demonstration, we took 10 minutes to form a circle where a few women spoke, reading poems or praying. Most of us cried at this point, women embraced each other for emotional support.
“The demonstration felt personal. There were feelings of desperation and anger among us because this crisis doesn’t feel a world away, it is real to us because we have lived it back home. It is our own family members who are victims of domestic violence, victims of rape and most times the perpetrators are men we know,” Illing said.
She added she hoped the demonstration would have an impact on women back home.
“Demonstrations abroad play an essential role in making women in South Africa feel validated and heard. It is our hope that our women feel empowered when they see pictures and videos of expats coming to a standstill to demonstrate and unite in the fight against gender-based violence. I also think that it is equally important to raise awareness of the crisis internationally so that our leaders know they are under pressure to take action – because the world is watching,” Illing said.