(Published - 27 September 2018)
The University of the Western Cape’s Gender Equity Unit (GEU) celebrated twenty five years of radical black feminism - all achieved with the courage and good will of staff and volunteers, and without donor funding.
GEU Director Dr Mary Hames spoke at an event to mark the anniversary on 25 September 2018, honouring past and present staff and volunteers of the human rights activist hub at UWC, and hosting feminists at the helm of women and gender organisations.
Guests were welcomed by Professor Pamela Dube - Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Development and Support - and entertained by song and dance items by student volunteers.
But it was the spirit of feminism and activism that permeated the night.
“Funders don’t give funds to people who don’t do the usual things,” said Dr Hames, who joined the Unit in 1999. “But that’s why we survived for 25 years. We don’t accept money. We are the true feminists. That is what we do and we love what we do. We walk the talk.”
The event, held in the UWC Main Hall, opened with a photo exhibition in the foyer displaying the work of the student-run volunteer programmes housed at the GEU, including the Food Programme (addressing hunger on campus); Loud Enuf (LGBT activism); Edu Drama (feminist theatre and drama); HumaNature (disability awareness) and the Mentoring Programme.
Keynote speaker and human rights activist Pregs Govender spoke about the fight for reproductive health for women, and what she’d learned from her friendship with Fezekile ‘Fez’ Kuzwayo, who was known as Khwezi. Former president Jacob Zuma stood trial for raping her - but Govender reminded guests to smile, as Fez did, and to focus on their happiness despite the difficult work of activism.
“One of the nicest compliments I received was a tribute from the cleaning staff in Parliament; they said: ‘You never failed to smile and to say hello to us’. It’s so simple,” she said.
Later, volunteers from GEU’s Edu Drama programme “Reclaiming the P… Word” took to the stage to perform pieces that discussed the statistics of rape and murder of black women in South Africa, the merits of orgasm, menstruation monologues and the destigmatising of a controversial swear word.
Performer Limpho Makapela’s monologue asked the audience to contemplate a seemingly-simple question: “What does the word p**s exactly mean?”
As the night wound to a close, former volunteer and current PhD candidate, Ntombi Wonci, thanked guests for attending, and spoke about how much the Unit has meant to her and other volunteers as a safe space on campus.
“We hope you will never close that lighthouse close to the Steel Park (entrance),” she said.