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Body of evidence goes grassroots with new phase of GBV+F- awareness campaign

Arts and performance specialist and senior UCT lecturer, Mandla Mbothwe of Mud & Fire Parables, the driving force behind the hard-hitting online movement, Body of Evidence, that stars some of South Africa’s established as well as new artistic talent, is augmenting his ambitious, ongoing national gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide awareness campaign with a new grassroots programme.

Mbothwe is bringing the online Body of Evidence campaign – a collection of artworks from video and song, to dance and performed poetry – to the people. Timed to coincide with the country’s 16 Days of Activism, the new initiative involves working directly with farmworkers and their communities. Offering tools to identify GBV+ F and strategies to manage and seek protection against it, the collaborative project is being run together with emotional wellness consultants, Procare and the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation that combats violence against women.

As part of this latest stage of its anti-GBV+F programme, Mbothwe has also created an e-magazine version of its online collaborative Body of Evidence collection that that debuted this time last year. Now a substantially larger collection of work, it features a growing series of short, powerful musical, dance, visual, narrative, poetry and conceptual pieces.

Easy to access and navigate, the overarching intention of the Body of Evidence e-magazine is to show in a variety of ways how GBV+F manifests, and the physical, emotional and societal destruction that results, according to Mbothwe.

Speaking on the campaign, he added: “We launched the e-magazine to farmworkers with a blended, phygital event, given the present ease in lockdown regulations. Artists such as Kaylin Ndhlovu, Lee-Ann van Rooi, Bongile Mantsai, Zimbini Makwethu and Lewellyn Africa appeared in person as their contribution to the campaign. They and GBV+F specialists discussed their experiences and engaged directly with audience members. Several works in the collection were also be screened and talked about.

“We wanted to bring together, inform and empower farmworkers as the start of our outreach programme. Through discussion and entertainment, our goal is to start making tangible inroads into ending behaviour and patterns than have normalised GBV+F. A critical element is helping farmworkers and their families and communities to know how to recognise GBV and to know what to do if it impacts them or those close to them in a way that defuses an already volatile situation.

“The event was a way to convey our uxanduva lwethu, (our societal burden) in addressing GBV+F head on, while at the same time stressing that we must reclaim our lives and transcend the scourge. We brought a village spirit of ukubambisana, (carrying it together), of inter-connectedness, so we could focus not just on the 16 Days of Activism but also reflect on the past 20 months of activism under the pandemic. We wanted to impress on everyone how looking backwards is essential before moving forwards to stimulate and encourage the spirit of self-love, self-reliance, self-healing, a time of ukuthungelana nokuthungisana (to pour in each other’s cups, and to see and look out for each other).

“Our message was that, together we are that Body of Evidence for unlimited possibilities. We are a body of evidence of that village spirit, a breathing body of evidence. A body that hears, that sees and that feels each other in time of need and in time of joy. A body of support, love and comfort.

“We hope we have given people the strength to carry on, with the communal heart of Ubuntu eluntwini (humanity in humans) to really see each, to hear each other and to love each other. Sizithandazele, sithandazele nabanye (to pray for ourselves and for others).”

He said the pilot event at one of Distell’s farms involved some 75 people.

“We’ve had many distractions from the corrosive impact of GBV. From the pandemic and the debate about whether to vaccinate or not, to insurrection, elections, power outages and water shortages, South Africans have had to contend with many fears and stresses. We cannot allow GBV to be hidden as a result. It remains one of our country’s most burning and destabilising issues. We have to give it our fullest attention.”

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