This article is about the impact of the Khulumani Gogos as perceived and described by KASA, a Khulumani partner organisation based in Heidelberg in Germany. The original article in German is attached.
The Gogos1’ Forum is a Khulumani Support Group in East Rand comprised of older women members who take action to support local community members to deal with the challenges they experience every day.
The Gogos’ Forum won a SEED prize in 2013 for their work in bringing solar lighting to households off the electricity grid. However, the centre of the commitment of the Khulumani Gogos’ Forum is their defiance of conventional taboos. They thereby serve as real change makers in their community.
It is not easy to find Nomarussia Bonase. Even an experienced taxi driver like Mr Jacob struggles with four attempts to find her home from the address he has been given for the township of Thokoza. He has to make many inquiries. “In the past,” Mr. Jacob says of the 1990s, “no taxi driver would voluntarily travel in this area because it was too dangerous. Here there was a war, emanating from the migrant workers’ hostels over there.”2
He points to blocks of flats, where during the apartheid era migrant workers from rural KwaZuluNatal lived and from which the then government paramilitaries – the so-called “third force”, recruited people to attack ANC supporters with an agenda of destabilizing the country during its political the negotiations.3
We are waiting at the traffic light hopefully where we will meet Nomarussia. Then in the rear-view mirror of the vehicle we see a group of women in yellow vests, singing and dancing as they move towards us to welcome us to the Gogos’ Forum. We follow them to the house of Nomarussia to the meeting hall attached to her house that members have built from building rubble which they had collected from demolition sites.
Nomarussia Bonase is a 48 year old widow and grandmother. She explains that she has dedicated her adult life to Khulumani, for which she is National Organiser. She is also the initiator of a programme of accompaniment to the Widows of the Marikana Massacre. This work resulted in the development of the Body Maps accompanied by stories for an exhibition called Justice, Redress and Restitution for Widows of the Marikana Massacre which was turned into a travelling exhibition by KASA.
The Gogos’ Forum in Thokoza township is Nomarussia’s pride and joy, as she explained during her visit to Germany in October 2014 for the KASA-organised conference on “20 Years of Democracy in South Africa”.
It was during this visit that we promised Nomarussia that we would visit the Gogos. This is how we came to meet with about 20 women sitting in the meeting room. We were in the front row of the meeting and Nomarussia translated the discussions for us.
The crime of apartheid and the “unfinished business” of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is Khulumani’s main focus. Participants explain that “We continue to suffer because our government refuses to know us, and to listen and hear our problems related to our participation in the liberation struggle.”
What distinguishes the women in this context especially, and what years of work by Khulumani has produced, is the way the women victims and survivors have become active citizens in their society: “We have a lot of experience. We use our knowledge and skills to work hard to put food on the table, without active support from government,” says a Gogo who explains that the conditions of her family’s life are hardly different from that of the people at Marikana which is now a place known to the whole world.” She explains that “we bring changes because we are able to develop ourselves.”
The women have come together in the good old tradition to form savings associations.Every month, they put a little to the side, which then is paid in turn to another Gogo who needs just a little. It is through these savings associations that funerals, weddings and major purchases financed.
Given the steadily rising price of electricity, the Gogos support the project to provide photovoltaic lighting systems to family homes.4 Nevertheless when it came to the first disbursement, they hesitated. “We havediscussed amongst us, who should get the first plant. This is because many of us are already very old and may not get much use from the acquisition which costs a lot. We have therefore decided, another group of women who have less opportunities to finance the photovoltaic plants should be the first recipients because in their district in Engcobo, they have absolutely no access to power! “. This is the decision that earned them a Sustainability Award.
But the women go further. “We used to have structures in which children learned how to behave in the community in relation to the opposite sex. These spaces are missing today. There is a gap. That is the true reason for the many pregnancies of minors. It is not because of the Child Support Grant!”
“And so the Gogos sit down and share how they deal with these areas of taboo so they can talk openly with their grandchildren about sex and sexuality and about HIV / AIDS. Even the traditional leaders are pleased with our initiative, because they themselves are helpless in the face of social and moral changes”, explains Nomarussia. “We take the positive out of our culture and mix it with the western ideas that suit us,in order to form a good society.” “In the meantime, a forum of men has been established to deal with the high rates of domestic violence in our homes and to try to prepare young men who have few role models”. This is because fathers are present in only 36% of South Africa’s homes.
It’s amazing how precisely and with what simple words these women are able to analyse the challenges in their community and to explain the origins of these problems and realities.
They also discuss complex situations such as the horrors of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. There are flip-chart pages on the walls of their meeting room where they have unpacked the reasons and roots of xenophobia in South Africa. The causes are detailed on these large posters on the walls of the meeting room.
Even more impressive for us as guests, is the confidence and freedom with which the women talk openly about their painful personal histories. And they explain how our coming to listen, helps the healing processes for the women.