PRESS RELEASE: People’s Power, People’s Parliament: A Civil Society Conference on South Africa’s Legislatures

People’s Power, People’s Parliament:

A Civil Society Conference on South Africa’s Legislatures

13 – 15 August 2012, Cape Town

  • Parliament and the provincial legislatures are democratic spaces that belong to the people of South Africa – or do they?
  • Parliament and the legislatures work with civil society to address problems with service delivery and people’s access to socio-economic rights – or do they?
  • Parliament and the legislatures make sure that government departments don’t waste public money meant for the improvement of education and healthcare – or do they?
  • Civil society organisations are pro-active in ensuring that parliament and the legislatures oversee government departments and that all voices are heard – or are they?

These and other vital questions will be debated at a civil society conference on parliament and the provincial legislatures to be held 13-15 August in Cape Town. 80 delegates from rural and urban areas across the country are expected.

“Public consultation is crucial for the consolidation of our democracy. The conference will therefore investigate whether opportunities and processes for public participation are accessible to civil society organisations and the public,” says Sam Waterhouse, Parliamentary Programme Coordinator at the Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape.

Nkosikhulule Nyembezi, policy analyst and Advocacy Programme Manager at the Black Sash, adds that, “a civil society conference on South Africa’s legislatures is much needed at this time in our maturing democracy. As we look back at our enormous achievements since breaking away from the oppressive apartheid and colonial systems, the conference gives us a space to discuss how to engage with the legislatures to advance service delivery and socio-economic rights.”

The conference will be preceded by a community workshop on 7 August with people working at local level to realise their rights.

Media are invited to cover the following events:

  • Keynote address by Justice Albie Sachs – Monday 13 Aug at 6:30pm
  •  Public debate entitled “True Representatives of the People?” with Zackie Achmat (Social Justice Coalition), Sizani Ngubane (Rural Women’s Movement) and political leaders from the ANC and DA – Monday 13 Aug at 7pm

(To be live-streamed via

  •  Media conference and handing over of memorandum to the Speaker of Parliament Max Sisulu – Wednesday 15 Aug at 4pm.

Venue: Townhouse Hotel, 60 Corporation St, Cape Town (near Parliament)

  • Community workshop afternoon session on Tuesday 7 August in Khayelitsha (venue to be announced)

Twitter: #pplpower

Facebook: People’s Power, People’s Parliament



Sam Waterhouse, Community Law Centre – 084 522 9646

Nkosikhulule Nyembezi, Black Sash – 082 429 4719

Jennifer Williams, Women’s Legal Centre – 078 803 3110

Phumeza Mlungwana, Social Justice Coalition – 074 417 8306


For media-related enquiries contact Christi van der Westhuizen 083 440 9354.

(originally appeared at


On Freedom

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

This month we celebrate Freedom day on 27 April. The day marks the day the first democratic elections were held in South Africa.

I’m currently reading ‘Birth’ by Peter Harris, and I encourage you all to read it. The first election was not a simple event to organise given the poor administration of homelands by the apartheid government, Afrikaner right wing factions, unwillingness of the IFP to get involved, scandal, violence and attempts to alter results. Each election since then has seemed to simply happen without incident, and it’s something we all just assume when queuing to vote. There is much work that goes into making sure we can make our mark, and free and fair elections are something we should feel very proud of.

Rights and freedoms are not things that can be taken for granted. I am grateful for our constitution because it protects so many of them. In SA we often here the word ‘freedom’ bandied about. We also often hear about ‘rights’. Often this is in a language that makes it seem that we have no role to play in upholding and protecting these.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela

This month on FeministsSA we’ve asked some of our frequent and core contributors to let you know about the rights and freedoms that they are concerned about, and those that are important to them. We’d also like to ask you to submit pieces on freedoms and rights in South Africa that you think are in question, or ones that you are flourishing.

There is the saying ‘rights come with responsibilities’, and that’s why I encourage you all to get involved in making submissions at public hearings on legislation, or to attend marches when you feel they uphold your cause. Don’t let the world just happen to you – be a participant.

Have a great month,

Love Jen



Speak less, show more.

Liza van Soelen
Liza van Soelen

By Liza van Soelen

“I only want friends who are less pretty than me, so I can get a boyfriend.” This is what one of my brightest middle students in South Korea told me. When I did a Dreams lesson with the 14 year-old students every one of the girls listed “Get Married” as the most important goal. In this country gender stereotypes are more ingrained, more conservative than I am used to. But the source of statements like this is a very different culture than my own, where being the same is more important and respected than standing out. Sometimes hard to fathom, but more understandable considering the cultural norms here.

What is more shocking to me is sharing dinner with other native English teachers from first world countries and having them tell me that they aren’t feminists. That really men and women just aren’t equal. That they are not really interested in woman’s issues. It physically hurts my brain to understand how this range of independent, educated women can be so blasé about the issue.

Women who are scared to confront the issues or are ignorant of the issues because ‘feminist’ is such a terrifying word for them is a huge challenge for the feminist movement. This resistance hinders our ability as feminists to reach many women who would otherwise be assets.

My daughter will be 16 in about 2035. For those of you who are quick at maths you will realise that I don’t have a daughter yet. But in some senses, that is how I choose to live on a practical level. I choose to make decisions about my own life, the actions I take and the expectations I have, to create a better world for my daughter as a representation for all the women in my life and country. I want to ensure that I will be a positive role model in the midst of negative mass media representations of women. I employ this tactic to encourage women to be part of the feminist movement giving them examples that will make sense to them. In speaking about the practical applications of improving situations for women and by speaking about situations that can directly influence someone they might care about (friends, daughters, sisters, themselves) I show them how feminism is relevant for them.

Perhaps as feminists we need to do a marketing overlay. Let’s go for the magazine mantra if we must: INDEPENDENT, STRONG, INTELLIGENT. Use words that the majority of women do want to live up to. Then use those words to encourage women that it is necessary to become more involved in their communities. Instead of challenging them to speak to someone about women’s issues, we could challenge them to:

  • find an organisation that works to aid women or girls and get them involved in it;
  • encourage them to help to put together a scholarship for one girl who needs it; or simply
  • encourage them to live bigger dreams, to expect better treatment from life and treat other women with more respect.

If ‘feminist’ is such a scary word then we would be better off involving resistant women in the practical application and allowing them to discover on their own that feminism is not a scary word, but a necessary action.

I want my daughter to be proud of me one day. I’m not going to get that right by saying all the right things, I’m going to do that by doing the right things. We can talk and we can shout, but our success as feminists lies in the wide majority of people taking the right actions to make positive change. So perhaps it’s time to speak less and show more.


Why men can’t lead the women’s movement

By Jen Thorpe

As many of you have heard, there was further violence against women at the Noord Street Taxi rank earlier this month. Two young women were assaulted by a mob of violent men, justified by the premise that they shouldn’t have been wearing revealing clothing. We have been here before, and this violence is evidence that women do not have access to their constitutional right to safety in South Africa.

The movement against violence against women in South Africa has been primarily driven by women, and by women-led NGOs.  This is simultaneously obvious and problematic. It is obvious, because in a fight for women’s rights, a women leader is essential. It embodies the principles of self-definition, ownership and empowerment. It is problematic because women led movements aimed at empowering women can only go so far without speaking to the primary perpetrators of violence against women – men. That is not to say that speaking with men will stop the problem of violence against women, but only that it seems logical to assess the root of the cause whilst empowering women to stand up for themselves. In addition, male role models who speak out about male-led violence against women are important in order to dispel excuses for violence against women. Slowly and reluctantly, the violence against women sector in the NGO world has begun to work with men, and men’s organisations. We have yet to see the results, but I think that this is an essential step.

At the same time, working with men’s organisations risks some of the very real gains women’s organisations have made. It is common to fall into comfortable (read patriarchal) patterns of gendered leadership and discourse. Men often aim to be the spokespeople, when there are equally suitable women who could perform the job. This may or may not be because of men’s desire to regain dominance, but it certainly does have an effect on the ability of the women’s movement to encourage psychological freedom (rather than psychological oppression in the Bartky sense of the word).

I think that the question of ownership of the feminist movement is one that will necessarily be a painful one to all those who are invested in a better and more gender equal world. The world that I would like to invest in IS one where men are able to participate in the women’s movement.  This week a Facebook debate took place over the violence against women at the Noord Street Taxi Rank. Walter Pike, who you might remember from Slutwalk Johannesburg, has been incredibly vocal about the need for the eradication of this violence, and its undesirability in South Africa. In response, Gillian Schutte, a documentary film maker  and activist, slated Pike for his attempt to equate the feminist movement to advertising/airtime goals and for his attempt to lead a movement that is in her view, not his to lead.

He responds:

“Apparently this fight, the fight against patriarchy, against woman abuse, against victim blaming is a woman’s fight and that a man should be one of the leaders of this fight is unacceptable. I don’t think so I think this is everyone’s fight and that my presence makes it easier for mainstream of society to identify with it.”

Whilst I commend Walter Pike for being ahead of his time in wanting to get involved in the women’s movement at all, I am uncomfortable as is Gillian Schutte with the idea that this movement would be led by a man or have a male spokesperson. I thought it was rad that Pike was at the Slutwalk with his daughter and her friend, showing them that they need not be afraid to speak their minds or get involved, I was irked that a white man had been chosen to MC a movement that in South Africa, lets face it, needed to be led by a woman. I also don’t think that the presence and leadership of a white man ‘makes it easier’ or more desirable to be part of any movement in the new South Africa.

In South Africa it is natural for men to feel that they are the best, or most able, or just the most genuinely interested spokesperson. They have been given this position for centuries. The women’s movement, in contrast, requires that women build themselves up and take ownership of their struggle, and that women lead and are respected as leaders. If we fall back to letting a man, regardless of his good intentions, lead our movement we will make losses. Imagine a black consciousness movement with a white leader, or a gay rights movement with a straight leader. I think the role of men is most certainly in supporting, getting involved, and in speaking to other men.

Remember that in patriarchy it is not only women who lose, though it is women who lose most significantly. In patriarchy men live in a limited world where only half the population is worthy of engagement. In this master-slave state of affairs, men want the respect of women, whilst not given women’s respect any value. So in order to truly change the status quo, women and men must both be freed. Women from their physical, sexual and psychological oppression and men from their dominance.

These movements must be owned by the people whose interests they represent, or they will only partially liberate participants.


There is a time

By Jen Thorpe

There are times when you need to stop. To sit down. To rest. To recoup.  Sometimes they are simply a moment of defeat. We feel we cannot go on.  At these times we stop because we feel that there is no other option – we cannot continue. The pressure from the world, our loved ones and ourselves to do what we should can become overwhelming.

But stopping, or resting, is not giving up. These periods of stillness can be incredibly important for us. These times help us to reflect. They are an opportunity to exercise compassion for ourselves and for the people who we interact with in our everyday lives. They can become a chance to assess whether we are on the right path, or whether we are doing what we think we should be doing.

Last year was tough. After a year of working hard in the field of sexual violence, and trying my hardest to make a change within the limited opportunities for feminist activism within the parameters of Patriarchal South Africa (We should be the PSA, not the RSA) I had begun to become impatient with my own inefficacy – how could I have been doing this for so long, and yet so little ground appeared to have been gained? Would it always be this hard? How would I continue for another year without despairing?

In an effort to distract myself from feelings that were not practical for someone who needs to be in this in the long haul, I took a complete break from work. I went on leave from the 16th of December, and will only return on the 10th. In this time I have read books, written for my own book, started attending a yoga class, been on holiday to the Transkei, gone for long walks, and eaten and drank as I pleased. This period of stillness has helped me immensely.

I was reading an incredible book recently, written by two yogis from the United States. The book showed them in extraordinary positions that I would love to master one day. Alongside the photographs were a number of comments from this pair, some of which I found reflected in my own life. There was one in particular that resonated with me after last year, and made me realise that sometimes we feminists can be very tough on ourselves. For those of you who don’t believe in yoga and karma, fair enough, but bare with me.

“Yoga practices help us develop awareness and detachment.  When we can begin to watch our personality’s fearful reactions to situations, we can develop compassion for our own lack of courage.  Through compassion we realise there is nothing to lose.” Sharon Gannon and David Life, The Art of Yoga

Essentially – we need to give ourselves a break. We can do everything or be everyone for everyone all the time. Sometimes we just need to be fearful, and retreat. This can help us to grow more courageous.

At the same time it is becoming increasingly important for us to raise our voices.  Things are changing in many spheres of life, but for women they are often changing for the worse.  Sexual violence continues to escalate with attacks perpetrated most often by men that the survivor knows.  The glass ceiling might have been cleaned so much it is almost invisible, but it is nonetheless there.  At our highest court in the country, few judges are women.  At the pinnacle of political power stand men who are not able or brave enough to commend women, support women, decry violence against women and to suggest that things MUST change.

So my advice for 2012 (if you’re bothered) is to rest when you need to, and to rest well. Fill your cupboard with your favourite foods. Fill your bookshelf or television with stimulating reads or films. Allow yourself to become re-inspired, and your flame to be reignited. Then, when you are ready, get back to action and activism whether your activism is armchair, website, banner hanging, culture jamming or good old-fashioned street marching. Do it. Do it with everything you have left. There is a time for rest.

There is also a time to act, and to start to become people who live and participate in the world. I like to live in this world as a feminist, and I hope that this year our site helps you to find a comfortable space for you to live that way too.

Good luck,