Manenberg activist honoured by American government

The American acting consul general, Will Stevens, presents the International Woman of Courage (IWOC) award to Roagshanda Pascoe.

Manenberg activist Roegshanda “Shanda” Pascoe is the first South African to receive the International Woman of Courage (IWOC) award from the American government.

Now in its 16th year, the American Secretary of State’s IWOC award recognises women from around the globe who have demonstrated “exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equity and equality, and the empowerment of women and girls, in all their diversity – often at great personal risk and sacrifice”.

On Monday March 14, Ms Pascoe received the award from the American acting consul general, Will Stevens, at a ceremony held at his residence in Bishopscourt. She is among 12 women around the world who were honoured with the award this year.

Although she has worked tirelessly for justice, peace and economic inclusion and has been outspoken about gang violence, it was her decision to testify in a court case after she witnessed a murder that put her and her family’s lives at risk. On the day before she testified, gangsters shot at her house, and Ms Pascoe and her family had to flee. They are still living at a secret location for their protection.

Speaking at the award ceremony, Ms Pascoe said: “It’s not easy being an activist’s child. Therefore I dedicate this award to my children. I received my ‘LLB’ (‘law degree’) on the streets of Manenberg. My responsibility is to protect humanity. In 2013, my daughter took a bullet for me. After that traumatic experience, she was too scared to walk to the bus stop to go to school.

“I encouraged her to take her power back, and today she is still standing with me. My children lost a year of schooling when I decided to testify. We have also learnt to live with much less, but I don’t want to die a coward. If you see me fighting for justice, it is to make you uncomfortable so that you can join me.”

American Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and First Lady Dr Jill Biden honoured Ms Pascoe in a virtual ceremony.

Mr Stevens said the American government knew it could foster greater change by supporting women. “Because it is often women doing the hard work to make that change happen. It’s women like Shanda who are doing the hard work to promote change in our society, which is why we are so thrilled to be able to honour Shanda with the International Woman of Courage award.

“Despite tremendous threats to her own and her family’s safety, Shanda has persisted in her work to shape a safer, more prosperous future for her community.

“The perpetrators of violence wish that Shanda would give up. They hope Shanda will stop her protests and vigils. They want her to stay at home and stay out of the way. But Shanda refuses to shut up. She refuses to tolerate gang and gender-based violence, and we salute and want to highlight and support her efforts. We are honoured to be associated with her, and we look forward to a long partnership.”

Roegshanda Pascoe says she hopes the award will inspire young people from the Cape Flats to rise above their circumstances.