It is important to give young people a chance to speak out against violence, as survivors are becoming younger and younger, says Shaheema McLeod, director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children.
She was speaking during the centre’s annual “Air Your Dirty Laundry” event, which was held on World Aids Day, Thursday December 1 and is also part of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign.
This year’s event, which raised awareness about violence in the homes and communities, drew 700 children from surrounding schools – the highest number the campaign has seen since it started seven years ago.
“We needed to get a younger audience, because we see every day, that the women and children accessing our services are becoming younger and younger,” said Ms McLeod.
“Children are silenced far too often on the subject of abuse, bullying and sexual exploitation.”
Ms McLeod said the centre had invited hip hop artist Emile YX, rapper Youngsta and street artist Marti Lund, to help children open up about their experiences of violence.
“Air Your Dirty Laundry” has grown phenomenally since its first year when only 25 people took part.
“In previous years, the children wrote anti-violence messages on T-shirts hung on makeshift washing lines. However, this year, they wrote their messages on colourful ribbons, and tied them to the fence along Klipfontein Road, forming the words “End Violence”.
Some teenagers from the community also worked with Mr Lund, to paint a 50-metre long mural at the centre.
Speaking at a media conference before the event, Mr Lund said: “As a street artist, the lineage started with rock art, and that has always been a community involved space. We utilise graffiti to bring young people together – to give people a voice who haven’t found their voice. Artworks come in different forms and the most powerful ones I’ve been involved with were where young people were part of it. They were given their own canvass and we had two days of painting. It becomes a space of their own expression.”
Emile said his organisation, Heal the Hood, had shifted its focus to address the underlying reasons of “deep-rooted, self-hate” among young people. “With the Eurocentric education, young people think they cannot achieve anything because they are from the Cape Flats. They believe the way we speak is not right, and if they have hair like mine, they want to Wella (straighten) it. However, when we have conversations, they realise that we have more similarities than differences. So we are creating a space for them to be heard.”
Youngsta said that with his music he was trying to tell young people that he is “in the same boat” as them. “They think I’ve made it, but I still have friends who are on drugs, living on the street and even those who are unfit mothers. I want to let them know, I also know people like that – who caved under pressure and gave in to social ills. For the first time this year, I went overseas and saw no poverty or street children. And because I sing about things like this, the music industry is not interested. Hip hop was started in the ghetto – it was music for the underprivileged. The reason why young people like my music, is because I don’t sugar-coat things. Anyone can do what I’m doing, they just need to verbalise it.”
Manenberg police also took part in the event, and Captain Ian Bennett said the power of young people should not be underestimated. “We are committed in ensuring that every woman and child are safe, but the challenges we have are gangsterism and domestic violence, among others. People often speak bad about the police, but we want to show children that we are their friend. A child must realise that they were born to be great,” he said.
Before the two performances of Emile YX and Youngsta, the children all took an “End Violence” pledge” led by Ms McLeod.