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In spite of the many challenges faced by this, and most, non-profit organisations, one thought keeps this GBV survivors organisation going: “Once you experience the violence, you think differently about it. I keep thinking that there is another me out there that we haven’t reached.”

 

Johannesburg, South Africa (29 June 2022) – Survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), suffering from shattering experiences, and with their self-esteem destroyed, often experience further distress when interacting with the justice system. This is a system that many do not understand, and that they often feel is unsympathetic to their plight.

Tackling this issue head-on in impoverished parts of the Western Cape involves giving a purpose, confidence, and a voice to survivors. By becoming ‘informal paralegals’, through a community-based organisation (CBO), The Great People of South Africa, volunteers are slowly but surely getting the wheels of justice turning in favour of those who continue to suffer from various forms of violence and abuse. Quick to understand the dilemma of others because of their own similar experiences, these paralegals ensure that legal processes are followed and that contact with authorities is less bruising.

For the founder of The Great People of South Africa, Zintle Khobeni, the objective of having a ‘paralegal in every street’ is the CBO’s driving force. Since establishing the organisation in 2019, her reward is seeing, for the first time, that a man brought to book through her organisation has been committed for trial.

Another positive development was that the GBVF Response Fund (the Fund) identified The Great People of South Africa as one of the 110 high-impact non-profit organisations across the country to receive a grant from the Fund. This was part of the Fund’s first tranche of R69 million provided to help fight South Africa’s gender-based violence and femicide epidemic. To this women-led CBO, this has meant a financial lifeline that will benefit the women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and other vulnerable people in disadvantaged communities in the region.

“The Great People of South Africa celebrates the great things we can do, despite the circumstances in which we find ourselves. By joining together, our members, 80% of whom are survivors of violence, abuse, and rape, can help others who often come to us before approaching the police or health authorities,” says Zintle.

“Another important thing to note is that, often, we are called upon to help women who have moved here from the Eastern Cape and are victims of abuse. Many do not have ID documents or birth certificates for their children. The lack of these documents means that they become virtual prisoners of their environment – unable to find jobs and access education, or the grants that could provide them with independence from their abusers and improve their lives. We work closely with the Department of Home Affairs in this regard.”

Help is getting even closer to the community through the expanding Great People of South Africa network, whose influence saw 11 paralegals graduate in 2021. Another 16 are currently in training, with 14 of these trainees being survivors of GBV.

As locals dedicated to improving lives, many paralegals in these ‘hotspots’ become the “go-to people” for help in their communities. Offering support and advice is not, however, without its own risks, as they are sometimes targeted by those who are not happy to see their dominance challenged, particularly the perpetrators.

On the other hand, however, a significant sign that things are changing for the better is the increasing involvement of men, working within, or in support of organisations like this. In addition to the milestone of having a man graduating as a paralegal as part of the programme in 2021, more men are becoming involved in training women, and other vulnerable community members in self-defence techniques. Zintle also notes that some men’s community organisations have gone as far as to use their acting talents to spread the anti-GBVF message to audiences within the community.

Weighing in on the impact being made by this CBO, Lindi Dlamini, CEO of the GBVF Response Fund, says: “In the Fund’s role as a catalyst to accelerate action in the fight against GBVF, we are very pleased to have been able to provide The Great People of South Africa with the much-needed funds to support their on-the-ground initiatives. All too often, we hear that survivors of GBV do not report the crimes against them due to fear of secondary victimisation, or because they are unsure of how to navigate the justice system.”

“Our communities, and our country as a whole, need more people like Zintle Khobeni, and her team of paralegals, to assist survivors through the difficult process of bringing the perpetrators to book, so that we can help put an end to GBVF in our lifetimes.”

Operating in Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Gugulethu, and the Cape flats areas of Delft and Kuils River specifically – all of which have been tagged as part of the ‘top-eight’ of the overall 30 national GBVF hotspots – means that The Great People of South Africa is working against a tsunami of adversity. Ever-present are poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and a lack of services.

For Zintle, now a third-year law student at the University of South Africa, her personal journey, which includes being a rape and assault survivor, is about putting her efforts behind keeping The Great People of South Africa going. While the funding from the GBVF Response Fund has gone a long way to support the organisation, she continues to work towards securing additional funding.

In spite of the many challenges faced by this, and most, non-profit organisations, one thought keeps Zintle going: “Once you experience the violence, you think differently about it. I keep thinking that there is another Zintle out there that we haven’t reached.”

Turning her attention to what the future holds, Zintle concludes: “Are we as an organisation and people going to survive? The spirit of survival is within us – we will survive.”


Sources: The Great People of South Africa 
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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