New Beginnings

How kidnapping survivor Monique Strydom is tackling abuse through chats on taxis

Monique Strydom and her husband survived being kidnapped and held hostage for four months in the Philippines. After their ordeal they returned home to South Africa where Monique closed down her business and set up two charities. Strydom has devoted herself to helping and healing others.

Strydom’s charity Matla a bana, is what its name says, a voice against child abuse. Her work in this field led Strydom to try and gain a deeper insight into why children are not reporting abuse. Together with the students from the University of Johannesburg she conducted a market research project. It emerged that children are not reporting abuse because society at large is not speaking about abuse. The students developed strategies to address this issue, the result:

Mancane, (Start a Conversation) was born.

It’s all about mobilizing ladies in the community to speak to people in their communities about abuse. Problems exist and we need to be more open in society. So many people want to get involved and help. Something happens to somebody’s child and they think it’s a big shame, but it’s not a big shame. The shame is on the perpetrator not on the people that it happened to.

Monique Strydom, Founder of Matla a bana

80 percent of perpetrators are known to the victim and its often in their own homes

We’ve seen billboards, print and television campaigns, we’ve listened to radio commercials all tackling the subject of abuse, yet seldom has a campaign been as brave, immediate and targeted as "Start a Conversation".

Strydom recruited six women who were respected in their communities to tackle the subject of abuse. Each woman would spend her day riding in a taxi and would start a conversation about abuse.

We took a ride in the taxis encouraging people to talk about what was happening. It was very interesting. We are talking about different types of abuse: neglect, physical abuse and emotional abuse.

Indie Zakade, Facilitator for Mancane

Indie found that people were scared to talk about abuse for different reasons:

  • People are scared to report abuse lest they break up a family

  • The fear that reporting abuse could lead to isolation

  • Men feel discriminated against and are too scared to report abuse in case they are mocked

Abuse is abuse; it’s either a man a woman or a child. We need to report abuse in our community. We need to work together, men women and children and let us talk about things that are happening in our communities.

Indie Zakade, Facilitator for Mancane

The challenge of encouraging people to start a conversation

There were some rides when we talk about abuse, people would say, no this is not happening to me, but when you continue speaking to people you see they are lightening up, you reach out to them.

Indie Zakade, Facilitator for Mancane

Abuse is prevalent in all spheres of our community. Just recently former grand slam tennis champion Bob Hewitt had been convicted of two counts of rape and one of assault.

Strydom said there was denial in communities especially with white people in high-income groups.

Abuse doesn’t know race, it doesn’t know gender, it happens everywhere.

Monique Strydom, Founder of Matla a bana

Strydom went on to talk about high profile pornography cases where influential people used their work email to obtain pornography.

Don’t say it doesn't happen in my society.

Monique Strydom, Founder of Matla a bana

How do people react to her presence on the taxi? Zakade said that while at first people found it strange, they then began to listen and then ask questions.

Tackling this highly emotive topic in a controlled environment like a clinic or school is challenging enough. Boarding a taxi alone and launching into a discussion about abuse takes tremendous courage. Zakade gave a shout out to the taxi drivers.

I’d like to say thumbs up to the taxi drivers as they did engage with us and support us.

Indie Zakade, Facilitator for Mancane

Strydom acknowledged the fantastic job that Indie and her colleagues performed. The preparation for the project included a one-day intensive training workshop. The women wore branded T-Shirts and handed out flyers in the taxi.

Taking the conversation further

This is only the beginning. Strydom wants to employ the ladies as ambassadors in the areas where they live. They want to offer further training for the women which involves healing for the victims. “We want to get more Indies on the street that’s how we hope to engage the communities and bring change about in the communities.”

It’s about breaking the cycle; we want to get to the victim before they become a perpetrator.

Stanley, caller from Constantia

Strydom responded to the call by saying, “It’s a big universal problem especially with regards to the victim becoming the perpetrator.”

Start a conversation with the police

Encouraging people to report abuse is just one part of the strategy. The people taking their testimonies have to be receptive. Engaging with the police is something Matla a bana does a lot of.

“Last year we did training with the client service commander on victim sensitization focussing on the needs and expectations of victims,” said Strydom. In the event you do lodge a complaint and are chased away Strydom is adamant that you must insist on standing your ground.

“You can phone the station commander or head of the client centre, don’t listen to the bottom person who tells you that you can’t report. Don’t go away, you stand there and insist , it’s your right as a citizen of this country.”

It’s your right to both report and engage with the subject of abuse. Indie Zakade is proof of just how powerful it can be to start a conversation about the very subject that society chooses to mute.

Listen to the audio for more detail.

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