Healing the Violence against the Earth and Women

Healing the Violence against the Earth and Women

Lihle Mbokazi – photo by Casey Pratt

Women are the custodians of wisdom in the villages and they are the pillars of their families. The continuation of violence in mining affected villages is ripping apart families, communities and the Earth. With August being a month to celebrate women, this article is written in honour of the women of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) in Somkhele and Ophondweni, Zululand, who inspire us every day in the way they stand up for themselves and for their environment.

Through the years women have stood together with their communities, implementing good environmental sustainability for their children, practising traditions on the land of their forefathers. They participate in rituals, and the fields would produce good, healthy food, and their livestock was healthy because the grazing fields were ever green. They never ran out of water because the rivers were forever flowing. Women knew that land was their everything and that they were protecting their natural resources and the environment.

When mining comes to rural villages families are broken apart. Women are threatened and intimidated in their homes. Even Ward Councillors and Indunas knock at people’s doors demanding them to sign their land away. Cars drive up and down or park next to the gate of the women’s houses just to scare the family. There has been even shootings of many bullets into the windows. This is done to intimidate and to put fear into these women. Mines do not know and understand that the imbokodo (warrior women) of the community will never give up.  They will continue to defend their land until their last days.

In October last year a human rights and environmental defender, a mother, a sister and a grandmother was shot death in her home.  Fikile Ntshangase died because she was never afraid of telling the truth. Until this day the murderers have not been found. The violence has caused trauma and anxiety to women in the villages. They have lost trust and hope amongst the community. The women are now afraid when evening falls because they fear what will happen whilst they are asleep.

The mine has broken families – sons are fighting with their mothers because they want them to give away their rights to land in exchange for money. The communities are divided because some families have been convinced to sign away their land and they won’t be paid until everyone else does the same.

As a trustee of the Global Environmental Trust (GET), I helped to facilitate group counselling sessions to support women in Ophondweni.

In our counselling sessions we use the methodology of connecting the women back to their traditions, and to the ways that community people used to use to care for others (and still are able to care). For example, the Zulu culture used to have Indaba under the tree in the village with people being free to share, but not being forced to share their feelings and thoughts.

It is not everyone who is comfortable to share. Some people find it difficult to repeat what happened to them. People are encouraged to only share what they are comfortable to share. We create a safe space where people heal because healing takes place where there is no stress or anxiety, where people just feel free and let go of their fears in the short time that they are together. It is in sharing that people gain strength because they will know that they are not alone, that there are other people who are going through similar or even worse trauma than they are. We use the power of songs to bring healing to women we work with. Singing and dancing, drama and drawing are used to help them. The feelings shown in their drawings when they first start the process and then in their drawings at the end of the process help people see their own progress. Singing and laughter is an important tool. When people are able to joke and laugh together, it brings a lightness that is connected with the positive and diminishes the trauma, acknowledging that life goes on.

Kadima! Forward with the spirit of all women in the front-line defending the environment who are no longer with us, and those that are still with us – the struggle goes on. Thank you all. Mbokodo!

Happy Woman’s Day to all the women of MCEJO.