Open letter to Jennifer Ferguson
Beloved sister Jenny, I have been deeply saddened by the disclosure of your rape. But I am encouraged by your brave decision to confront this painful experience with your willingness to explore and offer the process of mediation to your perpetrator as a way to healing and a means of finding closure. That this openhearted offer has been rejected speaks volumes.
You and I have journeyed for more than twenty years as friends and musical collaborators in the entertainment industry both in South Africa and abroad. Always a seeker of the truth, your political activism has played a huge role in championing this country’s liberation struggle. Your warrior spirit, artistry and ethics centered round “truth, transformational healing, human rights and justice for all are the elements that has shaped me as an artist and human being… and for this you have my deepest gratitude. This open letter to you is an affirmation of my respect and admiration for the journey of vulnerability and courage you have taken. I am here to express my support for you and the countless numbers of women, the silent ones and the ones who have lifted the veil of silence on their personal experiences of sexual abuse, knowing full well that the telling brings brutal scrutiny and disparaging judgement. Given your herstory and the sacrifices you and many others have made for this country, it is disturbing to know that there are people intent on destroying your credibility. I have chosen to speak out because remaining silent when the moral integrity of someone I love and respect is being attacked means being complicit in the act. But in spite of all this, the legacy of your work and what you stand for can and never will be destroyed because you have always navigated your personal and professional life in an ethical and authentic way. I continue to be inspired by the fact that many others see this and are rallying behind you too.
After listening to the various podcast interviews hosted by Karima Brown and Eusebius Mackaiser, reading the article by Rebecca Davis in the Daily Maverick and scanning through the negative comments on social media from both men and women in response to your disclosure, one unsettling societal demon has reared its ugly head, “slut-shaming”. It is being done to you; it was done to Khwezi and countless other women in multiple spaces across society and still this practice continues, sadly with many “sisters” joining the fray. It must come to an end.
In the court of law, a lawyer manipulates language and carefully selects words to build up or tear down a person’s moral fibre. Time has shown repeatedly with most rape cases tried in a court of law that inevitably the perpetrator’s lawyer will try to prove the woman’s culpability. It is done to apportion partial or full blame on the victim’s part for the rape and garner sympathy for the rapist, thereby surpassing the sexual predator’s responsibility for his actions. Even worse, society has taken its lead from the court of law and it has become the norm to probe the woman’s role in the act of sexual violence rather than interrogate the man’s predatory behaviour.
I have seen this happening with you. Social media’s response to your revelation has been rife with various negative speculations about your culpability. Firstly, questioning the timing of your disclosure and your readiness to speak only now. The insinuations are clear, that the lengthy time period taken by you for the processing of your abuse is seen as questionable, with a subtext intimating a hidden agenda on your part. This is where I consciously transform my dagger of rage and turn it into a fiery pen of action. What gives anyone the right to judge, what period of time is appropriate enough or not, for a woman to process her experience of violation? Each person comes to their healing differently and in their own time. Healing has no time constraints and will not be be dictated to. This is how the process of healing works.
Secondly, a direct comment about you having had a one-night stand was made. You and your ex-partner corrected this untruth. This is all good and well… but one cannot bypass the scary insinuation that the “one-night-stand” accusation carries? Are we meant to read or understand that “this perceived or real promiscuity” is a pretext for rape? The prejudice against women is alarming and the truth is we are always viewed as the guilty ones “asking for it”. These ‘fine’ examples have been used for ages as premise for sexual abuse eg. a) she was dressed provocatively b) she had a one-night-stand c) she said yes to his invitation for a drink. How can any rational person exploit these perceived biases as justification for the act of violence? And why is the investigative lens turned onto the woman and her character questioned, when it is the actions of the predatory man that should be under the glare of the spotlight?
I believe that religious dogma has played a huge role in skewering our perceptions of sexual freedom and it has perpetuated prescribed notions of permissible and appropriate roles for the different sexes. The effect of which perhaps has led directly to this unholy truth… society celebrates and encourages the sexual freedom of men while at the same time denounces and discourages the very behaviour in women. This sexist practice at play here is clear evidence of the imbalance of this sexual double standard? Perceived or real acts of promiscuity in men solicit the following indulgent response, “Oh he’s just being a man, he’s sewing his seeds”. But for women the disparaging comment is always, “she’s a slut, a whore”. Men’s actions are glorified. Women’s actions are condemned. This is how the ‘slut-shaming’ machine does its work. It destroys the reputation of the woman and rationalizes the crime. The narrative of rape-culture is such that it lays blame and shame at the woman’s door for her perceived moral culpability and subtly and insidiously solicits empathy for and absolves the man from his responsibility for the crime. So the wheels of justice turn, and men will continue to run to the patronage of the courts… for there lies their protection.
And then unbelievably, we still have the audacity to question why women hesitate or don’t speak up immediately and disclose gender-based violence.
So, how do we start to change this imbalance? How do we unlearn this pattern of victimizing women? We begin with ourselves. We begin by unlearning this biased inherited default position, accepted by many still today… that women will always wear the brunt of the blame when the violent crime of rape happens. With rape and sexual abuse against women and children in our country at epidemic proportions, it is time to question our thoughts and perceptions about sexual freedom pertaining to women and men. We must ask ourselves, “Am I biased in the way I view sexual freedom and the way I voice it in my social interactions”? “Do I view sexual freedom as a right for men only and not women”? “Do I pass judgement, with the weapon of words, on women I perceive to be sexually free or promisicuous”? Words are powerful tools used both for inspiration and destruction. At the core of every written and spoken word, is a direct arrow of intention that knows how to make its mark. We need to be mindful of the intention of the words we speak and write. We must take responsibility for the effect of the words we put out on social media and in different private and public forums, because they have the power to build or destroy real people.
And then, we need to look at direct and indirect ways we are complicit with our silence. We are complicit when we do not speak out when a friend belittles his wife in our company. We are complicit when we are confronted with domestic violence and say nothing. We are complicit when we do not challenge a friend, colleague or stranger when they slut-shame women. We are complicit when we do not challenge the principal who solicits sexual favours, from the young woman seeking permission to complete her matric exams at his night school, in exchange for admission. Complicity protects and strengthens the behavior of the perpetrator and those who protect him. Our silence and fear of rocking the boat is no longer a plausible excuse or an option. The truth is, we each have been complicit with silence, in subtle and overt ways in enabling the status quo of abuse. But now is the time to speak up for the things that matter and speak out against the things that do us and others harm. We each must take responsibility and effect change by speaking up in our homes, our schools, our places of work and places of worship, in spite of how difficult and challenging it may be. It is time to face our fears. Time to be brave and kill complicity by speaking out against the wrongs being done to us and to others…and more importantly speaking up for those who do not have a voice.
I join so many others in being here for you Jenny. We support you every step of the way. I make this vow to you that I will no longer be complicit with silence. Sending you and all warrior women love and healing as we journey this difficult road together.
Saturday morning I drove to Oasis in Lansdowne road and arrived early with refuse bags filled with recyclables on my backseat. At the recycling depot I joined a queue of five cars waiting for the gates to open. Sitting in the comfortable silence of the car it occurred to me that we are lucky we have depots that sort out our disposables. I must confess though that there are days when recycling seems like an extra unnecessary chore that I could do without. But… when I find myself sliding down that slippery slope of grudge and ungratefulness, this sobering fact always serves as a reality check, “running away from life’s responsibilities has never served anyone’. We need to open our hearts wider to the realisation that for every action there is a reaction, which we are responsible for. Let today be the day, we get that day and night, shadow and light, joy and pain, autumn and spring, are sides of the same coin that coexist with the other. Once we accept this as a part of life. It becomes easier to just get on with it and do what needs to be done. So when you party, you clean up. Take responsibility and sort out your mess. Put the refuse into the bins. Be mindful about not being wasteful and recycle what can be reused. Cultivate a conscious and responsible mentality. I see recycling as paying it forward. Take care of the planet and she takes care of you. Its all about yin and yan. What goes around, comes around. The truth is, it’s all about the conscious life choices we make and added to this the attitude of gratitude. So what am I grateful for? I am grateful for the fact I live on this wild and wonderful planet with its array of fabulous beings and nature. I am grateful to all who choose to love and care for this planet, our only home, by honouring everything living on it, through responsible action and paying it forward with the way we live our lives. My gratitudes are many.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone and everything you love. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand… Carl Sagan
Last Sunday I drove into the country side to visit a beloved. As I followed the winding road snaking though Dutoitskloof, the huge mountains swallowed me up. Luminous shades of greens, greys and browns swooped down from the mountainside washing my eyes with colour. The stark ragged outline of the escarpment cut deeply into the infinite stillness. And the azure sky looked on proudly from up high as though she was the creator of this exquisite scene. Lost in this surreal artwork I travelled the tarred road carved out by the heavy hearts and callused hands of men. I felt my heart swell with wonder, awestruck once again by the master sculptor who had created this range of beautiful giants. There is something about the majesty and magnificence of mountains that grabs one at the core. I felt both small and vulnerable and yet… another part of me blossomed boldly like the pink-faced proteas and danced with unrestraint like the silky silver-leaf trees in the breeze and I sensed a one-ness with all around me. Peacefulness buzzed gently inside me and a sense of belonging affirmed that I am in this mountain… and this world… just as it is in me. So just for today, I am grateful for eyes that see and ears that hear the muezzin call of the beloved, which draws us in again and again to experience the exquisite happiness of heart that comes with being held in the hearth of the mountain. Last but not least, I am thankful to all the nameless workers who built innumerable roads, through hills and valleys to gift us sacred passageway to our natural state of being. My gratitudes are many.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…” ― John Muir
I am glad that the 19th of October is here, marking your birthday. Happy Birthday brother. Today I am walking through the house of memory. I recall your smile as the singular key that could unlock a certain door in my heart. I remember your awkward hugs… and yes, I still miss them. Your calls from Joburg, filled with a big brother’s love, pride and concern for his younger sister, always made my day. So today I celebrate you Lee. I am grateful that I got to have you as a soul-sibling for forty years and for our shared life-experience with it’s strange and unexpected twists and turns. I am grateful that we got to walk life’s road together for a while, and that I experienced your love and you… mine. Since you left, many brothers have come into my life and are always looking out for me… and you know what, I can’t help but feel your hand in all of this. So thank you. But mostly I am grateful that you are my brother and that still your spirit unwaveringly breathes inside and watches over me everyday. My gratitudes are many.
“To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters.
We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts…”Clara Ortega
Right now I am in training as to how to manage my website and social media tools more efficiently. I love this learning curve. I am grateful to my fabulous teacher, Gareth Campbell, the graphic designer, creator and implementer of my website, for teaching me to be more web-savvy. Checkout his work here. I am thankful for work that comes in daily, which enables me to do what I love viz: teaching, performing and mentoring, writing and composing. To the community of creatives, and this circle is huge, who continue to inspire me daily through the sharing of your work, thank you for your continued dreaming through, song, dance, art, film and the written and spoken word. You make this planet an awe-inspiring and magical place to live in. Being human, I am aware that sometimes I may feel alone, but the truth is I am never alone on this journey. I am grateful that there are always fellow travellers opening new doors, pointing impishly to the unknown delights of roads less travelled, igniting my passion with a delicious glint in their eyes and sparking in me imaginative and fresh ways of being present to everything. Each one of you help me see the world anew and teach me how to take life one step at a time . My gratitudes are many.
Thespian Peter Hayes says, “I am here” walking in the arrow of time…
and that in itself is something I am grateful for.
Today is the start of my Gratitude Journal, thanks to Lorelle Bell for the nomination. I looked up the meaning of gratitude and the Oxford dictionary defines it as follows, “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness; recognition and acknowledgement”. The etymology of the word points to goodwill, thankful pleasing and grace. Now that ‘grace’ part got me interested , so I looked up the definition of grace and one of its meanings was,“a divinely given blessing”. I like that. It warms my heart to the possibility that when we engage with gratitude we bless others and are divinely blessed in our actions. On reflection, I have come to realise that gratitude is a conscious choice. So what are the pros and cons of engaging or not engaging with gratitude? Well personal experience has taught me that when I engage with gratitude by expressing it through speaking or writing, my spirit feels lighter, happiness finds me and instantly I feel more open to others and experiences the world has to offer me. When I do not engage with gratitude and consciously focus on the negative, heaviness stalks me, leaving me feeling shut down and closed off to everything that may come my way. The choice is ours to make… and I choose gratitude. Hmmm…what am I grateful for? I am grateful for the beautiful quote on gratitude below, written by the psychologist, writer and priest, Henry Nouwen. Last but not least I am grateful to every reader who I am able to touch through my writing and sharing. My gratitudes are many.
“The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have, is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. It is a divine gift, freely given to us so that we may offer thanks and share it with others.” – Henry Nouwen
Visit this site for more information about his work here.