Dear Parents, Guardians, Staff and Girls
ST JOHN’S D.S.G.: END-OF-TERM NEWSLETTER
Un-silence the Violence
Uyinene is not dead
I saw her in the crowds
her silence was so loud
we could all feel it
(Nonhlanhla Siwela, Grade 11)
The above are words were written following the much-publicised rape and murder of UCT student, Uyinene Mrwetyana, earlier this month. We recently received two eloquently written open letters from recent old girls studying at UCT, telling their painful stories. These letters challenged me (and others) to make a strong stand of absolute zero tolerance towards any form of abuse, victimisation or violation of women or children in any way. It is time to ‘un-silence the violence’ by speaking out, in the interests of all women and girls in our community, and country. In this newsletter I will quote these two courageous young women extensively, to share their powerful messages, and challenge our community. I encourage you to read Bethany and Alinaswe’s full letters, which are available on our website.
Bethany Long matriculated in 2017, before moving to Cape Town. She states, “I’ve never seen a city erupt with such empathy, indignation and frustration until now. It took the brutal rape and murder of a fellow student for, not only the university or city, but the entire nation to take notice of the violence that occurs on a daily basis. That is how it seems to work in this world: we don’t pay much attention to the misfortunes of others until they come uncomfortably close to us.” She states that at school, “the topic of rape was brought up occasionally and I often thought about it in a very detached manner. Yes, the idea that I could possibly be raped entered my mind often but to me, these things did not happen to people like me. Not only did I wrongly stereotype victims of rape but I also extended this thought to the rapist themselves. I imagined a rapist to be someone who I would be able to point out as a rapist.”
She then describes her brutal discovery that the possibility of rape is never far away: “Perhaps I was slightly younger than most when I discovered this. I was 16, drunk at a party when a young, white, Afrikaans male decided to use such an opportunity to violently rape me. I did not utter a word of what happened to anyone for months. I think of myself at that age and constantly question why I could not approach anyone. Perhaps for multiple reasons but the first and foremost being that I felt incomprehensibly guilty about it. I felt guilty because it was such a filthy act; one that I did not want anyone to imagine my body experiencing. I felt guilt because I was drunk and ‘did I not inflict the situation onto myself?’ The answer is of course no and anyone from an outside perspective would be able to see this. but a rape victim does not. It is not enough to talk about rape as if it only happens to ‘others’. The reality is that in order to combat this, we need to break our silence on such topics.”
Alinaswe Lusengo, Senior Boarder Prefect in 2018, wrote, “I don’t really know how to write this, which for me is quite telling. Today, while I was in Economics I heard the news that a friend of mine – Uyinene Mrwetyana – had been raped and murdered after the news of her disappearance broke out last week. She had gone to the Post Office to collect a parcel when this happened to her. The perpetrator was an employee at the Post Office. She had done everything ‘right’. She had shared her Uber trip location with a friend, was not wearing anything ‘provocative’ (as if that means anything) and was merely running an inconsequential errand. An errand that ended in her death. She was 19 years old, a first year student majoring in film and media and had gone to a boarding school in the Eastern Cape. When I describe her like this, I realize it could have easily been me – or any one of the girls at St John’s. I cannot even tell you how many times I have gone to that Post Office or walked on that same road by myself.
I am writing this to you because our girls are unsafe. And I am worried sick about every single woman in this country. In a country with the highest rate of femicide in the world where a woman is murdered every four hours, there is a war against our bodies and we have to fight back. I keep asking myself how we got to this point as a nation but I don’t know what else to expect from a country whose last President was a rapist. The State has been complicit in gender-based violence and even continues to perpetuate it which is why I need my school to be raising leaders who are going to change this. Lastly, I want to tell our girls to never tolerate the discomfort that comes with the male gaze. I know how intensely rape culture manifests at the same-sex schools nearby and I have memories flooding in of times when I or a friend was inappropriately touched or grabbed at a party. Or how many conversations I heard that objectified us and made us out to be sex objects for their consumption. Just recently, I heard about a boy who used to go to a prestigious same-sex school encourage his friend to get a girl he liked drunk and ‘strike when she’s out’. These are the behaviors that contribute to a society that allowed Uyinene to be raped and murdered and they are behaviours that are all too familiar. Confront your male friends about this. Call them out when they make you feel uncomfortable. Those who stay silent are just as complicit as the perpetrators. As women, we cannot afford to stay silent because our lives are on the line. I am out of tears as I mourn for Uyinene and every woman before her.”
I am most grateful to Bethany and Alinaswe for speaking out, in the interests of all women in this country, and for allowing us to share their stories with the community. This past week Police Minister, Bheki Cele, revealed that reported sexual assaults in our country had risen alarmingly to 52 420 in the year ending in March. This is unacceptable by any standards, especially when only 7% of reported rapes end in convictions. We need to rebuild morality, and it starts with our own community. Please use this opportunity to initiate discussions with your daughter/s about their safety, in a caring and safe manner, appropriate to her age. Please also share this with your sons, brothers, husbands and other men in your lives, to ensure that we make this a meaningful stand together. It is simply not acceptable to objectify or sexualise women in any manner, or to encourage inappropriate attitudes or opinions. We will take up the challenge at school by talking more openly about these real threats, arranging additional talks for girls, and trying to break the cycle of violence, which stems from broken families and communities. We must strive to rebuild trust and sound values where we can, and hopefully educate girls to be strong enough to take a stand as brave young leaders such as Bethany and Alinaswe, and effect change in the world.
I challenge all men in our community to join me in making a stand together today (as invited earlier this week) at 12:00 on the Gym Hall lawn, for a walk around the school in a silent protest against gender-based violence. This is in solidarity with all who are serious about speaking out against this unacceptable violence. This protest will be a declaration of support for the innocent, and a ‘zero tolerance’ stand from good citizens, who have had enough. It is time for serious action against criminals by authorities, who are often apathetic and disinterested. We cannot only be fuelled by anger, as this can make the situation worse. The solution is rather to increase awareness through speaking out, to stand firm against offenders, and ultimately to pressurise government into action. My wish is not to teach girls to distrust men, but for men and women to stand united together in our community against criminals, and not to be afraid to make a peaceful yet strong statement in support of all women in our country. Any women and girls in the community who wish to join us are welcome to do so during the latter part of our protest walk, so that we can end in unity in Harwin Road, united in a courageous, yet firm stand. I hope to see many of you there.
Another old girl, Katy Lund (2018), has set up a ‘Guard Our Girls’ project set up in response to the recent outcry against gender based violence. Her aim is to bring constructive action in an effort to enable the women of South Africa to feel safe. She plans to achieve this by providing women with pepper sprays to defend themselves in the face of violence. As South Africans we have Constitutional rights to be ‘free from all forms of violence’ and to be ‘free from all fear’; and as South Africans we believe it is our duty that each and every one of us is afforded these rights. Starting with the community of women in Khayelitsha, we ask for your help to transform the nature of our country. Should you wish to contribute towards this initiative, please pay your donation into our school Nedbank Bank account: details are as follows:
St John’s High School Trust Nedbank Current Account
Account No. 1165 996 340 Reference 9150/010
I am pleased to inform parents that Mrs Anneleen Pillay has been appointed to teach in the Afrikaans Department from January, 2020. Mrs Pillay is a very experienced teacher, who has previously taught at Carter High School and who is currently teaching at GHS.
Mrs Andrea Stopforth from Carter High School has been appointed as Consumer Studies teacher from January, 2020. Mrs Crosson will continue as Head of this department, in a part time capacity.
Mrs Lyndal Robertson (Sports Department) has left St John’s D.S.G. and we thank her for her enthusiasm and commitment to the school during her time here. We wish her all the very best for the future.
Mrs Colleen Raciborski (Life Sciences) has resigned and will be leaving us at the end of the year.
Congratulations to Ms Sondra-Marie Grobbelaar on her marriage to Natali.
Congratulations to the girls have been elected to serve the school as Prefects in 2020. The following have been appointed as Prefects: Josephine Burczak, Mia Chetty, Ntando Dube, Michelle Eglington, Mikaela Howard, Fiona Huggins, Payton Kilgour, Georgina Louw, Aphiwe Madondo, Siphosethu Masondo, Jasmin Narasimulu, Nonhlanhla Siwela, Hannah von Benecke, Reagan Walsh, Emmi Wood and Brianna Zartmann. We wish them well as they take up these leadership roles.
Parents’ Association fund-raising: Raffle Books
A Raffle Book will be enclosed in your daughter’s report envelope. This annual Raffle is conducted by our Parents’ Association which contributes towards the niceties in the school, e.g. air conditioning. Please encourage your daughter to sell tickets to family and friends during the holidays. There are wonderful prizes to be won, as well as incentive prizes for each class this year. Details of the incentives are on the back of the tickets. Boarders, please bring your Raffle Book back after the holidays. The deadline to return the books to Mrs Heather Evans is 18 October. If Raffle books are not returned, R200 will be charged to your account. The draw will take place at the Parents’ Association 100 Club on 30 October.
In conclusion, I would like to, once again, thank all members of the community for your support and time given to the school. We look forward to a busy Term 4, and are very positive about prospects for 2020. I wish all families a relaxing holiday.