Cape Town - Scottish-born singer, activist and mother Annie Lennox issued a call to action on Wednesday, calling on all South Africans to do something to put an end to gender violence. She urged them not to be complacent.
During an interview in Cape Town to discuss her “Make it Happen” petition, Lennox said she felt compelled to respond to “something that is deeply troubling”, something that was being met with a “collusion of silence”.
The UNAids goodwill ambassador and HIV/Aids activist told the Cape Times that gender violence in South Africa was “off the scale”.
Her petition urges South Africans to fight fatigue and disillusionment and also to help anti-rape and gender advocacy organisations, many of which are struggling to remain afloat due to lack of funding.
“We need to create a tipping point of collective awareness and action,” it says.
She was not pointing a finger at people. “I am joining them. This is a plea to anyone with a heart to wake up and instead of asking ‘what can be done?’ say ‘what can I do?’.
Lennox - who became famous in the 1980s with her group The Eurythmics, which donated funds to the ANC during its exile years - said change needed to start at home among parents, at schools among teachers and beyond in the workplace and institutions of power.
On sabbatical in South Africa when teenager Anene Booysen’s rape and murder made headlines earlier this month, Lennox said she did not just feel angry, but distressed “with an awful sense of hopelessness”.
After reading the newspapers, she chatted to a cleaner, known to her only as “Bonny”, at the venue she was staying at in Cape Town.
“I was beside myself, and so was Bonny. Here we were, as women, as mothers, both outraged. We both felt so affected by it, and wondered: what can we do?”
Then she discovered that Bonny, who faces all sorts of daily struggles, still found the time to be a volunteer at Rape Crisis. “Bonny has so little yet she is helping her community.”
This was contrasted with so many others who adopted a passive attitude, saying “I am just doing my job”.
It is Bonny’s gesture of commitment that Lennox hopes to encourage in her campaign, which at the time of its official launch on Wednesday already had 79 signatories, including celebrity Charlize Theron and organisations such as Rape Crisis .
“These organisations have done tremendous work over the last few decades, it is ironic that now they are struggling to survive.
'I am asking people to either support them as Bonny does, with their time, or with their money.”
Lennox, who has campaigned against HIV/Aids since her first visit to the country for Nelson Mandela’s 46664 campaign concert in 2003, was also spurred into action after attending a silent vigil against rape in Cape Town after Booysen’s death.
Lennox, who has two adult children and who recently married Mitch Besser, a gynaecologist who runs the anti-HIV/ Aids Mothers2Mothers project in South Africa, has had an interest in the country since her teens when she first learnt of the system of apartheid.
Realising that she leads a “very privileged life”, Lennox’s mission is not as a “cause célèbre, but a call to connect”.
“South Africa has been exemplary in the world in terms of social change. Nineteen years down the line, you can look through onion layers of what is happening, and there is this epidemic of abuse.”
If these core issues were not addressed, “the ideals of the new South Africa won’t be fulfilled”.
Lennox returns to London on Sunday, aware that she “cannot close the lid that she has now opened” with her latest campaign.
“If you remain impervious to what is going on, there must be something wrong with you.”