Deputy Social Development Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu File picture: Phill Magakoe/African News Agency (ANA)
As South Africans commemorate the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence from Monday, it will be after a bruising year which saw struggles faced by women and children propelled to the very top.

It is a year when the country stood united against the scourge of GBV following a spate of high profile rape and murder cases that left women asking themselves if they were the next victims.

Social Development Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu has been on all sides of the coin as a GBV victim, a survivor, an activist and a policymaker.

For her, making a difference during and beyond the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV goes beyond the call of duty of her ministry.

“My life, my experience, my journey, and everything I’ve gone through, informs the way I do my work. Gender-based violence is very close to my heart,” says an emotional Bogopane-Zulu while recounting her rape ordeal 29 years ago, resulting in her conceiving her first-born daughter.

The incident happened when she was a pupil at Filadelfia Secondary School for the visually and hearing impaired and physically challenged learners in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria. A teacher repeatedly raped and impregnated her. The school protected her assailant and expelled her, and her disappointed father refused to believe her.

Bogopane-Zulu vowed to fight and make a name for herself and a difference in lives of young girls and women who found themselves in similar situations.

“I’ve always been an active girl, always had big dreams and believed in myself - whether it’s something that God gave me in abundance or it’s wisdom that my grandmother instilled in me,” said Bogopane-Zulu, who was born blind and learned to be independent from an early age since she had to be away from her family, which she was attending boarding schools for children with special needs and getting medical treatment.

A mother of three daughters - two of them born blind due to a genetic condition - she is fiercely protective of women in the same way that her grandmother protected, loved and supported her to reach for her dreams.

As an activist and politician, she held on to her empathy and used the platforms presented to her to raise awareness of GBV and rights of people living with disabilities.

When the global campaign kicks off tomorrow, Bogopane-Zulu says she will be spending time with 100 young women, especially as vulnerable women are the ones who become victims of abuse and stay in abusive relationships for economic reasons, for a plate of food and believe they don’t have anywhere to go.

Her mission is to motivate them and then empower them to reach for their dreams.

Bogopane-Zulu says she is also focused on the boy child, so he can grow to be a better man. “I am investing in boys by focusing on would-be perpetrators,” she says.

Sunday Independent