Mandisa Monakali, founder of Ilitha Labantu in Gugulethu. Picture: IOL

Cape Town - "I think God gave me a second chance so I could rescue other women like me," says Mandisa Monakali, the woman behind Ilitha Labantu in Gugulethu.

The organisation, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, provides face-to-face counselling for women and children and raises awareness and community mobilisation around violence against women and children.

Sis Mandisa, who grew up in Gugulethu, says she is herself a survivor of abuse. 

"In those days talking about violence against women was taboo, inside and outside our homes, nobody used to talk about it. It was a secret issue. And the woman who was kicked carrying a baby on her back and twins in her stomach, running from her house, knocking on neighbours' doors for shelter, lying in the street and people thought by the way the man kicked her, she may be dead, that was me 30 years ago.

"That's how I decided that if I could find myself in that situation what about an ordinary South African woman... because during that time I was an activist fighting for liberation, fighting to be free but not free at home."

She says starting Ilitha Labantu during Apartheid with the "country on fire" was scary because nobody wanted assist her. 

"Women who are in positions of power now used to ask me 'Why did you start this thing? Why are you talking about it?'"

But Sis Mandisa was determined and her organisation is still going strong in Gugulethu today. "We are the voices of the women who are out there who don't know what to do."

Video by Sandisiwe Ntlemeza and Jamal-Dean Grootboom. Music: www.bensound.com

Ilitha Labantu also feeds the community, not just their clients , and they have a transitional house - not a shelter, she insists, "we say women are in transition because they are moving on with their lives" - which is named after Struggle stalwart Dorothy Zihlangu.

A huge focus for the organisation is education about gender-based violence within the community, at schools and tertiary education institutions as well as educating local councillors and the police.

"We train police on front desk policy because they are the first ones to assist survivors. We train them to be gender-sensitive and the signs they must look out for. We were the first ones to create a comfort room in Gugulethu."

But she says the core function is counselling and support groups.

"This is an open centre where we also become an advice centre, and because of the nature of our work, we don't chase anyone away, no appointments necessary. And people are free to talk in their own language."

* Make a donation to Ilitha Labantu here.

IOL