Changing the face of activism
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Michael van Niekerk is changing the way activism looks through his Instagram account, @Keeptheenergy, where he memorialises the lives and stories of victims of gender-based violence.
Van Niekerk, 23, a business journalist from Bellville, started the account in 2019, after Uyinene Mrwetyana, a fellow UCT student, was murdered.
The young activist said after she died, he recalled how heavy the atmosphere was on campus.
“It was so depressing. Many people were sharing how sad and angry they were online at the time. I felt helpless, so I thought that maybe I could start a page in remembrance of her and other women,” he said
The page is named after wanting to keep accountability and action regarding gender-based violence alive.
“I wanted to keep the energy going. I didn’t want it to die down after a month or two, which often happens in this country.”
Keep the Energy is only a few followers short of 100 000 on Instagram and has shared nearly 500 posts since 2019.
“The following shocks me. I remember how the page grew after the first week and to see this many people following the page is almost unbelievable,” he said.
“I’m glad that I’ve been able to keep it going for this long and have people engage with the page.”
His followers were surprised to see a man running an account, sharing the stories of women primarily."
“I wanted to remain anonymous, but when I received interview requests, I realised that I can’t hide forever,” he said.
Since 2019, Van Niekerk said it has been rewarding to commemorate victims for their stories.
“It has been rewarding seeing them remembered, but it's also been heartbreaking. Their loved ones will message me and share their stories, and share parts of their lives, which can be very intense.”
Van Niekerk said his goal for Keep the Energy is to continuously fight and raise awareness regarding gender-based violence against women, children and the LGBTQIA+ community.
“Many people, especially men, think that gender-based violence isn’t their fault if they didn’t do it and that they can’t do anything to change it,” he said.
He added: “By showing that women are still being killed and in really violent ways, that it is still a prevalent issue and there are things we can do to change it.”
“I want to tell the public that there has to be change.”
Van Niekerk has raised nearly R150 000 for the Saartjie Baartman Centre and the Frida Hartley Shelter.
“I saw they were struggling in lockdown and wanted to assist them. They have been immensely grateful after each payment.”
He also raised R80 000 for Radius Masukume in 2019, who was attacked and stabbed while rescuing a woman from being raped. There have been similar cases since.
Van Niekerk runs the account alone and also works with Alicia Sinclair, a lawyer in Johannesburg.
“She offers free legal advice to followers who need it. Victims often send messages to the page, saying they’ve been assaulted or raped and she assists them.”
The activist said in future, he would like to open a shelter.
“Opening a women’s shelter is a distant plan and right now I would like people to continue sharing the stories of these women.”