My name is Noluthando Gwelani from a rural area of Mabehana village in Mqanduli from South Africa. I am a woman with disability, but this did not stop me from fighting for vulnerable communities. I am a human rights activist (paralegal) working for a community-based organization called Mqanduli Community Advice Office – an organization that is serving the rural areas of Mqanduli and other surrounding towns such as Elliotdale, Libode and Nqgeleni. Our work is about human rights education, advocating for access to justice and defending women and children’s rights. My job involves empowering communities on human rights issues, giving advice, doing case work, client interviews and counselling and financial management of the organization. The organization empowered me as I attended many trainings including Training for Transformation (TFT).
Challenged by Systems
Prior to our democracy South Africa was ruled by a minority apartheid government until 1994 when it became a democratic country. Homelands were created and grouped along tribal lines. The area where I work used to be the former Transkei homeland – set aside for Xhosa people. Despite our democracy, the homeland system is still haunting this area. The patriarchal system is still entrenched. The villages are governed by traditional leaders who make decisions on behalf of the community. Women are not part of any decision-making processes regarding the community. They may not ask for land unless they are accompanied by their husband or a male person from his family and they are still responsible for tasks like carrying water and fetching wood. Gender based violence is very rife despite some laws that have been put in place. When we do outreach programs and run information sessions, we have to go find the women because they are not allowed in the kraal where gatherings take place.
The Covid-19 Pandemic
During the lockdown people were staying in indoors. Gender based violence increased and we found that men would be triggered by petty issues such as a wife reading messages on her husband’s phone. We assist with these cases by providing counselling and referring them to the police for a protection order that states that if the abuser shows certain forms of violence, the police can be contacted to arrest such a person. In addition to doing more referrals, we also focused more on immediate relief by providing families with food.
Applying TFT At Work
The training that I received from TFT empowered me to be more confident and opened my mind to understand the importance of fighting for human rights. I applied approaches and strategies for example the listening survey and deep listening in trying to help my communities. The skills of writing and listening I learned at TFT enabled me to take statements from the clients clearly without the help of my senior.
The Listening Survey has assisted me and my organization in making sure that I learn from the people’s experience. I do not come up with the solutions for people; instead they seek for their own solutions. One example was a community that was complaining about a lack of water in their village. After the ward councilor did not assist them, they went to the District Municipality to lodge their complaint before going to the office of the Public Protector. All they needed from us was a letter to confirm that we were aware of the problem. The case is still ongoing.
There are five projects that are operational and one pre-school. We have been able to assist around 15 women to establish vegetable growing projects, crop growing and poultry projects in communities to generate income. The women are able to buy groceries for their households. It has helped with the reduction of hunger and malnutrition because they eat fresh vegetables from the garden.
I appreciate the training I got from TFT – it has capacitated me to do more for my communities and for the organization. TFT training gave me some knowledge on how to tackle complex cases and community development issues. We say people must start doing something where they are (small projects).