This [article] is a prayer for us all, as witnesses and survivors, to step up and push through the fear that keeps us silent. This [article] is a prayer for hope, healing and responsibility. An offering of stories that will hopefully validate, inform and inspire dialogue and action. A calling for us to notice, whose manipulating [mental health] language to cover-up abuse? – Jai Dulani
Silence has worked for some of us. Very often silence has been our blanket of safety and survival against homophobic communities and families. For some of us, the closet has been our safe space against a world of oppressions that has sought to literally annihilate us. I begin with this perspective on silence to acknowledge the work of silence in our lives. Therefore it’s not surprising that as a community, silence has become our default setting.
But it is this experience of silence as safety that endangers our possibilities of creating a community in which we can create accountability in instances of abuse. There are people in our community who have used our default setting of silence to continue perpetuating instances of violence and assault without being held accountable. They know that they will not be called out nor will their incidents of abuse be known. They also know that those they abuse will not resort to the criminal justice system – the police and the courts – because those spaces are spaces of violent and abusive experiences even when you are the victim.
Mind your own business/ “ugenaphi” /Stay in your lane
And of course as we speak about silence, we have to connect it to trends external to the community. Although we’ve often used “mind your business” to speak out against homophobic/transphobic moments online and in our personal lives, the stay in line culture has a dark culture. Ugenaphi culture stops us from taking collective accountability when we see abuse or emotional manipulation. We fear being branded “nosey”/ “intrusive”/ “gossipey”. It is this culture that has allowed Obie Mavuso to abuse and assault multiple people in two different cities and communities.
In reality Obie forged friendships and networks which allowed her to avoid accountability. Additionally, I would argue, Obie has been allowed to continue to work in and with the community because of our collective silence. Which brings me to another phenomena that has allowed abusers to continuously get away with the most egregious behaviour Fave Culture
There are people in the community who, for various reasons are looked up to and held in high esteem. These people usually hide behind the cloak of respectability that comes with their activism.
One person who has flourished in multiple communities is Kumkani Siwisa, the organiser of #FBGO #ForBlackGirlsOnly. They have flourished in their activism even after they sexually assaulted a co-organiser during the first leg of #FBGO. They have flourished even after they have emotionally abused their partners & friends. They have continued to flourish in their activism without being called to account nor them acknowledge the emotional and physical harm they caused.
#FBGO was a historical moment in both Queer and cishet spaces. #FBGO was a space in which many Black womxn came out of feeling like their experiences had been acknowledged and given a safe space. And I would argue many after hearing the instances of abuse would have decided not to go to the event. It was too important, too powerful. It brought to visibility a group of people that have been historically and systemically rendered invisible. But the question was and remains, at what cost? At the cost of collective silence.
Silence can only erode the bonds of solidarity and community we seek to create. When victims see their perpetrators be held in high esteem by the same community that is supposed to be a safe space it can only continue to fracture the fragile bonds that already exist.
Building community accountability
So what now? How do we as a community begin to build community accountability that ensures that everyone feels safe? How do we ensure that victims feel supported and acknowledged? A simple answer is I don’t know. The work of building community accountability cannot be shouldered by a single individual. There needs to be continued dialogue and conversations that will hopefully give way to a future where we all feel collectively held by our own.
But what I do know is that accountability begins in making sure that the perpetrators within our friendship groups know that they cannot rely on our friendship as a spaces of silence that they can use to continue perpetrating their abusive behaviours. I have a few suggestions;
Call out that friend you know when they’re drunk consent gets “fussy” for them. Consent means – “Yes is a Yes” and everything else is a no.
Call out your friend who emotionally manipulates their partner/other friends.
Call out your partner who emotionally manipulates their friends.
Call out that organiser who uses their access to the community as a hunting ground.
Call out and give meaning to the experiences of abuse that victims do not know how to name.
Below are various resources and articles on understanding abuse and accountability. I hope these help start the conversations we need.
Community Accountability – ideas, actions, art, & resources for communities responding to & transforming violence
The Revolution Starts at Home (book pdf)
Critical Resistance/ Addressing harm accountability and healing
Helpline: 021 712 6699
Triangle Project is a LGBTI organisation which provides health and support services. Their services aim to “contribute towards the mental, physical and emotional well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people by providing quality health and support services to them, their families and dependents in a holistic manner that takes into account the full mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of people.”
Triangle Project also provides psychological services which are either free or at a significantly reduced price for LGBTI persons. Contact them on their helpline to find out about the services they provide.