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Day one: Rock Girls leave gangland in their rear-view

Last year, when a group of high school girls from the social change movement Rock Girls heard about the missing girls in Nigeria, they wanted to drive there themselves to go find them. Inspired by their desire to help, Rock Girls – based in the notorious gangland of Manenberg in the Western Cape – is taking girls on a series of road trips around South Africa. The movement uses group discussions, art, photography, film, and radio to create and inspire more safe spaces for young women in South Africa. Their first trip from June 12-15 went from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape with ten girls, accompanied by Rock Girls founder India Baird, to interview other girls living on farms and in townships about their lives, and document their stories through radio and film. The Mail & Guardian will be publishing a series of diary entries written by the girls about their trip.

Day one, 12 June

Kelly Petersen, Grade 10, Silverstream High School
I am glad that I am out of Manenberg since there has been a lot of violence and shooting. Last night I couldn’t sleep or really focus on my schoolwork because they were shooting too much and the police were patrolling but at the wrong places at the wrong time.  

Kelly, one of the founders of Rock Girl comes from a family of activists who are making Manenberg safer (Rock Girls)

I was afraid to walk to school but had to go take my English exam.  Finally … School’s out! Getting ready to pack and leave for the Rock Girl Road Trip. We were nervous waiting for the bus to arrive. A gangster was killed just an hour prior so everyone was jumpy. 

Finally, the bus turns up and we said bye to our family and friends. Suddenly, we were surrounded with police. Not just any police, the Metro police! They escorted us out and we felt very important! We were on our way to a long journey ahead of us. I fell asleep in the bus but I could hear the girls singing and dancing. Then o-o-o-ps, we had to stop because we had a flat tire! Oh no. It was at a place called Stormsvlier. 

The Rock Girls road trippers were given a police escort out of Manenberg. There have been shootings in the community every day for several months. Teachers, family and friends gathered to say goodbye to the girls and then dispersed quickly due to the violence. (Rock Girls)

As we were waiting for the bus to return, we saw people that lived there and we went up to them and introduced ourselves. We asked if we could interview them and they took us to their houses. They were eager to answer our questions. One couple has been staying there for 40 years and they have no kids together. The place they live in is very small and cosy for the two of them. 

We also met Irene Williams, 16 years old. She says it’s nice to live in that type of area because it’s quiet and peaceful. She goes to school in Swellendam and is currently in grade 11. Her favourite hobby is to be on her cellphone all day and when she’s done with school she would like to be a teacher.  She was shocked to meet us in person because she saw us on television and she said she felt quite proud of us.  

I also met Jolene Kalhy who is 22 and lives alone on the farm. She says it’s better to live here than Zimbabwe. In her house she has a single bed and a stove. Everything’s packed in her small house all in front when you enter, she also said that it’s safe to live there and nice because it’s quiet. She works at a restaurant nearby.   

We are finally at Montagu. Today my job was to be a journalist so I sat down to finish my writing. We are going to end tonight off at the fire and afterwards I’m heading to the bed cause I’m extremely tired after a long drive. Can’t wait to see what’s going to happen tomorrow or what’s ahead of me and the girls.         

Amaan Heuvel, grade eight, Leadership College
I live with my aunt, mum, sister, youngest brother, granny and my nephew. I was six when my parents divorced and we had to move in with my cousin since we didn’t have anywhere to live. Even at my age I worried if I should feel comfortable in someone else’s house or should I feel like I am intruding. 

Amaan Heuvel. (Rock Girls)

The next year we moved to Athlone and to Grassy Park thereafter. My mother got married to my aunt’s ex and I never liked him but I had to live with that because he put a roof over our heads. Now I am living in Manenberg in my granny’s house. It’s been three years since we moved to Manenberg and I am enjoying some of the good parts. The problem is not the people but the violence and the way the gangsters influence youngsters and are willing to kill anyone. 

Today, the Rock Girls left Manenberg to go on this adventurous trip. We will be traveling in an overland vehicle. It was nice to have the other Rock Girls and our parents to see us off. We are on our way to Port Elizabeth to meet other girls. It is already an experience we will never forget. 

India Baird started Rock Girls five years ago and I would like to say thanks for all she has done for us. Rock Girls have come a long way to get this far and we will continue to shine and try to make communities like Manenberg, Mitchells Plain, Hanover Park and many more that are violated, safer. On this trip, I want to discover what girls of different ages, races, communities, and difficulties, do to make life better. Us girls are concerned about these types of things and it is important that the world knows about places like these and how to help.

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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