Mothers pit prayer against killings
A haunting choral rendition of the Lord’s Prayer floated across Soweto’s Mofolo Park last week.
In the bracingly cold open field, next to a reed-covered stream, hundreds of women sang, hands held aloft in supplication. Although they usually hold their monthly prayer sessions in church halls, for this particular mass prayer, they chose an open-air location because “we want God to hear our prayers better — to hear us properly”.
The venue was also chosen because “our children are always dumped in places like these, these open veld areas”.
It was a little more than a month prior that the body of Lerato “Tambai” Moloi was found along a railway line in Naledi, Soweto. Her trousers and underwear at her ankles, her head covered in rocks, Moloi — a lesbian woman — had been raped, murdered and dumped in a field. A field not unlike Mofolo Park, where stark, silent trees are horror’s only witnesses.
Moloi’s body was found on Sunday May 14, a day on which mothers, children and families celebrated Mother’s Day. But there was to be no such celebration for Moloi, her mother or her family.
The discovery of her body stirred these mothers into action. They belong to the nonprofit organisation Dorcas Women in Action, made up of elders representing more than 60 churches in Soweto.
“When we found out that a member of the lesbian community — one of our children — had been killed and dumped esporoweni [at the railway tracks], we went there and we prayed. We prayed for God to stop these killings,” says Dorcas’s president, Nokwanda Qomoyi.
“Hallelujah abomama,” says a speaker addressing the 300 seated women, many with walking sticks resting patiently against their chairs and blankets on their laps or neatly draped over slouched shoulders to fend off the Highveld cold.
“We are here today to pray that adults stop raping our children; that they stop killing our children,” the speaker continues. “Gays and lesbians are our children. We’ve come here to pray for their plight.”
Thabisile Msezane is the co-ordinator of church women in Gauteng for the South African Council of Churches and one of the organisers of the prayer session at Mofolo Park. For the past few years, she has been lobbying church leaders and other mothers for greater acceptance of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI).
Less than a week after the mass prayer at Mofolo Park, Msezane and four other church elders went to the Protea Magistrate’s Court, where the two men accused of killing Moloi appeared.
“These killings have to stop. And the voice of the church — especially at a national level — has been absent,” says Msezane.
Undertaking to do what she could in her personal capacity to foster acceptance, Msezane initiated dialogues between members of various LGBTI communities, leaders and mothers of queer children.
“The funny thing is I started those dialogues before I found out my daughter is gay. But I always say God prepares you,” she says.
Although difficult to execute, the first of these dialogues was “a rich experience”.
“We had people speaking of their personal experiences. We had lesbians tell us of how they feared walking down their own streets; how walking down those streets with their mothers who accepted them was difficult, because people would point at their mothers and mock them.
“We had Eudy Simelane’s mother talk of the pain of having her daughter raped and brutally murdered.”
Simelane, a Banyana Banyana midfielder and lesbian rights activist, was raped and murdered in 2008. Her body was dumped in an open field in KwaThema.
“It was hard to hear some of those things, but ...” she says, trailing off.
It is not only lesbians or women in South Africa’s townships who are subjected to violence or the threat thereof.
An average of 109 rapes were reported to the police each day in South Africa between April and December 2016, according to the website Africa Check.
It added that, because these are only reported cases, “the Institute for Security Studies warns that the rape statistics recorded by the police cannot be taken as an accurate measure of either the extent or trend of this crime”.
Rikky Minyuku is a member of Sizimbokodo’s working group. The national initiative aims to end violence against women, children and other marginalised groups.
Addressing the women in Mofolo Park, Minyuku says: “We all live in fear. Even me in my suburb, driving in my car, I live with that fear. Every morning I ask myself whether I will make it home that evening.”
Minyuku reminded the attentive gathering of God-fearing women of the role the church once played in helping bring apartheid rule to an end.
“When church leaders led marches calling for peace in South Africa, women and children stood there, on the streets, calling for peace. And that call for peace is what our Constitution is built on. We have a power.” This remark was greeted by a chorus of hallelujahs.
Her reminder has a poignancy to it, given that it was in Mofolo where the Pan Africanist Congress’s anti-pass campaign began. In 1960, Robert Sobukwe left his house in Mofolo and marched to the Orlando police station with a small group of followers in tow, most of whom were arrested.
Later that day, in what was a peaceful protest, 5 000 people marched to the Sharpeville police station; 69 of them were killed by apartheid police.
Following the same principle of peaceful protest, Qomoyi says: “We are women of prayer. Prayer is our only weapon.”
Whether this figurative weapon will succeed against the literal weapons used daily in the killing of women and children remains to be seen.
As I left Mofolo Park — their song “Siyabonga Baba, Siyabonga Jesu, Usithethelele” gently ushering me away — the nonbeliever in me wondered how, if the sound of their
song barely covered the expanse of that park, it could ever reach the
ears of the God they prayed to.
Still, I left Soweto believing — hoping against all hope — that their God would hear their prayers. And on that one day we could all finally say, as they had sung: “Thank you Father, Thank you Jesus, you have forgiven us.”
Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian