Faith Leaders Unite in Historic Declaration against Gender-Based
Violence and Femicide at Benoni Summit
November. 16, 2023
Johannesburg, South Africa – The Faith Action to End Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Collective, after
months in the making, finally unveiled their Interfaith Joint Statement of Commitment and Signature
Campaign on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) at a conference held in Benoni yesterday.
The event, titled “Interfaith Movement for Sustained ACTION to END Gender-Based Violence and
Femicide,” took place at the Emseni Centre in Benoni. It was a ground-breaking mobilisation
campaign within the interfaith sector, serving as a day of commitment and a platform for shared
learning and mutual support.
The Joint Statement of Commitment and Signature Campaign, drawing faith representatives from
Islam, Hinduism, Baha’i, African Traditional Religion, Judaism, Buddhism, Brahma Kumaris, and
Christianity, marked a significant step in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide.
This diverse collective, representing critical structures from each faith, has united to support the
government-initiated National Strategic Plan to End GBV and Femicide, thereby contributing to a
comprehensive and inclusive approach to this pressing issue.
The unity prayer, led by Dr Fikile Vilakazi, Director of the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the
Western Cape and Founder of the Ikhwelo Healers Collective, encapsulated the collective desire for
change and healing. Her powerful words, “O my God! O my God! Verily, I invoke Thee and supplicate
before Thy threshold,” called for divine support in uniting hearts and spirits against gender-based
Dr Vilakazi’s message was clear: ““We are wounded people; we need a revolution of love; let’s be
the voice of that revolution.” This declaration captured the essence of the collective’s mission. She
highlighted the urgent need to address spiritual violence within the faith sector, specifically the
abuse perpetrated by trainers (oGobela) against initiates, including instances where initiates have
been raped in the name of their ancestors. Emphasising a vision for the future, she declared the
possibility of a world free from gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), underscoring the
collective’s commitment to making this vision a reality.
Ms. Daniela Gennrich, Coordinator of the We Will Speak Out South Africa (WWSOSA) Coalition’s
Secretariat to the Faith Action Collective, spoke of a new beginning. Emphasising the gravity of the
situation in South Africa, she stated, “The prevalence statistics of gender-based violence and
femicide show that we are a country at war with ourselves.”
Gennrich emphasised, “This campaign isn’t just another fleeting trend; it’s about igniting a passion
for real change.” She highlighted the stark reality of gender-based violence in South Africa, noting,
Dr Vilakazi’s message was clear: ““We are wounded people; we need a revolution of love; let’s be the voice of that revolution.” This declaration captured the essence of the collective’s mission. She highlighted the urgent need to address spiritual violence within the faith sector, specifically the abuse perpetrated by trainers (oGobela) against initiates, including instances where initiates have been raped in the name of their ancestors. Emphasising a vision for the future, she declared the possibility of a world free from gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), underscoring the collective’s commitment to making this vision a reality.
Dr Nontando Hadebe, an African Feminist Theologian and the International Coordinator for Side by Side, evoked a ‘Kairos Moment’ signifying ‘the right, critical, or opportune moment’ at the interfaith event, referencing the significant 1985 Kairos Document. This document, crafted by black South African theologians from Soweto, was a pivotal theological response to the apartheid regime. It embodied contextual and liberation theology, resonating globally in Latin America, Europe,
Zimbabwe, India, and Palestine.
Dr Hadebe emphasised the urgent need for action, drawing parallels with the Sankofa bird to
symbolise the retrieval of unity from the faith action against apartheid. She highlighted, “It is time to
transform, dismantle and replace,” acknowledging the ongoing journey towards gender justice. Her
appeal for inclusivity extended to inviting men, who are not all perpetrators, and including the
LGBTQ+ and disability sectors, reinforcing the commitment to a diverse and inclusive approach.
Prof. Fatima Seedat, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of African Feminist Studies at
the University of Cape Town and Co-Director of the Centre for Contemporary Islam, has emphasised
the critical importance of addressing GBV with utmost seriousness in society. She highlighted that
effectively tackling GBV is unattainable if those working in the field, whether in the faith sector or
more broadly, are required to do so voluntarily. Prof. Seedat advocates for sustained action to
eradicate GBV, stressing the necessity of dedicated “time and energy” to this crucial issue.
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches and Retired
Bishop of the Ethiopian Episcopal Church, equated the battle against gender violence to running a
marathon, emphasising the need for reinterpretation of sacred texts.
He stressed that winning this
battle requires the right ‘gear’, comparing proper running shoes to creating a conducive
environment for activism and a hydration pack to maintaining perseverance. His critique of
patriarchy highlighted its role in hindering humanity’s full potential, as it subjugates women.
Drawing inspiration from interfaith leaders who stood against apartheid, Bishop Mpumlwana called
for a united front in this enduring struggle, symbolised by essentials like the right shoes, hydration,
and first aid, akin to Thuthuzela Care Centres.
Meanwhile, Mr Mlingane Poswayo, Director of the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs, emphasised the
genderless nature of our souls, underlining the importance of united action in faith. He stated, “Faith
without action is meaningless,” highlighting the necessity for a unified voice within the faith
community. Poswayo praised the unveiling of the Joint Statement of Commitment and Signature
Campaign, terming it a “success in itself.” He also called for humility, criticising the ‘holier-than-thou’
attitude prevalent in some faith circles as counterproductive.
This event marks a pivotal moment in the history of faith-based activism against gender-based
violence in South Africa. The collective’s commitment to combatting GBVF transcends religious
boundaries, underscoring the power of unity in addressing societal challenges. The Faith Action to
End GBV Collective remains dedicated to this cause, advocating for change and healing across all
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Award winning South African columnist, journalist and author, Bhekisisa Mncube