'I was raped by someone who belonged to my church' - dozens hold vigil for murdered women

Relatives and supporters attended a a prayer service in Athlone on Thursday, in memory of some of the young women and girls murdered in recent weeks.
Relatives and supporters attended a a prayer service in Athlone on Thursday, in memory of some of the young women and girls murdered in recent weeks.
Tariro Washinyira

Dozens of people gathered opposite the Joseph Stone Auditorium in Athlone on Thursday night for a prayer service for the young women and girls who were murdered in recent weeks.

Those who were remembered were Denushe Witbooi, Meghan Cremer, Uyinene Mrwetyana, Jesse Hess, Leighandre Jegels, Janika Mallo and Lynnette Volschenk.

The event coincided with protests thousands of South Africans held, which started in Wednesday. A large crowd of people gathered outside Parliament for a second day of protests on Thursday, calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to take action. The protests continued on Friday.

In Athlone, mourning relatives, friends and supporters held candles bearing the names and photographs of the murdered women. Some messages and posters read: "Remembering our children", "Stop rape, murder" and "No means no".

During the service, people who had lost relatives as a result of violent crime, were called up for prayer. The families asked journalists not to approach them at the event.

Lynn Hill, a life coach and writer, shared her experience: "I was raped by someone who belonged to my church at the age of 15. I was brutalised to a point that the police thought a train had ridden over my face. Tonight, we are saying to those queens, beauties and daughters that their deaths have not been for nothing." Hill then recited a poem in memory of the murdered women and girls.

Caroline Peters has worked in the gender rights field for 30 years. On Thursday, she represented two organisations, Ilitha Labantu and 1000 Women 1 Voice.

"A year ago, one in four women was affected by violence, but now it is one in three women. The ages of rape survivors are also becoming younger and younger," she said.

One of the event organisers, Preston Jongbloed, said he grew up in Heideveld. A few years ago, his aunt was killed violently. He and his wife have been advocating against violence against women ever since.

Jongbloed recalled his eight-year friendship with Hess, 18, who was found murdered along with her elderly grandfather in their Parow flat last week. He said Hess had been involved in school camps and a human traffic awareness programme that Jongbloed runs at schools.

Jongbloed said they encouraged young boys to respect women.

"I am teaching my son that his mother, sisters, nieces or women around him are of value," he said.

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