WATCH | Cape Flats activist 'overwhelmed' after receiving prestigious International Woman of Courage Award

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  • Roegshanda Pascoe received the International Woman of Courage Award. 
  • She is the first South African woman to win the prestigious award.
  • Pascoe and her family are currently in witness protection.

She is currently in witness protection, but that hasn't stopped Cape Flats activist Roegshanda Pascoe from scooping the prestigious International Woman of Courage Award.

She is the first South African woman to win the award.

Roegshanda Pascoe at the awards ceremony in Cape Town.
Photo Supplied

Pascoe, 47, has dodged bullets for the better part of her life, having been the target of gang leaders after witnessing numerous killings in Manenberg.

As a result, she has gone into witness protection with her family.

Speaking to News24, the bubbly activist said she was still on cloud nine because of the recognition for her work.

"I'm overwhelmed with immense proudness [sic]. I, a woman from the Cape Flats, have been recognised internationally for my activism work. I still cannot believe it. It's a proud moment for my family and me. We needed this wonderful news," said Pascoe.

Pascoe received the call from Emily Shaffer, a political officer at the US Consulate General, a few days after her 47th birthday in September last year.

She was then advised that she had been nominated for the award.

ALSO READ | 'It was like in a war': Two children, one man wounded in separate shootings in Manenberg

"We nominated Roegchanda for the award because we could see that her work aligns well with our US foreign policy goals, namely promoting human rights, dignity and the equality of women. When a woman can participate equally, it is easier for us to achieve our foreign policy goals in all areas of policies overseas," said Shaffer.  

Pascoe has courageously advocated for peace, justice and economic inclusion in the Cape Flats.

Cape Town
Roegshanda Pascoe with United States Acting Consul General at the US Consulate General in Cape Town, Will Stevens.
Photo Supplied

Despite multiple attempts on her life, and continued threats from violent criminals, she continues to create safer communities, especially for women and children traumatised by violence.

The Western Cape's MEC for Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, congratulated Pascoe.

"I wish to congratulate Ms Pascoe on achieving the International Women of Courage award, the first South African to achieve this award in the global arena. As a human rights activist, she has alerted me to citizens' plight across the province since I joined their march from Parliament to the Castle three years ago. I wish her well as she embarks on the global exchange programme," said Fernandez.

Roegshanda Pascoe with Acting Consul General Will Stevens and US Political Officer at the United States Consulate General, Emily Shaffer.
Photo Supplied

Pascoe is the co-founder of the Manenberg Safety Forum, which started in 2009.

"When I received the call, I first thought they called the wrong person because these things don't happen to people like me. But then I got an email confirming I had made it to the finals in December. I think when I listened to the ceremony virtually from Washington on Monday, only then did it start sinking in," she said.

When she heard her name being mentioned on numerous occasions by various United States officials, Pascoe said it felt like "butterflies and fire" inside her - a moment, she says, she will never forget.

She said:

The work I do, as an activist, is no child's play. I am very vocal, and I won't back down without a fight. I'm a very courageous woman, and I stand firm in my belief as an activist - and, as long as I am breathing, I will make it my mission to bring about change in my community.

Pascoe said the award is proudly displayed in her house, and she smiles whenever she stares at it.

"My kids are proud, and that makes me happy. They deserve this award just as much because, at a young age, they had to be placed under witness protection with me when gunmen riddled our family home with bullets to assassinate me," she said.

Roegshanda Pascoe with her family as she holds the International Women of Courage Award.
Photo Supplied

According to Pascoe, the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime has been keeping them safe for the past few years at an undisclosed location in Cape Town.

When asked if she would ever move back to Manenberg, she said: "Nope."

"The memories are too painful. Looking at my house that still has the bullet holes is painful. My kids were shot at. I had guns against my head, and I dodged so many bullets in the area, it would be crazy for me to go back. I last went back a few years ago when my mom was diagnosed with cancer - but, even then, I went undercover for me and my family's safety," said Pascoe.

Pascoe and her kids went into witness protection in 2019 when she was the only witness to testify against the gangsters who killed people right in front of her eyes.

Pascoe said:

He was the Dixie Boys' gang leader. He was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment, but only spent three years in jail. He walked out a free man last year. That man arranged for people to kill me when he was in prison. He organised a gun and bullets meant just for me. It was horrible.

She recalled the last time she saw the man, who allegedly arranged her assassination, in court.

"I said to him, I forgave him. I knew his mother very well. I had to look at him and tell him I hold no grudges against him, for my own peace of mind. That was the last time I saw him alive," said Pascoe.

The alleged gang leader was subsequently gunned down in Manenberg over the weekend. 

"My phone hasn't stopped ringing when the news broke of his death. People in the area were happy he was dead. I didn't feel happy, that was someone's son, and I wouldn't wish death upon anyone. Only God knows why I'm still standing. I guess it just isn't my time yet," she said. 

READ | Eight killed in three days, as gang violence flares up in Manenberg, Western Cape

Police Minister Bheki Cele will be in Khayelitsha and Manenberg this week, amid an increase in crime in those areas.

"The minister will be in Khayelitsha on Thursday and Manenberg on Friday to engage with residents," the minister's spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, said.

Pascoe said she wanted to engage with the minister about the many deaths in the area.

"My kids are not happy that I'll be going. But I must show the minister what is happening in our area. He must know. We cannot sit in a boardroom to discuss the situation. He must see what our people are faced with daily," she said.

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