Interview with Khanyisa Mabala

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Photo: Khanyisa Mabala

1. Where is your hometown? Where in Johannesburg do you live? 

I was born and bred in Port Elizabeth and I currently live in Midrand. 

2. How was life at varsity for you as a woman and how has that changed now as a professional?

Attending a well-diversified university meant that you would encounter individuals from all walks of life. You revel in people’s cultures and as you progress, you begin to adapt and establish womanhood that best defines yours; womanhood that equally reflects what you have been taught at home as well as through your experiences and those of your peers. Varsity life was just that for me. I love interacting with people, gauging; almost immersing insight into their experiences. It equipped me to do my own research and to establish my own footing. As a black woman studying towards a degree where we were only five women out of a class of 23 students in our honours year, required me to question whether the system was still in favour of institutionalised racism or whether women in the space lacked something? While I could not control both aspects, the latter is definitely introspection that I had to seek for myself. I graduated top of my class. The only individual to graduate with an over 75% average. It was not by a long-shot easy. Imagine-you write tests, exams and when you present you have to be 100% sure of yourself because quite frankly, no one else was. When receiving results, I’d often get asked: “What did you score on your exam?” and snarky comments like “Well, you got 80% and you probably studied two weeks for that? Well, I studied three days and got the same score” are comments burnt into the crevices of my memory. I could still hear the individual echo those words today. It was as if we were back in primary school and we were comparing who has built the bigger sandcastle. However, I learned very quickly and realised that the comments were the ones I needed to push me; the ones that enabled me to walk last across the stage alone to receive my distinction. I did not, however, walk alone but was supported by my family and continue to be to this day. The playground experience in the professional life, unfortunately, has not changed nevertheless. There are more than five out of 23 women in the playground and for that I am happy. Women who have strong voices, who push the envelope and inspire me to walk tall and be sure of myself. I am learning an immense amount through my professional career that being a black woman is like wearing a crown, it’s like walking across the stage alone, but in the end, you will receive your distinction. 

3. What’s your view on gender-based violence? What do you think should be done?

I will comment and I will define gender-based violence (GBV) for what it is. It is an immense human rights violation encompassed in patriarchy and shadowed and mostly justified by tradition, culture or sometimes both. It is what the word describes-violence. The violence that occurs as a result of an expectation associated with a particular gender as well the unequal and abused power between gender parties. GBV comes in many different forms including and not limited to: 

Domestic violence 
Sexual violence 
Structural violence 
Gender-based violence against women and girls 
Gender-based violence against the LGBTQ+ community 

Although, it is believed that GBV can only be identified between a woman and a man, it is imperative that as a South African and as an individual belonging to the greater society, we educate ourselves and recognise that gender-based violence can manifest itself in many different forms. It is first and foremost research. It is further notable to recognise that GBV is intrinsically more apparent in societies where violence is the narrative and where (in most cases) male superiority is preserved as a norm – a sense of entitlement over another person and the value of women is considered inferior. Furthermore, gender-based violence can be catalysed by derogatory social constructs, lack of social-economic support from the community as well as the South African government.

Although, the South African government has introduced mechanisms to combat and address GBV in South Africa, it is evident that we are as a nation are lacking in implementation. Legislation surrounding GBV in South Africa includes the Domestic Violence Act of 1998, the Sexual Offences Act of 2007 as well as the Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Human Persons Act of 2013. 

I believe in this regard that the policies in place are structured around a reactive and not a proactive approach. The policies need to be reviewed to address the underlying causes associated with GBV and consequently derive policies or amend existing policies to prevent as opposed to report. 

In addition, companies, the government, and the community at large must create more awareness on the topic and dedicate themselves to creating prevention programmes that are investigated and are evidence-based. It has become increasingly imperative that these programmes be structured on effective results, informed theoretical models, conducted research, successful pilots and more government interventions and involvement. 

4. Do you have any policies that protect women in your work environment, and do you think they are well placed?

While Nonku Ntshona & Associates Quantity Surveyors (NNAQS) is mandated to comply with and implement the above-mentioned acts, it is the primary responsibility of the company to ensure a safe environment for all its employees. We have created an open-door policy with management and have policies in place to ensure that all employees within the organisation are protected at all times. Policies include an empowerment policy that aims to employ and develop employees that are designated under the Employment Equity Act. In this regard, the company ensures that all potential employees and current employees are treated equally. There shall be no discrimination based on sex, colour, religion, sexual preference, age, handicap, or race as well as building a culture of equity and building upon the strength that diversity brings. Furthermore, a handling of sexual harassment policy that primarily deals with actions of sexual harassment within the organisation. Moreover, policy that highlights our corporate social responsibility, which aims to assist communities in need. 

The NNAQS organisation is intrinsically built on a sense of family. In this regard, it allows employees across all structures to engage with each other on a professional and personal basis. We realise that we spend most of our time together and found it important to create a protected and transparent work environment. The CEO, Mrs Nonku Ntshona, has established a safe space to consult with and schedule monthly meetings with each employee to establish their professional performance, their family life and to ensure that all is well with each member of staff. 

Consequently, we have created platforms whereby all members of staff possess the liberty to express their concerns as well introduce and suggest ways of improving the environment of the company. 

In light of the ongoing situation in the country, we realise that there is always more to be done and we have the very responsibility to ensure that we create awareness surrounding GBV and structuring programmes as well getting involved in projects that address the “other pandemic”.

5. How can NNAQS help to develop young women and also educate young men about the ills of GBV?

Currently, and as a part of the NNAQS empowerment policy, NNAQS aims to employ young women in the space. This comprises of mentoring young women to establish their strengths and nurture them within the organisation. Development of young women within the business entails presenting opportunities to these young women to work on projects with a mentor and eventually on their own, so ensuring that a sense of leadership is created and a space to grow is provided. 

The following can be done to educate young men about the ills of GBV:

·      How to deal with or express emotions and feelings (anger, frustration, anxiety, etc) rather than acting on them;

·      Responsibility; how GBV is a result of observational learning;

·      Defining gender roles;

·      Setting guidelines.

6. How do you think Covid-19 has impacted people emotionally for us to be experiencing more GBV cases? 

·      Feeling restricted or constrained (being unable to take a walk, exercise, travel etc);

·      Finances (people cannot use or access money that was paid in advance for services);

·      Worried about job security/anxiety (will I have my job once lockdown is over?);

·      Routine change;

·      Frustration (as a result of restrictions; no access to “luxuries”, inability to “feed their vices);

·      Flexibility;

·      Binging now that there is access to restricted items;

·      Adjusting to a new normal;

·      No freedom.

7. Do you think GBV is a South African issue?

According to the World Bank organisation (2019), 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence;

Globally, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner;
Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner;
200 million women have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres identified that it was becoming increasingly important to address GBV as it became apparent that the statistics increased precipitously during the lockdown period. The Secretary General expressed that in some countries the domestic violence numbers doubled during the period. 

In this regard, GBV is a global problem. However, South Africa records the highest statistics of GBV in the world. Police Minister Bheki Cele announced in a recent press release that a disturbing 2 320 complaints had been laid against GBV within the first week of the lockdown (Daily Maverick: 2020). The Daily Maverick further elaborates that this is 37% greater than the weekly average from 2019, which comprised of a total of 87 290 (reported) domestic violence cases.  

–       40% of South African women are raped in their lifetime 

–       8.6% of perpetrators are jailed 

–       The rate of GBV in South Africa is among the highest in the world

–       The South African police estimate that a woman is raped every 36 seconds

Unfortunately, it has become a question of when and not if. The Am I Next movement has brought awareness on GBV, however we all need to do more.