South Africa continues to be one of the most dangerous places for women to exist. Having extremely high numbers of gender-based violence and rape cases, women are living in fear every day. Now, a survivor is speaking out in the form of a protest.
Reverend June Major, an Anglican priest from the Cape Town Diocese, has gone on a hunger strike, as she continues to fight for justice for herself and other victims of rape and gender-based violence (GBV). The hunger strike began on July 1.
Major was allegedly raped by a fellow priest in 2002 at Grahamstown Seminary. Despite reporting the rape to the SAPS and to the Church authorities her rapist continues to minister to congregations and justice has not been served, according to a press release.
“For years I thought it was attempted rape, because the police officer told me that the charge is attempted rape, as he did not ejaculate inside of me. I no longer believe that lie. It was rape, as he penetrated me,” she said in a Facebook post.
Four years ago, in 2016, she went on a hunger strike in response to the Church’s silence on her case. Not much success came from this protest, and Major says that fellow priests were forbidden from making contact with her thereafter.
Now, she is on another hunger strike “in a bid to break through the silence from the Church”. According to the press release, Major will only end her hunger strike if Archbishop Makgoba meets with her.
Major says that while the Church has made responses to GBV, for example by sending condolences to the family of Uyinene Mrwetyana, and by launching the “We Will Speak Out South Africa” campaign, Archbishop Makgoba has yet to engage with her about her case.
“It is four years later and I’ve suffered tremendously. From homelessness, to living in a shelter, to being beaten up and held at gunpoint, tied up, etc,” she said on Facebook.
“I’m calling on you, my tribe of sisters, to stand with me please. I don’t expect you to go on hunger strike with me. I am asking for your support, to help me make a noise, to get my message out there. Many were afraid to stand by me because I’m taking on the Anglican Church, a huge institution. But it is also an institution that has covered up the rape and abuse of women and boys for decades,” she explained.
In another post, she explains that she is making her story public because by standing up for herself, she is standing up for all women.
At first, she remained silent on the topic. “For years, I kept it all inside. You are told to not talk about such things. Also the shame that is attached with being raped, feeling dirty; so I kept quiet,” she said.
However, after realising that there are many others just like her, who were afraid to speak out, she decided that something had to be done.
Every day thus far, she has documented the experience of her hunger strike on a dedicated Facebook page.
On day one, July 1, she said: “I’ve received so many messages from women and men, sharing their stories of rape and abuse, but unable to share it publicly. Thanking me for breaking the silence and speaking out on their behalf as well. I am doing this hunger strike for myself, all women and children who’ve experienced GBV and those who are to still experience it. I say NO MORE, we want TO LIVE!!”
On the same day, SAPS were called on her, as they claimed she was trespassing.
Two women from Hout Bay came to spend the night with Major.
Every day, Major welcomes visitors and supporters who share in her hope of ending the violence.
On day four, July 4, she wrote: “It is now 5pm, so it is the start of Day Four of my hunger strike. Been feeling light headed last night, headache still there. Chest pains now. I’m thankful to all who came out to visit me, or message me. Abuse, rape and the killing of our women and children have become the order of the day, and there’s hardly ever any justice. The system then rapes us all over again. Huge institutions, even churches, need to be held accountable, they are not above the law. Sad to say that in my dialogue with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba on Wednesday, there was NO pastoral care, he kept on telling me to complete the legal proceedings. No compassion, even refused to set up a meeting with my rapist, him and I. It just made me more aware of just how deep injustices run against women and children, and it makes me more determined to fight.”
She then received a visit from Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, along with other clergy members, after which she sent them an email of detailing her grievances, and requested a way forward. “I will continue the hunger strike until the Archbishop responds to my email,” she said.
Her hunger strike is still ongoing, and she is camping outside despite the cold and wet weather.
She is calling on support for her hunger strike. “Please, do support me. I’m fighting for justice for every woman and child who has been abused or raped by religious men,” she said.
Picture: Facebook / Justice for Rev. June Dolley Major and for All Victims/Survivors of Abuse