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We Were Shot in Joburg

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Started in 2009 by Bernard Viljoen, iwasshot in Joburg :) is a community project to teach photographic skills to former street kids from Twilight children’s shelter in the Hillbrow section of Johannesburg. “It started as a way to have them find beauty in their immediate environment, where they initially thought there was none,” Bernard explains, “and capturing that beauty through photography.” Since the first exhibition in 2009, Iwasshot has grown into a trendy retail space, where new kids from Twilight come twice a week, learning to make crafts that are then sold in the store. Many of the first participants now work full-time as employees at the shop and are able to support themselves financially.  More than a job, these former street children now have a chance to inspire and influence other kids.

I Was Shot in Joburg from Philadelphia Neighborhoods1 on Vimeo.

Video by Tyler Horst & Ezra Lewis

Text by Ezra Lewis

Silent Protesters Reinscribe Rape Culture

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"I’ll give you my full name for now but I might change my mind later.  I’m not sure how I feel about being googleable as a survivor."

Michelle, 21, leans forwards to spell her first and last, just in case.

As her head dips, a shock of hot pink hair frees itself from her dampened hood, waving in stunning defiance to the onslaught of ominous cloud cover settling over Rhodes University, located in South Africa’s East Cape region.

Returning pen and hair to their respective states, Michelle expounds, “Say I apply at a company. Because I’m a social media journalist it’s likely they’ll Google me and see what comes up. I’m not sure I want that to be first.”

Unfortunately, extending this preference to her daily life isn’t as simple.

"As a survivor you work really hard to not let it define you," Michelle says. "But I think the unfortunate thing is you can’t really choose whether it’s going to be a part of who you are."

2014 marks Michelle’s fourth year as a participant in Grahamstown, South Africa’s annual Silent Protest against rape and sexual violence, but her first identifying as a survivor of sexual assault.

Her mouthpiece is an oversized purple t-shirt silk-screened with the words “Survivor and …” Beneath the inscription sits a thick white text box, left blank as a space for survivors to define themselves as more than their assault.

Michelle’s reads, “REINSCRIBER.”  

"Last year I took an anthropology class about heritage. When a country has a difficult heritage, for example: apartheid, people take old spaces that have a terrible history and they raze that history," Michelle explains. "But, instead, you can reinscribe that.  You can make something happen in a once negative space."

This ideology is the foundation of Silent Protest. 

First organized in 2006 to bring attention to the estimated 1 in 25 [some 400,000] acts of sexual violence that go unreported in South Africa each year, Silent Protest has existed as a safe space for survivors to break their silence in the company of solidarity.

Protesters demonstrate support by silencing themselves with strips of black gaffer tape for a 12 hour period to generate awareness for the silencing nature of rape culture.

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Others, choosing to protest not in silence, but in solidarity don t-shirts identifying their roles in the protest: silenced, solidarity, rape survivor.

This year, 2014, marks the first year that the protests have expanded to offer shirts for survivors of sexual abuse, along with rape survivors.

Though seemingly minor, the innovation is a testament to the protest’s movement towards inclusivity under the direction of coordinator Kim Barker, a Rhodes University doctoral psychology student researching the effectiveness of the Silent Protest for survivors.

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“The decision came from the participants in my research, largely.  Some of them had been sexually assaulted, rather than raped, and had chosen not to wear the rape survivor t shirt because they felt it would be disrespectful towards survivors if they did.  Others felt angry they didn’t have a place to acknowledge what had happened to them. There seemed to be the need for a broader acknowledgement of sexual violation.”

For many Silent Protesters, the accessibility of the survivor shirt was the prompting they needed to reveal their assault.

“The first time I’ve been really open with it is today,” Michelle says. “I think I decided I would wear the survivor shirt when I saw that shirts were being made available this year to survivors as well as rape survivors.”

Finding the courage to tell not just one other person, but an assembly of her peers is a significant marker in Michelle’s recovery process.

“Weirdly, the hardest person to tell has been myself, because to wear this shirt in front of all these people, I’ve got to believe myself.  When you relinquish yourself to the fact that it’s not your fault, it’s terrifying because you’re acknowledging that they had all the power in that moment.”

Barker says the difficulty Michelle experienced in accepting her assault as truth is a universal struggle for survivors.

“It comes down in a large degree to victim-blaming, blaming themselves, so it wasn’t rape it was, ‘I was stupid. I got into a difficult situation and I couldn’t get out of it.’  Actually calling something rape is a really big step,” Barker says.

For Michelle, taking that step meant replacing the stereotypes that had populated her understanding of rape culture with the clarity of her own experience.

“In the conversations I had when i was in high school sexual assault was something that was violent, that was exacted by a stranger,” Michelle says. “But, when I was sexually assaulted it was by my boyfriend, who I trusted.  I’ve learned that a lot of the time rape is not just a violent act but a violation of trust.”

By unpacking the taboos and misconceptions that many survivors hold about sexual violence, the discussions facilitated by Silent Protest expedite the recovery process for many survivors and create an educated platform for change.

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“You can’t really choose whether it’s going to be a part of you, because it is.  But being part of the protest means that instead of it being part of me in a negative way, it gave me the opportunity to be a person who speaks out about this to break the silence and invisibility of survivors and to use my bad experience as a way of educating others about sexual violence,” Michelle says. “So I guess what you can choose is not to let it crush you, but to make it empower you.”

 

 

2014 TUSA - Phila Daily News: Teen Pregnancy Equals Poverty

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Janice Durrant with teen mom twins Rosetta and Rose Mwelase during an interview in the Troyeville section of Johannesburg. Durrant interviewed teen moms across the Johannesburg area for her reporting project. Linn Washington Jr. / For the Daily News

TEENAGE PARENTING is not a contagious disease and should not keep young mothers from completing their education.

Yet in South Africa, girls face eviction from school after becoming pregnant because that is the cultural norm.

Many in South Africa believe that mothers should care for their homes. So despite rights established postapartheid, allowing all South Africans to receive an equal education, having a child can prevent a teen mother from completing high school.

Without a high school degree, teen mothers are virtually frozen from the job market, relegating them to lives of poverty.


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2014 TUSA - Phila Daily News: Exhibition Fights Image of Gangster’s Paradise

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Sipho Gongxeka photographed his i-skeem’ saka, or “homeboys” and “homegirls.” Tyler Horst / For the Daily News

- By Tyler Horst

YOU ARE WHAT you wear. At least, that’s an idea that photographer Sipho Gongxeka wants to challenge.

Gongxeka’s first solo exhibition, “Skeem’ Saka,” was on display through yesterday at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg’s Newtown neighborhood.

Gongxeka said the vibrant series of photographs originated from his curiosity about how “style shapes us.” He focused on his hometown of Soweto, the fabled township outside Johannesburg.

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2014 TUSA - Phila Daily News: Burning the Wealth

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Thato Mpashe discards thousands of dollars worth of designer clothes, according to tradition of a subculture called Izikhothane. Photo by Tyler Horst / For the Daily News

-Article by Jake Pilkington

WHEN THE MUSIC stopped, expensive designer apparel worth more than 25,000 rand (about $2,300) littered the dirt plot outside Thato Mpashe’s modest home in an impoverished area about 28 miles outside Johannesburg.

Mpashe, 17, resides in Orange Farm, the largest informal settlement, or shantytown, in South Africa. The average monthly income for residents is less than the equivalent of $150, well below the poverty line in South Africa.

Mpashe is a member of a subculture known as Izikhothane. The Izikhothane, pronounced zee-kho-taw-nee, hold competitions characterized by dance and extravagance. Wealth determines the victor.


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2014 TUSA - Phila Daily News: Youth Poetry Blooms in the Lyrical Capital

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Pictured above is Feature Poet, Mapule Mohulatsi. -Cambriae Bates / For the Daily News

- By Cambriae Bates

A VIBRANT POETRY community is blossoming in Johannesburg, a city known to many Americans more for its jazz and traditional music. Throughout the week, poetry performances sprout up everywhere in the city from suburban Melville to trendy Maboneng to the arts district in Newtown.

Poets from all over the Joburg region come out to have their voices heard.

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2014 TUSA - Phila Daily News: Gallery Lifts ‘Street Kids’ from Gutter to High Art

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Sandile Mdlalose a photographer at “Iwasshot in Joburg.” Ezra Lewis / For the Daily News

- By Ezra Lewis

NESTLED IN the corner of the Arts on Main warehouse in Johannesburg’s trendy Maboneng section, the “Iwasshot in Joburg” studio is a gallery, classroom and production floor.

Started in 2009 by Bernard Viljoen, the studio is a community project to teach photography to former street kids from Twilight Children’s shelter in the Hillbrow section of Johannesburg.


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2014 TUSA - Phila Daily News: An American Football Means More in Joburg

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Andile from Johannesburg tossing the football. Luke Proctor / For the Daily News

-By Luke Proctor


SCRAMBLING AROUND the store hours before leaving for my four-week trip to South Africa, I stumbled upon a $10 item that would end up giving me memories for a lifetime: a football.

In South Africa, soccer is called football. The closet thing to American football is rugby and a football is like an item from outer space.


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2014 TUSA - Phila Daily News: Philadelphia organization with a global reach

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- By Ryan Hall

SOUTH AFRICA is a long way from Market Street in University City - nearly 8,000 miles away.

However, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, headquartered at 3624 Market St., has a connection to Cape Town, South Africa.

ECFMG promotes quality health care for the public by certifying international medical graduates for entry into graduate medical education in the United States.

In 2000, ECFMG established the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research to support its mission. A year later, the FAIMER Institute was founded in Philadelphia, where it served as a model for five regional fellowship institutes around the world, including South Africa.

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2014 TUSA - Phila Daily News: ‘Silent’ no More, for Some

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A sexual assault protest was recently held in Grahamstown, South Africa.

- By Suzannah Cavanaugh

BODIES BEGAN to line the pavement in front of the Main Library at Rhodes University as the bells of Grahamstown Cathedral signaled midday on Friday, Aug. 1.

With mouths taped shut, the bodies lay motionless, draped in purple T-shirts to form a mass grave at the center of campus.

The young people who participated in the demonstration against sexual violence would spend the next hour in silence - some as survivors, some in support - each focusing on vicious assaults and the harrowing “afterward” for those who survived.


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