Ordinary citizens; doing extraordinary work to empower South African women

In the series of articles by our Youth Newsroom reporters, Akhona Xotyeni interviews mr. Patrick Godana on water access.

South Africa is a country rich with stories of people who have taken it upon themselves to rewrite the narrative of the country. One individual who I have had the pleasure to encounter is Mr Patrick Godana who is fondly known by many as Uncle Pat.

Mr Godana was brought up in a three-room house with seven siblings and two parents in Stutterheim, in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. The family of ten had to share their outside tap with a neighbouring family and one outside toilet amongst themselves. Even though today, some would consider these hardships impossible to imagine, Mr Godana found these circumstances as the foundation for some of the values he holds most dearly today.

Challenges

Uncle Pat expressed that from a young age, he particularly witnessed the different challenges men and women experienced with regards to water access. When having to collect water, he never had to worry about being violated by anyone, while other female family members and peers had to constantly look over their shoulders. He also noted that the relationship between men and women and water is also different due to health and sanitation challenges women experience such as menstruation, which place them at the forefront for the need for accessible water.

In the past (also still witnessed today), in some South African households, while the young boys and men oversaw herding and going to find work, the women were responsible for carrying water for long distances which exposed them to many vulnerabilities.

Women collecting water from a river
©Patrick Godana
Photo by Patrick Godana: Women collecting water from a river

Sonke Gender Justice

Today, Mr Godana works for an organisation called Sonke Gender Justice which helps him further explore the intersectionality between water, gender-based violence (GBV) and race. Through personal encounters with many women over the years, he realised that poor black women in rural and informal areas have become more vulnerable to rape, robbery and ultimately murder due to their lack of access to water near or in their homes.

Along with many activists at Sonke Gender Justice who have a desire for change, Mr Godana has taken it upon himself to advocate for equal access to basic amenities and natural resources for all regardless of one’s race, gender or socio-economic status. These individuals spend their time advocating for policies and legislation, holding mass demonstrations and engaging with leaders from all sectors.

A precious commodity

Even though the organisation is known for engaging with government officials, community leaders and the private sector, Mr Godana found it important to also emphasise the role ordinary South Africans play. “We all need to protect our women while ensuring that we also conserve the water currently available to us because since experiencing the Day Zero Droughts in the Eastern and Western Cape, I have realised that water is a precious commodity, and if not treasured, we will regret it in the future,” says Mr Godana.

Organisations such as Sonke Gender Justice and individuals like Mr Godana play an important role in a country like South Africa with many annual GBV cases, and also where many find themselves without access to safe water. By advocating for safe and accessible water in the homes of every citizen, the organisation is not only tackling water and gender challenges, but it is buffering citizens from other related health and socio-economic crises.

Akhona Xotyeni