The Heart of An Activist


Lucinda Evans of the gang-ridden Lavender Hills in Cape Town was named one of BBC’s List of 100 Inspiring and Influential Women around the World 2019.

“Even though our community is called Lavender Hill; most times we don’t see or feel the lavender and we cannot grow lavender because of our space limitations and apartheid-style housing. But every day of my life as a human rights protector and defender, I sow lavender for these hills with its women, children and elderly,” says Lucinda Evans, a womens’ rights activist and the only South African to make it onto BBC’s Top 100 list of inspiring and influential women from around the world in 2019.

As the Director and Founder of NPO Philisa Abafazi Bethu (Heal our Women in isiXhosa), which empowers and protects abused women and children, it’s no surprise that Lucinda has always been involved in community activism.

The Turning Point

Born in District Six and raised in Lavender Hill, a community formed from the Group Areas Act of 1950 during the Apartheid Regime, Lucinda has crafted her calling through various positions as a volunteer coordinator for the ambulance emergency services volunteer squad (EMS), a Group Leader at SA Red Cross Society Volunteer squad, the Cluster Chairperson for the Community Policing forum, a Western Cape provincial board member for the Community police forums and Forum Chairperson for Her Voice.

Lucinda’s turning point came in 2008, when she witnessed a crowd gathering around a man beating his wife in the street. When no one else did anything to stop the violence, she intervened and spoke the perpetrator.

Despite trying to assist the victim covered in blood, the woman told Lucinda it was none of her business. “I told her that I am making it my business today,” and that’s when the NPO Philisa Abafazi Bethu was launched to provide frontline emergency services for victims of domestic violence and rape.

With a population of 100 000 people (including five informal settlements) with high levels of drug abuse and rate in Lavender Hill, the community is still struggling to keep its head above water in post-apartheid South Africa.

Despite dismal statistics, Lucinda aims to be the person that others can rely on for protection and reassurance, but her struggle is largely self-funded.

“I’ve never had a budget for gender-based violence work for the last 12 years so I took two home loans out on my bond and sold my car, and furniture to keep the programme going. It’s also difficult to get people to invest in gender-based violence in communities already marred with stigma about violence,” says Lucinda.

There Is Hope 

But there is hope and she has already witnessed positive change in the community. “We have amazing talented young people, dancers and singers. We have amazing women who run families and they are survivors. The community knows the pathways of reporting domestic violence. They respond and even if a survivor wishes not to do so, the community will report on her behalf.

“Services for children in distress have significantly improved, also services with regards to domestic violence at the Steenberg Police station have improved as result of the partnership between our project, our emergency safehouse and the police. Men have also come forward for help and support as both perpetrators and also victims of gender-based violence.”

Aside from the incredible frontline support programmes and after-school projects for children, March 2020 will see a programme launched in the Steenberg area for young men and boys dealing with gender-based violence prevention.

With this heavy and hopeful mission, I ask Lucinda where she goes for inspiration and reprieve. “Maya Angelo,” she replies.

“I also sit on the beach; which is my go-to place, my cry place, my venting place and also my when ‘I don’t have the answers’ space. I have seen the worst of the worst: rapes, killings and violence. When it’s too much, the beach is where you’ll find me. There is no slow weekend either.”

Where The Transformation Begins

When it comes to activism, Lucinda says, “Sometimes it’s about sitting and listening to the hearts of volunteers, their impressions, opinions, questions and debates. The culture shock in finding out that there are certain behaviours shared between all nations.

The transformation begins with the realisation that you can measure reality versus what is in your heart and how it affects you. When something touches you and challenges your critical thinking, what you know or believe to be true, then three-quarters of your mission is complete. We are working towards a future where women will be free.”

And what does a BBC accolade mean for her?

“I bring this accolade home for Lavender Hill, for a community where people are saying there is nothing good about us and where nothing can good come from our violent neighbourhood. BBC is the lavender I am bringing for the hills. While everyone has given up on us, we can show them that we have BBC influential Women.”

To volunteer, donate or support visit the Philisa Abafazi Bethu website.

Words by Lauren McShane


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