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Keep The Energy founder, Michael van Niekerk, is leading the charge against Gender-Based violence in South Africa

The Instagram page Keep the Energy has over 100 000 followers. The account brings awareness to gender-based violence in South Africa by posting about the gruesome murders of women, children, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. With approximately one woman being murdered every 3 hours in the country, there is no shortage of gender-based violence to highlight, and much like the account’s digital reach, public frustration and outrage continues to grow and intensify.

The violent details of each post provide a harrowing reminder amidst mindless scrolling on social media. And founder of the page, Michael van Niekerk, says this was his intention when starting Keep The Energy in 2019. As a former UCT student, Michael says the rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, who was also a student at the institution, affected him to his core. “ I felt that the anger and activism should not die down after a few days,” he explains. “I want people to be as angry as they were when Uyinene was murdered whenever a woman, child, or queer person is killed.”

Michael van Niekerk. Image: Supplied

The platform has since expanded offline too. Keep the Energy is now a registered NPO and has raised funds for numerous organisations and causes.

According to Michael, he would love to open a women’s shelter one day, but ultimately, he wants Keep the Energy to be a safe space for victims of GBV to seek assistance and justice.

In light of Women’s Month, we chatted to Michael about this deeply-rooted societal ill - and what can be done to overcome it.

What motivated you to start this Instagram page?

I started Keep The Energy in 2019, a few days after Uyinene was raped and murdered. I was a second year student at UCT at the time, studying Media & English. Uyinene was in first year, studying a similar course as me, so her death really affected me. I remember that Monday, the day we found out that she was raped and murdered, everyone was so heartbroken and angry, and I felt that the anger and activism should not die down after a few days, as it often does after gruesome murders in our country. So I started the page to try and literally keep the energy. I also started the page to gain a sense of power so-to-speak. I have a close friend who was sexually molested a few years ago, and I felt really helpless and angry after I found out what happened to her. So an additional reason as to why I started the page was to have it be a place where victims of GBV can come for assistance and hopefully get justice. We work with Alicia Sinclair Consulting which offers free legal advice to women, children, and queer people who need it regarding GBV.

What is the meaning behind the name, Keep the Energy?

The name is quite literal, as I want people to keep the energy surrounding GBV. I want people to be as angry as they were when Uyinene was murdered whenever a woman, child, or queer person is murdered in this country.

What message do you aim to instil through this platform?

The message I want to get across is that GBV is not decreasing in SA and we cannot be passive anymore.

How has gender-based violence against women impacted you as a man?

I felt, as a man, that the least I can do is try and be a voice for those who have fallen victim to GBV. It is emotionally taxing having to look for stories on a daily basis, or be in contact with family members and friends of the victims, but it's a job someone has to do and I will gladly do it.

Extreme violence against women and children is a woven into the fabric of South African society. What do you think is the root cause of this issue? Why has it reached such a severe extent?

I feel the root of the issue is due to the patriarchal systems that have been functioning in our country for hundreds of years. Many people put the blame on patriarchal systems that functions in African cultures, which is one of the root causes, but there were patriarchal systems during the apartheid regime and years before that while Europeans colonised SA. I believe that those systems have created a mindset that has been passed down through the generations, where people believe that men are superior and have more power in relationships.

In my opinion, the reason it has become so extreme is that women have started challenging the patriarchal mindset. So many of the stories I post are about jealous partners, or ex-partners, killing women because they left them. I feel that when men are rejected or when they realise that women do not depend on them anymore, they feel inferior and insecure, which often leads to GBV.

How do you think this issue can be addressed and mitigated in South Africa?

I feel that education should be the start. This is a difficult question as there is no singular root cause and it is often not easy to prevent GBV from happening, but I believe more education regarding gender equality and emotional maturity should be offered, especially to young men.

You have raised funds for numerous organisations and individuals. What have you achieved so far through Keep the Energy?

I raised R80 000 for Radius Masukume. Radius saved a woman from being raped and was stabbed during the process. There are a few articles about him online. I raised R30 000 for Asanda Ndlebe. He saved a woman from being molested and was also stabbed during the process. He allegedly lost eyesight in one eye during the ordeal.

During level 5 and 4 of lockdown, women's shelters were not able to have fundraisers and do what they were usually able to do to receive funds, so I started a fund for The Saartjie Baartman Centre and the Frida Hartley Shelter. I raised roughly R250,000 between 2020 and 2021. I had a fundraiser for the Pride Shelter during Pride month in 2021, and raised roughly R6,000

You have also registered Keep the Energy as a Non-Profit Organisation. How would you like to see the platform expand in the future?

I would love to see continued support and growth of our follower base in the future. My dream is to have a women's shelter or safe house one day, but that will be worked towards.

In light of Women’s Month, what message of strength of encouragement do you have for women in South Africa right now?

I know that many women feel despondent in this country. On women's day, I asked my followers to let me know how they feel being a woman in SA, and all the responses were to the effect of "scared", "sad", "hopeless", etc. It's not easy staying driven and encouraged when you're fighting a losing battle, but what keeps me going is that I know I have made a positive impact in someone's life by providing support or advice, even if it was only one woman. So, my message of encouragement is that women need to know that they aren't alone. There are people who are willing to do whatever they have to to help a woman in need. If anyone needs legal advice, asylum, or medical assistance, they can feel free to contact me on Keep The Energy and I will be able to refer them to someone who is close by and who can help them in their time of need.

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