Ndileka Mandela speaking at her book launch in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 2019. George Elize/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation
JOHANNESBURG, – Ndileka Mandela was at her home in Johannesburg, South Africa, just before the start of a national lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, when she got the call.
A container filled with 10,000 sanitary pads for rural South African girls would not be able to leave Geneva due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a donor told her.
“My heart was so sore. These girls are stuck at home, there is no income to buy food let alone sanitary pads. Their dignity and their health are at stake,” she said in a phone interview.
Ndileka, 55, Nelson Mandela’s oldest grandchild, has committed her life’s work to tackling the challenges South African women face – mainly violence and period poverty – and fears the coronavirus pandemic will heighten inequalities.
Since the lockdown started on March 27 she has been using social media to communicate with women stuck indoors with abusers, to let them know they are not alone, and to encourage them to call police hotlines for help.
A few days into South Africa’s lockdown, local media reported that a 14-year-old was raped and murdered in Soweto township in Johannesburg with her body so badly brutalised that her family could only identify her by her clothes and birthmark.
“What makes men like this?” asked Ndileka.
Ndileka’s own experience of surviving a rape in 2012 further catapulted her towards advocating for women’s rights.
“I wanted to show people that even your partner can rape you,” said Ndileka, who shared her story about being raped in her own bed on Facebook in 2017 as part of the #MeToo movement and was messaged by hundreds of women sharing similar stories.