Ilitha Labantu is a social service and educational organization with a specific focus on addressing violence against women and children and supporting those affected by it. This is accomplished through individual and family counseling, workshops, skills training and empowerment, and acting as a trusted advisor in government and community processes. The client base is particularly focused amongst women living in townships and rural areas of South Africa. Ilitha Labantu is committed to empowerment through education and participatory practices.
The organization was established in 1989 and registered as an NPO with the Department of Social Development in 2003. Ilitha Labantu will be celebrating it’s twenty one years of service in 2010. Ilitha has been operating for over twenty years in greater Cape Town. The organization was established after it became clear that the problem of violence against women and children represented a critical obstacle to development in township communities. When Ilitha Labantu the brain child of Mandisa Monakali when it started it was the only organization in the Western Cape that served to empower township women and to address issues related to gender violence. The organization developed of community work conducted by handful of committed women from the township. Ilitha Labantu has now grown and has established satellite offices in five provinces in both townships and rural areas.
Ilitha is the only organization in the area that provides this service in an accessible way because of its location within the residential areas of its target group in a language that is understandable and used by survivors. There are other organizations in South Africa that render services of similar kind. However, their services are not easily accessible to many survivors of violence in the townships and rural communities. Firstly, geographical location is far from where most black women live and secondly, the predominant language used by these organizations is English while most women in the townships are illiterate and can only speak their African languages. These barriers prevent women in the townships and rural communities from making use of the services organizations offer.
The legacy of apartheid in South Africa includes deep- rooted racial discrimination and domination of women. Violence and conflict has been interwoven in the fabric of South African society and manifest itself in a variety of mutually reinforcing ways. Violence against women and children represents a dimension of the crisis, which is often overlooked.
Even after the dawn of democracy in South Africa and adoption of a bill of rights women are still living in the same conditions as before – facing violence both inside and outside their homes, dealing with the same inadequate services and critical economic sparsity. Ilitha Labantu was established after a series of workshops and seminars in the townships in an attempt to gauge interest in a woman’s center for development.
Through this process, it became clear that here were particular issues that had such an immediate affect on women’s lives that they represented obstacles to any further development work. Most notably, it was found that the problem of violence against women and children would first have to be addressed before women could be empowered through any other development training process.