Optimystic Bikers Against Abuse is an activist organisation based in Kimberley, Northern Cape. The organisation was founded in March 2011 and is dedicated to fighting gender-based violence (GBV) and abuse, focusing on offering support to victims of abuse. This support comes in the form of tools that help victims with healing, referring victims to social workers; guiding victims in the process of opening criminal cases and obtaining protection orders; ensuring that victims have access to health care; as well as ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable by the law.
South Africa’s society suffers from a serious ‘pandemic’: GBV and femicide. In 2018 it was reported that the country recorded among the highest femicide cases globally, and has among the most rape statistics in the world. In 2018 the police had recorded a total of 41 583 rape cases, which means that an average of 114 rape cases were recorded each day. The Northern Cape province has been no exception to this crisis. In August 2019, the country was shocked to learn about a 14-year-old femicide victim from Upington, Northern Cape, whose body was recovered with multiple stab wounds in an open veld in Rosedale. This is just one of the many GBV cases that community organisations have to deal with on a day to day basis.
Celeste Louw, who is a survivor of GBV and both a founding member and the national deputy chairperson of Optymistic Bikers Against Abuse, has pointed out that the biggest frustration her organisation encounters fighting against GBV is the low conviction rates of reported GBV and rape cases. Ms Louw believes that at the heart of this problem lies the fact that police fail to observe the Domestic Violence Act of 1998, when dealing with GBV and rape cases. According to Ms Louw, the shortfall from not properly applying the Domestic Violence Act is seen in the failure of SAPS to collect evidence that could lead to successful convictions. In her experience another effect of this challenge, is that many victims of GBV tend to have little confidence in the criminal justice system’s ability to deal with GBV. This results in many cases of GBV not being reported on time by victims.
In efforts to mitigate these challenges, Optimystic Bikers has partnered with local police stations across the Northern Cape, to teach police about the importance of observing the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998. Optimystic Bikers also share their experiences of dealing with GBV victims and tries to sensitise police officers on how best to deal with victims to avoid subjecting them to secondary abuse at the hands of police. As an activist Organisation, Optmystic Bikers spends most of its time in courts across the country, fighting for the rights of GBV victims, conducting public oversight in courts and police stations, submitting petitions to courts opposing the bail applications of GBV perpetrators. Some of the high-profile cases, where Optimystic Bikers advocated for the family of the victim to get justice, was the Manuela case, where the victim was shot and killed by her husband who was a prominent banker. Optimystic Bikers was among the CSOs which attended the 2019 GBV summit held by President Cyril Ramaphosa in Sandton.
In efforts to influence the behaviour of society, Optymistic Bikers has an ongoing campaign called Man by Choice. The campaign aims to mobilise men in society to understand the impact of GBV on victims. Optimystic Bikers aims to recruit active men who will commit to speaking out against GBV in their communities and to holding perpetrators of GBV accountable.
Optymistic Bikers has committed to using the information that they learn from Democracy Works Foundation’s Civil Society Participation in Provincial Legislatures (CSPPL) Programme beyond their daily work. They seek to deepen the voices of civil society organisations, mainly those in rural areas who are also committed to fighting GBV. In November 2019, Celeste and other female activists in Kimberley started a movement gathering data and statistics on reported GBV cases in order to submit a petition to the provincial legislature which raises concern about how the low level of successful convictions in GBV cases. They hope that this will address the alleged manipulation of statistics at police stations in order to paint a better picture of police efforts to fight GBV.
Ms Louw believes that the greatest opportunity in participating in Democracy Works Foundation’s CSPPL Programme is the possibility of working with the provincial legislature outreach unit to take education on GBV to government departments, communities and schools in the Northern Cape province. The organisation is confident that the more dialogue there is on the subject, the better chance we have of reducing the GBV pandemic in our society.