SA’s second pandemic: 22-year-old Michael van Niekerk is asking you to keep the energy

Picture: @ek.vat.vlam, Instagram

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a major problem in South Africa. Doing his part in addressing the issue is final-year UCT student Michael van Niekerk, the founder of Keep The Energy. 

The social media NPO’s aim is to fight GBV against women, children and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Michael created the platform last year after the death of fellow UCT student, Uyinene Mrwetyana.

“…I started [the page] because I wanted to make a difference. After Uyinene’s death, I felt kind of helpless. So I thought I’d start a page where I can remember the victims and maybe educate people in South Africa about the pandemic.”

With a total of over 110 000 followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter combined, Michael manages the accounts himself and gets his information from various sources.

“[I] either [view] stories or people will message me . . . or send article links or often times it’s their cousins or sisters who have been murdered or passed away. So it’s either articles or family members of the victims [who contact me].”

Picture: Supplied

There are different forms of GBV.

It can either be physical, sexual, emotional, financial or structural. Perpetrators of GBV may vary; it is not tied to a specific type of person. However, most violent acts are committed by men against women.

On Monday in his address to the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed GBV and femicide and referred to it as our country’s second pandemic. He also stated that there are plans to implement social and behavioural change interventions.

This includes:

  • The government collaborating with civil society formations to sensitise taxi drivers and taxi marshals on gender awareness, gender norms, toxic masculinity and GBV
  • Faith-based organisations initiating a campaign to sensitise religious leaders on patriarchy, gender-based violence and the church
  • Efforts to support women’s economic empowerment, especially during the period of Covid-19

Michael gave his thoughts on the effectiveness of these plans, saying, “[The president had these] plans since last year, even the year before actually. It does sound all good on TV in his speeches, but . . . it hasn’t been put in place yet, we haven’t seen it being put in place.

“So, until they actually are going to put it in place and really push forward and have the funding, then it could actually work. But [for] now I feel like it’s all talk and there isn’t a lot of action going into it.”

Michael also has a message to the men of South Africa with regards to GBV.

“I think men need to do what they can to educate other men. [Men often] feel triggered and offended by #MenAreTrash, but it’s a blanket term. It isn’t for every single man . . . So I feel like men should educate other men and they should also take a stand. [They] shouldn’t ignore it or excuse other men’s actions.”

As for his long term plans for the platform, Michael stated the following, “I obviously would like to grow it and possibly start a business. The big dream is to actually have a women’s shelter one day, but that’s obviously in the far future. For now, it’s just to grow the page, get more donations and do drives.”

If you’d like to keep the energy going and offer support to victims of GBV, you can contact Michael on Keep The Energy’s social media pages.

It’s important that we don’t forget the countless victims lost to GBV.