The Danger Of Silence In The Fight Against Injustice – By Rudi Buys

These are some of the #CallsToAction that mark #WomansMonth during the pandemic.

More so than only connecting readers to news, these labels represent the very real efforts of people to struggle against and overcome injustice and violence.

The lived experiences and life stories of people during this month… this year matter all the more – a year that saw communities, families and intimate partners forced by the national #lockdown to be at home and face one another.

As a context to make sense of the trauma of continued gender injustices a nation battles, this new reality of unexpected closeness matters, because it is there, in the intimate spaces that people and communities share that the cruelties of abuse often are most severe.

However, it matters also because it is in the nearness of people that the first battles are won to overcome fraught histories and heal traumatic memory; and from where our victories are carried with courage into the public arena as stories of everyday people that symbolise strength and hope.

“Silence” is at the heart of the struggle against injustice, because silence is far more than an individual behaviour. It is a socio-cultural and political dynamic that, in hidden ways, directs how people perform as citizens and collectives when faced with heavy trauma. Silence is a constructed reality; it is never innocent, and therefore, so also is any project to break the silence.

One way of making sense of silence as a social dynamic is to consider its power to make people and their lives either absent or present, and what people do either hidden or seen – silence as a politics of absences or emergences.

Silence as a “politics of absences” refers to what people achieve by remaining silent when faced with injustice, namely, to avoid trauma, deny complicity and be counted as socially acceptable members of the community – to be absent from the struggle and trauma and remain innocent in their own and other’s eyes.

However, silence makes one more than absent. Silence makes you part of a nothingness, non-existing in relation to others and trapping you on a slippery slope away from the real lives that people live.

The more silent people and their collectives choose to remain, the more distant they become from reality, and the less they know of what it means to be human today – this is the “spiral of silence” where people choose absence first as citizens, then as collectives, and then enact silences on injustice through the state.

Silence, in this way, brings about a process of de-humanisation for people who want to remain innocent and enact silence to achieve it. However, silence also serves as a “politics of emergence”, which refers to what individuals and groups, citizens, their collectives and the state achieve when breaking or using silence to fight injustice.

From projects to break silences, new voices, narratives and designs emerge to lead change; from projects to reveal silences and the silenced in social, cultural and political processes new ways of making sense, citizen action and human embrace emerge.

Silence, in this way, becomes a tool and a performance for an emerging and ever-increasing humanisation, when people choose not to remain distant, but to enact a voice of hope – a movement from nothingness to nearness.


Written by Ph

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