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By Esther Akello Ogola
Women’s affairs journalist, BBC Africa

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Reverend June Major has been fighting for justice for 18 years since she was raped by a South African clergyman.

She has made various unorthodox protests to get the Anglican Church in southern Africa to open an investigation into her case and other cases.

On August 9, 2020, South African Women’s Day, the Rev. Major was among several women and activists who hung underwear on the fence of the residence of the Archbishop of Southern Africa, Thabo Makgoba.Image rightsJune Major

The women protested against inadequate action by the Church on allegations of sexual misconduct by priests in the Anglican Church in southern Africa, including one the Rev. Major said had raped them.

“My fight is not against the church, but against the hierarchy and the patriarchy who silence women, who tell us to remain silent, who criticize us and allow the perpetrator to continue doing what they do,” said she told South African media.

However, this was not the first time the Rev. Major protested the Church’s alleged silence on the matter.

“I was ready to die”

In 2016, Rev. Major went on her first hunger strike.

Four years later, in July of this year, she went on a hunger strike again, this time camping next to 20 bishopscourt in Cape Town, the official residence of Archbishop Makgoba.

“I was ready to die on this sidewalk, not just for myself, but for every woman and child who has been denied justice,” she told the BBC.

According to the Rev. Major, she was attacked in 2002 while attending a seminar.

Rev. Major says the priest walked into the room where they were being housed by one of the families in the seminary and attacked them.

“I fended him off, but at one point he had his hands around my neck. I didn’t scream because there were kids in the house. He left when he was finished.

“I was shaky and scared afterwards. I just wanted to die. I called our other friend and told him what happened,” she explains, adding that her attacker came back a second time and only left after telling him that her friend knew about the attack.

A life in silence and fear

Rev. Major has said she lived in misery since the attack 18 years ago.

“”[A] Freund advised that we keep the matter between us and my rapist, promised that he would never try anything like that again. I agreed as we would be living in separate cities in a couple of months and I thought that would be enough closure. “

Two years later, however, the Rev. Major decided to ask the Church to investigate the matter.

“I was again advised to remain silent. I agreed, thinking I had to protect the name of the Church, an institution I loved very much. Unfortunately, the silence took its toll on me.”

Rev. Major says she has constant nightmares and fear of staying in rooms that can’t be locked and sometimes even sitting with her back against doors that can’t be locked.

“I never let people get too close to me, let alone men, because I was hurt by someone I thought was close,” she says.

Church accused of hypocrisy

It was only after someone she knew was involved in a rape case that Rev. Major went public with her story in the hopes that she would receive some form of healing and inspire other victims to get the courage to report their attackers.

She first took her fight for justice to the police to open a criminal case, but it did not bring any fruit.

She then took it to church in hopes not only that the church would investigate her alleged attack, but also to address other allegations of sexual abuse.

She says the church’s response has been continued silence, which led her to go on her first hunger strike in 2016. Only then did the church react – on the seventh day of their hunger strike, the church administration promised to look into the matter. However, the Rev. Major says none of the promise came.

The church said it asked them to ask the police to reopen the investigation.

On July 1st, four years after her first such action, she said she felt compelled to go on a hunger strike again after feeling like the church was hypocritical.

Image rightsHenry PrinceImage descriptionThe Reverend Major set up camp across from the Archbishop’s residence during their hunger strike

“The same year I went on my first hunger strike, I lost my income as a priest. I wanted to start a new job in Australia, so I resigned from my post. However, I needed a letter of recommendation to start my new job .

“The letter I originally promised never came and I haven’t been able to work as a priest since,” says Rev. Major.

She then decided to sue the church for loss of income. The matter is still in court.

“What annoys me is that the archbishop speaks out against sexual and gender-based violence and patriarchy, but the reason I am where I am is because of the inaction of the church.

“It’s sad that as a woman you have to be so extreme and put your body in danger, but I had to speak to Makgoba to know what he would do about it [the rape case] and calling for an internal investigation and some kind of justice, “she says.

What the Church Says

Six days after the Rev Major hunger strike, she agreed to break it off after meeting Archbishop Makgoba.

He told her to make her claims in writing via email.

“The following Monday the archbishop replied that they would initiate a disciplinary hearing and contact the prosecutor in the city where the rape took place to reopen the case. I stopped my hunger strike because of that.”

Image rightsHenry PrinceImage descriptionArchbishop Thabo Makgoba (second L) met Reverend Major (third R) several times during her hunger strike in 2020

The Church emailed her saying it was “obliged to see that the matter is treated with the seriousness it deserves”.

On its website, the Anglican Church of South Africa set out the standards expected of clergymen and ministers in 2002. This was intended to “address the many forms of abuse of power that frequently affected women and children”.

In 2018 a framework was put in place to address grievances and “create a safe church, and in 2019 he committed to creating spaces for justice and restoration to take place”.

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Two years later, the Rev. Major and other gender activists hung underwear on the archbishop’s gate to protest a conflict of interest among members of the Safe Churches Committee, who are also members of the Anglican Church tasked with investigating their case.

In a statement posted on their Facebook page, the Rev. Major said, “I believe that an investigation conducted by individuals who are on and targeted by the Church payroll would only serve to further harass me . ”

She wants the investigation to be carried out by an independent body. She resolved this with the church and agreed to continue the process.

The Church released its own statement that the Rev. Major was free to hire lawyers and that the Church would even be willing to help her get assistance if she deems it necessary.

Additionally, the Church says that in response to Rev. Major’s concerns, it has “added a reputable part-time commissioner from the Gender Commission to the panel to investigate.” [Major’s] Complaint. Hopefully this will give her an extra level of confidence and comfort in the process. “

Previous allegations

The Anglican Church in South Africa has faced several cases of sexual misconduct by its priests.

Image rightsAFPImage descriptionArchbishop Makgoba has acknowledged that Church members had previously been charged with sexual abuse. In 2018, award-winning South African author Ishtiyaq Shukri wrote in an open letter that he was exposed to years of sexual abuse by Anglican priests as a child. Archbishop Makgoba apologized on behalf of the Church for what he called past mistakes and for failing to address allegations of sexual abuse. Days later, he revealed that several other victims had come forward accusing some Church priests of sexual abuse.

The Church has also announced other cases that are being investigated.

The Rev. Major has said that she is open to going through the Anglican investigative process.

In a statement, she said it was important to her and to the church that justice be served.

She said she has often considered pursuing the matter in court rather than in church, “but God called my life in the Anglican Church and I believe He still calls me to be His humble servant too serve.”

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