Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Summit (28th – 30th November 2022) in Lusaka, Zambia

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Summit was held this year from 28 – 30th November at Ciêla, Bonanza Resort, in Lusaka, Zambia.

We were privileged to participate and attend the Summit’s first two (2) days by offering artistic interludes that were complementary to the discussion points at every stage of the event. We shared a record of five (5) poems.

On the first day, #TheProtestPoet took to the stage in celebrating fallen Human Rights defenders, demonstrating that though usually thankless their efforts weren’t in vain and it is upon their tears and blood that we continue forging their dreams and hope.

The Protest Poet at the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Summit

On the second and last day, in the morning, Vanessa Chisakula, author of Africana, reminded us in a celebratory performance of the many works Women Human Rights defenders contributed in the past and still contribute to shaping our freedoms today. She spoke of the Sisulus and the Mama Kankansas, in such a fan and reverent tone, to ensure we do not forget their works and faces. To underscore that, this fight for better rights is better won by women and men—fighting as one. 

Vanessa Chisakula at the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Summit

The afternoon had Rose, a participant of our first ever all-female slam, opening up the event with her account of Gender-Based Violence, with a poem that depicted the aftermath of a rape incident. In the poem, there is this girl or woman “…in the shower washing off semen from her bed of a man who did not have permission to leave there in the first place…” The summit sought to equip Human Rights Defenders better, and Rose’s poem demanded that each one of us be our own defenders first.

Naomi the Poet, another participant in our all-female slam, took to the stage on day two. Her poem decried society’s tendency to bash and shame rape victims as opposed to punishing the perpetrators. In her poem, a line goes “…And to society, to society these women and girls are more afraid of speaking out because your response hits harder than the abuser himself, so they shush and crawl back into their shells!” She asked how far the government has gone to safeguard the rights and guarantee safety in the lives of women and girls.

Naomi The Poet at the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Summit

Other than serving unadulterated spoken word poetry, either organizing for action against Human Rights abuse or speaking truth to power, demanding that duty bearers do as asked by the law, we also had an exhibition stand where we showcased three 3 works of protest; Africana by Vanessa Chisakula, a collection of protest poetry further emancipating the people of Africa with an urgent and sharp voice defending their land, resources, their politics and cultural ways of life; Woman by Sheba Lishika, a collection of poems and thoughts on womanhood. It is a celebration of womanhood: the aspirations, works, family, and relationships in an environment where rights are equally enjoyed and protected; finally, Sister Wives & Other Short Stories by Myaambo Writers Collective is also exhibited. It is a work of fiction, collecting 20 short stories from Zambia’s fresh crop of writers and authors, presenting Child Marriages and Gender Based Violence as it occurs in the communities and weaving ways subtly and sometimes directly of how to prevent and end these vices.

Books on Exhibition at the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Summit

It has been our long-held understanding at WordSmash that leveraging art and poetry in advancing Human Rights defense is more than a possibility, it is a responsibility of all people, artists, and non-artists. To inspire social change, and for everyone to have their rights, it must take everything from us: art, science, technology, and so on. It was an eye-opening experience to participate at the # TogetherWeDefend-themed Southern Defenders Summit, especially since the conversations personal or collective informed us further on Human Rights Defense even as we continue holding the Zambian Government accountable, for their campaign promises on Human Rights to Zambian people, in our project the #Atibwanji.

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