The Vodacom Durban July has embarked on a powerful journey of change that is transforming the lives of young designers as well as women recovering from Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

Long after the thundering of horses has died down at Hollywoodbets Greyville Racecourse, “Africa’s Greatest Horseracing Event” – inspired by the butterfly theme that underpinned the fashion extravaganza and this year’s event which took place behind closed doors on Saturday 25 July – is now making a valuable contribution to young designers whose small businesses have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as reaching into the lives of women trying to escape the destructive cycle of GBV.

In a partnership with LifeLine Pietermaritzburg, which works with many GBV shelters including, The Haven and Abrina Esther House, Vodacom has identified 100 survivors of GBV and will facilitate sales training and skills development for these women in order to equip them to become financially independent and thus break their cycle of abuse.

The company has also committed to reaching out to its franchise partners, clients and suppliers and requesting that should they have any employment opportunities they consider these women for those positions.

The women were also exposed to motivational speakers who addressed them at a GBV conference in Pietermaritzburg on Friday 28 August – where they were split into two groups of 50 according to government health protocols – and shared coping strategies as well as their powerful stories of success following their own GBV ordeals. And several of Vodacom’s female managers in the KwaZulu-Natal region have been identified to act as mentors to this group of women.

In the world of fashion, KwaZulu-Natal’s emerging female designers were given the opportunity to work with official Vodacom Durban July influencers on designing their masks and outfits for the event, as well as receiving valuable exposure and support of their businesses through the commissioning of 400 face masks to be handed out to GBV survivors as well as frontline workers who work daily with GBV cases and survivors.

“This is all part of the journey the Vodacom Durban July has been on to show that there is far more to ‘Africa’s Greatest Horseracing Event’ than just the glitz and glamour that happens on the day of the race,” said Chris Lazarus, Managing Executive of Vodacom KZN.

“Being a GBV victim can hold that person back, until we can show them a way out. It’s about how we can pass on skills to these women so they can be active in the economy. We cannot change the experience these women have unfortunately had, but we can hopefully change their experience going forward.

“With the young designers, we’ve supported them because they are also in a plight of their own regarding the economic pressures on their businesses brought on by COVID-19. And some of these women are also survivors of GBV.

“So in our minds, this is not the end result of what we started at the Vodacom Durban July. It is a new beginning of the transformation of people’s lives.”

Sinikiwe Biyela, the Director of LifeLine, said the support they are receiving through this initiative is invaluable in terms of helping to successfully break the cycle of GBV abuse in their local communities.

“We know that in order for the country to end GBV, it cannot be done by one organisation or one person. It’s too big. We need more hands to fight it. We need support from major companies like Vodacom.

“For the survivors, these motivational talks make them realise they’re not the only ones to go through this and that there is a way out. Sometimes people think GBV affects only a certain race group or a certain class of people. When we have different people from all walks of life talking about the issue, it’s a powerful educational tool to break the myth that these women were somehow negligent or in some way asked for it, as is a common perception in our communities.

“Abuse reduces their self-esteem. Now they have a company like Vodacom telling them they are still worth something. Most of these women are dependent on their abusive partners financially. S, to give them a skill, so they are financially independent, gives them more options. The main thing is that they have this support and somebody who believes in them. I’ve seen women suffer terribly, but survive and go on to become beautifully independent. That transformation is beautiful.”

And from behind the masks that were the theme for this year’s race has emerged a similar transformation in the local fashion industry.

“The opportunity to be part of the Vodacom Durban July was so fulfilling, and the financial assistance we have received in these trying times is very much appreciated,” said young designer Kwenzi of Indoni Fashion House.

“Through the support of the Vodacom Durban July influencer we worked with, we increased our followers by 40%. We’re extremely grateful to have been part of this project,” added Nosipho Diko of Nguni Shades.