On the 9th of May POWA, in partnership with Ogilvy Johannesburg, decided to conduct a social experiment in a townhouse complex in a Johannesburg suburb. The idea was simple: make as much noise as possible in a quiet part of suburbia to test when the neighbours would start complaining. The results, however, were rather disturbing.

While the neighbourhood was immediately up in arms during a vigorous drumming session, a (pre recorded) physically violent fight between a couple, supplemented with screams, the live sound of smashing walls, crockery, broken glass and a vicious beating, elicited no reaction whatsoever.

“We had prepared ourselves for a visit from the police or private security company. But after half an hour of excruciating noise, we still had no response,” says Robyn Bergman of Ogilvy Johannesburg who was Group Head on this job.

Violence in South Africa has reached epidemic proportions, and it is not just women from poorer communities that fall victim to abuse. “POWA’s brief was to create awareness of the fact that violence happens everywhere, and it is rampant because we, as a community, accept it,” continues Bergman. “According to POWA, the need to keep up appearances in suburbia makes the denial even more extreme.”

As we come together to celebrate the strength of South African women next week, it may be worth reflecting on the role every one of us can play in building a community that does not tolerate violence. The power to stop the cycle of domestic violence is in our hands, but we need to start facing reality first.

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