VIMBA Helpline-Diepsloot. 12/4/2017


In October 2013 the bodies of two little girls, one three years old, the other, her two-year-old cousin, were found in a broken public toilet near their home in Diepsloot, a township in northern Johannesburg. The Mail & Guardian’s Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism visited the family in 2015 and reported on the disturbing prevalence of rape in the community.

Then in early 2016 Sonke Gender Justice, a non-governmental organisation, and the University of the Witwatersrand, as part of a research project looking into gender violencea in Diepsloot, interviewed 2,600 men, aged 18 to 40 years, living in the community. They found that rape and physical abuse rates are more than double those reported in national studies.

More than half (56%) of the men in the study said they had used physical or sexual violence against women. In national studies 14% of men reported enacting violence towards women.

Diepsloot has a network of NGOs and community organisations that offer support to victims of violence. Bhekisisa decided to set up a helpline/data project to try to help both the victims and the service providers in Diepsloot.

The helpline was named Vimba by Brown Lekekela, who runs the Green Door place of safety, one of five community partners in the project. "We named it Vimba because in Diepsloot when someone shouts 'Vimba!', we know that person needs help, and everyone will come out to help them," he said.

Collecting and using data to help victims of gender violence

What does the helpline do?

The Vimba Helpline has two functions. The first is to make it is easier for women and children who are victims of violence and abuse in Diepsloot to access the services and support available there. The second is to collect information about violence against women and children in the community that could be useful to the service providers.

It is a free cellphone-based service that uses USSD technology, which makes it possible for people to use the helpline even if they don’t have data or airtime. It also doesn’t matter what kind of cellphone they have, the service works on even the most basic phone.

Cellphones are widespread in Diepsloot, 90% of households have access to one, but only about one in four households have access to the internet. Up to half the working age population is jobless, a social audit by Sonke Gender Justice found. And those who do work don’t make very much money. As a result, data is a luxury.

Vimba has been set up so that all you need is a cellphone with a charged battery. People who dial the number are asked a series of questions about where they are and the type of help they need. They can chose one of three languages: English, Sepedi or Zulu. When they answer all the questions they are sent an SMS telling them where to go to get help in Diepsloot and phone numbers they can contact. If they indicate that they have been raped, they are also sent an SMS with information about what to. The calls and SMSes are reverse-billed.



At the back-end call data are collected by our USSD service provider and visualised in real-time on a dashboard which some of the project’s partners have access to.

Initially posters were made and put up in various public places around Diepsloot to publicise the Vimba helpline and make the *134*403# number easy to find. Now the message about gender violence and the helpline number is being painted on walls around the township.



Brown Lekekela runs Green Door, the only temporary shelter in Diepsloot for women and children who are victims of violence, from his home in Prado Street,