Like Madiba, men must work on them­selves

CityPress - - Voices - Sello Hatang

I re­cently had the plea­sure of host­ing Mme Marah Louw in my of­fice on the eve of the launch of her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, It’s Me, Marah. In the book, she re­lates the story of the abuse of her sis­ter who was even­tu­ally burnt to death by her part­ner. The wound is still fresh for Mme Marah Louw even though the in­ci­dent hap­pened many years ago. The re­cent at­tacks on women and Mme Marah Louw’s visit re­minded me of a call I re­ceived a few years ago. While sit­ting in my of­fice at the SA Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (SAHRC), a rel­a­tive called to in­form me that her 10year-old daugh­ter, let’s call her Dikeledi (tears in Setswana) had been raped by a neigh­bour. It was a cry for help as they had re­ceived no sup­port from the po­lice or so­cial ser­vices. The phrases “the dis­carded” and “the for­got­ten” came to mind as I re­alised that be­cause they lived in the ru­ral North West prov­ince jus­tice was out of reach to them.

As my rel­a­tive re­lated to me the hor­ror of the at­tack on her lit­tle child, I felt her shame. A shame that stems from a cul­ture of vic­tim blam­ing. As a re­sult of this shame, many rape cases do not get re­ported or they get with­drawn by peo­ple who, like both Dikeledi and her mother, have been stripped of their dig­nity.

Af­ter speak­ing to SAHRC chair­per­son Jody Kol­lapen and CEO Tseliso Thipa­nyane about the phone call, they both gave me ad­vice and through their net­works I was able to con­tact the com­mis­sioner of po­lice in the North West.

The mat­ter was at­tended to swiftly. Within 24 hours the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer was re­placed, the per­pe­tra­tor was ar­rested and so­cial work­ers came to the house to pro­vide the nec­es­sary coun­selling. I kept on ask­ing my­self how many other peo­ple had ac­cess to such con­tacts, how many more Dikeledis do we have out there whose cases are never re­ported or in­ves­ti­gated? We owe it to the peo­ple whose cases do not make head­lines to fix the sys­tem. We owe it to “the dis­carded”, “the for­got­ten”, to cor­rect their sta­tus in so­ci­ety and ac­cord them the dig­nity they de­serve. In Setswana there is a say­ing “Matlo go sha mabapi”, which loosely trans­lated means that when your neigh­bour’s house goes up in flames you should feel as though it’s your own house that’s on fire. To help build the coun­try of for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela’s dreams we must move be­yond ban­dag­ing the wounds of the past and make a con­certed ef­fort to build in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies and, ul­ti­mately, a na­tion that cares about the pain of oth­ers. We must recog­nise that the walk to­wards achiev­ing this will be very long but that we are armed with tools such as the Con­sti­tu­tion and its val­ues and de­ter­mined men and women who want to deal with this deep wound. We must also work hard to over­come the ma­cho cul­ture that we con­tinue to breed in boys and men. Madiba him­self strug­gled with this mon­ster of chau­vin­ism and pa­tri­archy. In 1971 he re­flected: “Some say that chau­vin­ism is one of my weak­nesses. They may be right. True enough, my blood and brain do not of­ten syn­chro­nise.” But Madiba worked hard on this dur­ing his years in prison and in his life­time. In his later years he re­flected on the role of men and stated: “We need a fun­da­men­tal change of mind­set with re­gards to the way we speak and be­have about sex and sex­u­al­ity. Boys and men have a par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal role in this re­gard, chang­ing the chau­vin­is­tic and de­mean­ing ways sex­u­al­ity and women are tra­di­tion­ally dealt with in both our ac­tions and speak­ing.” As men we must do the hard work of un­learn­ing the cul­ture of pa­tri­archy that binds us and try to em­u­late Madiba in work­ing on the self and our con­scious and sub­con­scious bi­ases. Hatang is chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Nel­son Man­dela Foun­da­tion

TALK TO US Do men’s gen­eral at­ti­tudes to­wards women con­trib­ute to the cul­ture of vi­o­lence against women?

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