Why are we not out­raged when men re­sort to vi­o­lence against each other for the flim­si­est of rea­sons, asks Mbuyiselo Botha

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Botha is a com­mis­sioner at the Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity

As South Africans, we have mur­dered more than 500 000 of our own since the dawn of democ­racy in 1994, re­cent sta­tis­tics from the In­sti­tute of Race Re­la­tions have con­firmed. This means that, while we have not been at war, a large num­ber of our fel­low cit­i­zens have died vi­o­lent deaths at the hands of their com­pa­tri­ots.

In­sti­tute of Race Re­la­tions crime an­a­lyst Ker­win Le­bone had this to say while re­leas­ing the sta­tis­tics: “South Africans live with hor­rific lev­els of vi­o­lent crime. While the mur­der rate has fallen since 1994, at 31.9 per 100 000 peo­ple, it re­mains one of the high­est in the world.”

Le­bone added that the mur­der cri­sis was so se­ri­ous that some South Africans were more likely to be mur­dered than the res­i­dents of many coun­tries af­fected by ter­ror.

Al­though shock­ing, these sta­tis­tics shouldn’t sur­prise us at all be­cause our so­ci­ety has in­sti­tu­tion­alised the vi­o­lence of men against men in the first place. So­ci­ety gives men badges of hon­our for be­ing vi­o­lent. We drive reck­lessly and we are praised be­cause “this is how boys are”. As men, we have in­sti­tu­tion­alised self-de­struc­tion.

An ex­am­ple is the vi­o­lence that seems part and par­cel of some foot­ball matches. There is no out­rage from so­ci­ety when men at foot­ball games, dis­sat­is­fied with the score or the ref­eree, re­sort to pulling out chairs and hurl­ing them at each other. If there was out­rage from men, it would be about the match not fin­ish­ing in the 90 min­utes, not that these men are fight­ing each other.

We seem to have nor­malised this form of vi­o­lence and ac­cept it with­out so much as voic­ing our ob­jec­tions to it.

If you visit morgues, the ma­jor­ity of corpses there are of men killed by other men for some of the flim­si­est rea­sons in the world. Road rage is one ex­am­ple of sit­u­a­tions in which men at­tack and even kill each other for some­thing that could have been re­solved through pa­tience and tol­er­ance.

As a so­ci­ety we seem to ex­pect men to dis­play a gung ho at­ti­tude to­wards other men and, not only that, we en­cour­age it by rais­ing boys to be strong and to learn to fight for what is theirs. We never raise boys the same way we raise girls – to be nur­tur­ing, tol­er­ant and com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple.

When young boys dis­play even a small sem­blance of be­ing car­ing and nur­tur­ing, we la­bel them as “show­ing gay ten­den­cies”. When we do that, we force young men to learn that, in or­der for so­ci­ety to ap­pre­ci­ate them and to af­firm them as men, they need to show strength, tough­ness and phys­i­cal strength in deal­ing with their prob­lems. Even at schools, we ap­plaud a boy who dis­plays ag­gres­sive ten­den­cies bor­der­ing on bul­ly­ing as “iskhokho”.

Then we get a shock when this cul­ture of vi­o­lence, which had that 884 chil­dren were mur­dered in 2015/16.

Vi­o­lence in our pris­ons or cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties is so en­demic, yet so­ci­ety turns a blind eye even though it even­tu­ally spills over and af­fects law-abid­ing cit­i­zens. Yes, men com­mit some of the heinous crimes, but that doesn’t give us the right to con­done prison vi­o­lence be­cause, in many in­stances, it leads to pre­ma­ture deaths and the spread of HIV/Aids.

There is no out­rage from so­ci­ety and, cer­tainly, those men who have been vic­tims of vi­o­lence, es­pe­cially in prison, don’t come out and tell their sto­ries be­cause they are ashamed that peo­ple will re­alise that they have been emas­cu­lated.

How­ever, it doesn’t end there be­cause these men are the ones who leave prison and go out into the world and want to prove that they are still men and have power over those who are weaker than them – mainly women and chil­dren. The sta­tis­tics con­firm this.

These men want to re­gain their lost power and lost pres­tige by prey­ing on those vul­ner­a­ble women and chil­dren. In prison “I was pow­er­less, gang-raped and emas­cu­lated.” This cul­ture of si­lence and the stigma at­tached to be­ing vi­o­lated is also de­stroy­ing many men.

The think­ing is that, as a man, I don’t want to be associated with be­ing a weak­ling be­cause if I tell what hap­pened to me in prison, I will be called a “cherry” and no­body will re­spect me af­ter that.

This is a vi­cious cy­cle and af­fects all of us – those who have been to prison and those who haven’t – be­cause those men who are be­ing bru­talised and vi­o­lated in prison will even­tu­ally come out and be abusers and bru­talis­ers of or­di­nary peo­ple and, by the time that hap­pens, there is very lit­tle we can do about it.

How many parolees com­mit vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing rape, when only a few weeks or months out of prison? In­stead of our adopt­ing the stance that those who are sen­tenced and sent to prison de­serve to be vi­o­lated in ad­di­tion to the jail time they will serve, we need to con­cern our­selves that we don’t cre­ate in­sti­tu­tions that will be breed­ing grounds for more vi­o­lence.

In­ter­est­ingly, there isn’t out­rage from prison warders. In­stead, you hear sto­ries that they even as­sist in some of the vi­o­lence that is meted out to pris­on­ers.

I would like to close with a quote from a fa­mous man, one of our found­ing fathers of democ­racy – Nelson Man­dela him­self, a per­son we should all em­u­late be­cause he al­ways de­nounced vi­o­lence as a means to at­tain peace in our coun­try.

From him we have much to learn. Man­dela said: “Safety and se­cu­rity don’t just hap­pen, they are a re­sult of col­lec­tive con­sen­sus and pub­lic in­vest­ment. We owe our chil­dren, the most vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens in our so­ci­ety, a life free of vi­o­lence and fear.”

its ge­n­e­sis in the early stages of a boy child’s up­bring­ing, spills over to af­fect women and chil­dren. The In­sti­tute of Race Re­la­tions study backs this as­ser­tion by show­ing that “mur­der af­fects the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in so­ci­ety. Over the past decade al­most 10 000 chil­dren have been mur­dered.” It says

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