The statistic that one woman is killed every 8 th hour in South Africa sends shivers down our spine. According to crime researchers, our femicide rate is five times higher than the global average. Half the women that are murdered in our country, die at the hands of an intimate partner. We can’t think of a fitting term or phrase to label this kind of madness.
The seriousness of the issue, while not new, influenced us to dedicate our Father’s Day contribution to trying to understand what lies behind most domestic violence cases as perpetrated by men in South Africa, without excusing the crime. We also hope to help agitate the country towards a deliberate national debate that would result in positive and tangible outcomes in taking our country forward around this issue.
As a couple that’s been working with relationships for the past couple of years, we are often confronted by partners in abusive relationships. It’s extremely rife. Despite legislation and policy focused on improving the South African family life, reality reflects a society in crisis. The White Paper on Families in South Africa also greatly ignores men as part of a cohesive and conducive family structure critical to rebuilding the family unit.
Black males are in prison, they are married to alcohol and drugs, they are illiterate and have little to no income, and they are killing each other and their women.
There has never been any notable national systematic effort in this country to educate, influence and empower Black males into becoming positive role models especially in communities that are riddled with crime, self-hate, poverty, unemployment and all forms of abuse. Same can be said of White males, but at least they have a much stronger economic and family nucleus culture that serves as a good support system.
Within the context of the breakdown of the family unit is the corrosion of men, many of whom have become a menace to society. As government places emphasis on the “triple challenge” of poverty, unemployment and inequality, we are concerned that no thought is given to restoring and healing the family. But also there has been no effort deliberately placed to circumvent the humiliation, emotional abuse, physical and psychological pain that Black men
have and continue to endure, before and post 1994.
As a country, we seem to forget that Black males, particularly African and Coloured, are generally products of a dysfunctional political, social and economic system. They generally have a very clouded view of a properly functioning and supportive nuclear family.
Our society continues to fail men in the belief that men are just able to get by; that “men don’t cry”; and that they must just “men-up”. Black men live in a society that has not allocated them status as emotional beings but rather low wage earners, and to an extent, “blessers” that use this obscene status to abuse, commodify and objectify women. As a country we have to deal with the painful history that has reduced the Black man to a cheap
labourer, second class citizen and garden boy. Otherwise we’ll have to account for the toxic masculinity in our society.
There is a silent if not biased view that seeks to devalue the reality and factors that directly and indirectly affect males, their situation and behaviour.
While history and patriarchy continues to favour men, this does not mean they control patriarchy, especially Black men. The society, through established systems and norms, which must be demolished, actually controls patriarchy.
For instance, in Xhosa culture, a young boy is being prepared to be a “man” through circumcision. Societal realities however, can no longer accommodate his “manhood”.
He leaves his rural village to search for a better life in urban areas so that he can be able to fulfil his “manly” responsibilities. He is shocked to learn that he is at the bottom of the food chain and social class, ill-equipped to handle the 21 st Century society.
He learns that in the urban areas, no one really cares about his “manhood” status. He instead faces a barrage of radical feminist thinking imposed by the new global order that doesn’t recognise his unique and dehumanising background.
On his shoulders, he carries the social expectation that men must play the well-defined role of being a provider, protector and leader. When he isn’t given space to perform all that, his dignity and self-respect wears off. And in his quest to demand respect and dignity, he becomes conflicted, desperate, violent and a menace to society.
While he engages in self-sabotaging behaviour, women are getting more independent, correctly so. It’s females that are graduating in numbers more than males, girls are passing matric than boys, more males are illiterate than females, and are school and university dropouts than females.
It is males who are committing violence against each other, violating their partners, abusing alcohol and drugs, and continue to fill prisons. Like their White counterparts, Black men are negatively affected by policies like Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment, as these favour Black women more – for a good reason.
We believe as a society we need to provide long-term and inclusive solutions to the domestic abuse challenge. That it’s criminalized in our country clearly doesn’t help as statistics are still alarming nonetheless. Current reality also tells us that adopting radical postures that further perpetuate the dehumanisation of the Black man in trying to eradicate toxic masculinity only achieves the opposite. As men and women, we are not enemies. We can’t afford to be.
Central to the package of solutions should be the male, and his role to the family in the 21 st Century. There needs to be a balance between the subjective liberal views and traditional social expectations of a male in order to locate and affirm the role of men and fathers in a society that opts to neutralise male dominance and encourage women empowerment.
Boys need to be guided, harnessed, loved and allowed to have a smooth transition from boyhood to manhood. We have no other option but to consciously, systematically and deliberately support, understand the internal struggle and anchor the Black man, if we are to properly deal with the challenge of domestic violence.