Relationship strategists Mo and Phindi write a weekly column for Weekend Post. This week they re-examine violence against women, an issue which has the country talking, and delve into why men abuse.
South Africa’s femicide rate is five times higher than the global average.
This statistic translates to one woman being killed every eight hours in this country by an intimate partner, whether former or current. Think about that!
The seriousness of the issue, while not new, and the spotlight that is being shone on it in various media platforms, influenced us to dedicate today’s column to trying to understand what lies behind domestic violence perpetrated by men, without excusing the crime.
In the past six years of our work with couples and families, it’s the first time there’s a robust national dialogue on domestic violence.
Society in crisis
Despite legislation and policy focused on improving South African family life, facts reflect 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. Our males – across all age groups – are in prison, they are married to alcohol and drugs, they are illiterate and have little to no income. They are killing each other and their women.
There has never been any systematic effort in this country that educates, influences and empowers black males into becoming positive role models, especially in communities that are riddled with crime, self-hate, poverty, unemployment and all forms of abuse.
The same can be said of white males, but at least they have a much stronger economic and family nucleus 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 the government places emphasis on the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality, we are concerned that not enough thought is given to restoring and healing the family.
Also there has been no effort to circumvent the humiliation, emotional abuse and physical and psychological pain that African men have and continue to endure, before and post 1994.
As a country, we seem to forget that some men, particularly African and coloured, are products of a dysfunctional political, social and economic system. Black men generally have a very clouded view of a properly functioning and supportive nuclear family.
Our society fails men
Our society continues to fail men in the belief that men are able to get by, that men don’t cry and that they must man up.
Black men live in a society that has not allocated them status as emotional beings, but rather as low wage earners and, to an extent, as “blessers” who use this obscene status to abuse, commodify and objectify women.
As a country we have to deal with the painful history that has reduced men to cheap labourers, second-class citizens and “garden boys”.
White men, on the other hand, live in a society of systematic economic exclusion where, if they fall off the track, it may be difficult to jump right back in.
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.
Indeed, history and patriarchy continue to favour men. 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 fulfil his manly responsibilities.
He is shocked to learn that he is at the bottom of the social class, ill-equipped to handle 21st-century pressures. He learns that in the urban areas, no one really cares about his manhood status.
Instead he faces a barrage of feminist thinking and a neo-liberal way of life imposed by the new global order without recognising his unique and dehumanising condition.
On his shoulders, he carries the social expectation that men must play the well-defined role of being a provider, protector, care giver and leader on his shoulders.
Lack of dignity leads to desperation
When he isn’t given space to perform all that, his dignity and self-respect wear off. And in his quest to demand respect and dignity, he becomes conflicted, desperate, violent and a menace to society.
A broad social scan reveals that it is females who are graduating in numbers, more than their male counterparts. There are more girls passing matric than boys, it is males in the majority who are illiterate, who are school and university dropouts.
It is males who are committing violence against each other, abusing their partners, 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 criminalised in our country clearly doesn’t help. Statistics are still alarming nonetheless.
Central to the package of solutions should be the male and his role in the family and society.
There needs to be a balance between the liberal views and traditional expectations of a male. 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 and anchor African males, if we are to properly deal with the challenge of domestic violence.