When femicide hits home

2010-10-31 08:50

By now, the news of ­African-American filmmaker Andrew P Jones shooting himself after attempting to murder his South African wife Kubeshni Govender, from whom he had been separated for almost a year, has spread across the country.

Andrew had been updating the Gender Links video “Making every voice count” during the just-ended Gender and Media Summit. Kubeshni was a founding board member of Gender Links.

This is a fairly typical case: man kills or attempts to kill his partner or ex-partner, then kills himself.

But when this tragedy hit so close to home it made me think about the harshness with which we often judge the men we do not know, who are
unable to find ways of dealing with their emotions.

I knew Andrew as a doting, loving husband and father.

We started a simple campaign: If women constitute half the population, they deserve to be heard in equal strength to their numbers, we argued.

We also took issue with the way that women are frequently portrayed as mere objects for men’s pleasure, sparking a spirited debate with our “Strip the Back Page” campaign.

A journalist by training, Andrew constantly asked the difficult questions about freedom of expression and the right of those women who choose to market their bodies to do so versus the messages this sends out about the role of women in society.

I argued if the playing field were equal women would have more choices of profession, and their right to sexy male images equally marketed.

We made our video, showed it across southern Africa, and seven years later conducted the Gender and Media Progress Study showing that across the region the proportion of women media sources has gone up by a mere 2% (1% in South Africa, currently at a still low 20%). Back-page girls still abound.

When Gender Links invited expressions of interest for updating the video, I cast my vote for Andrews’ Black Earth Communications because I wanted an intelligent

filmmaker who would go on asking the difficult questions about why, despite all the rhetoric about gender equality, we seem constantly to slip backwards.

About a year ago, Cochise Jones?(10) hit the headlines when he won an award from the City of Joburg for saving his brother after the ­toddler fell in the swimming pool, using knowledge gleaned from a book on the family coffee table. Cochise is Andrew and Kubeshni’s oldest son.

During a brief interlude at the summit I commented to Andrew that they must be very proud of Cochise.

He responded: “Isn’t it ironic that this divine intervention ripped my family apart; it tore the heart out of my family; nothing has ever been the same.”

I remember saying to my husband: “Andrew is a broken man.” Little did I know the meaning of these words!

At Andrew’s funeral his friend Kenny Walker quoted Maya Angelou: words to the effect that a black man in America would be crazy not to be angry. What she did not say, he reflected, is how anger – like hate – can be such a destructive emotion.

Others who spoke at the funeral did not even try to understand what had happened, instead celebrated the love of a father, husband and son.

I went from the funeral to my laptop to edit more reports.

It struck me that if we were doing media monitoring, Andrew’s obituary would be one more male source that would take us little closer to understanding the real workings of patriarchy.

I made a mental note that we needed to do much more to reach out to men who are imprisoned by the ­emotions that society, for whatever reason, has never allowed them to process. And I gave a word of thanks for the life of Andrew Jones.

» Lowe Morna is executive director of Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links opinion and commentary service that offers fresh views on everyday news

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