When men take a stand

2010-11-28 14:19

Mbuyiselo Botha is a chatty man, so much so that it sometimes leaves him breathless. This is especially so when he talks about gender justice.

He walks with a limp due to injuries suffered after a police bullet penetrated his skull and lodged at the back of his head during the political turmoil of the 1980s. But that is not the only price Botha has had to pay over 50 years of activism.

These days, he is the target of many South ­African men who feel he is being “used by whites” to subvert what these men believe African ­manhood is supposed to stand for: a mystical ­superiority over women.

Botha, media liaison officer for the Sonke ­Gender Justice Network, is one of a rising number of South African men who are taking a stand against women and child abuse. For these men, it is not just about the 16 Days of Activism Against
Women and Child Abuse campaign, which ­started this week.

“I started doing this job because of my sense of justice. I realised that we can’t say the liberation movement is complete when women are not free,” says Botha.

He is not alone in his view.

“At least 99.99% of perpetrators (of violence against women) are men, but 99.99% of women are behind the (gender equality) NGOs,” says Kevin Barbeau, who is the director of Men and Women Against Child Abuse.

“So, we should have men standing up against abuse and saying no.”

For Alfred Mikoli, it was a family tragedy that spurred him on to activism against child abuse.

Mikoli is the chief executive of the 24-hour crisis telephone counselling service, Lifeline.

“My younger brother murdered his partner and then committed suicide. That is what convinced me that this is not about other people out there. It is about people around me,” says Mikoli.

Mikoli realised early on how society was contributing to the violence that characterises the way so many men behave towards women.

“Human beings are emotional creatures, but when society tells boys not to cry, the humanity of boys is suppressed.

This contributes to the ­violence of men because they do not know how to express their emotions, and end up finding women and children as alternative outlets for their anger,” he says.

Thapelo Rahlogo, a permanent staff member of Agisanang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training, echoes Mikoli’s sentiments.

“We need to include men as the solution ­because most of the time they are the ­perpetrators,” he says.

But Rahlogo believes it is not only the actual perpetrators of violence against women who need to be conscientised. For him, gender ­activism goes much further than that.

“The people who do nothing when these things are happening are also perpetrators,” he says.

Mikoli agrees.

“As a man, saying that you are not an abuser is not enough. We need to take a stand even against our friends. We need to go beyond not being an abuser and become an activist, and ­conscientise other men that abuse is not fair.”

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