Guest Column

Like Madiba, men must work on themselves

2017-06-11 06:10
Interview with the newly appointed director of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Sello Hatang. Photo: Herman Verwey

Interview with the newly appointed director of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Sello Hatang. Photo: Herman Verwey

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Sello Hatang

Over the past few weeks, following a spate of horrific killings, rapes and the mutilation of women, the hidden war against women and children has been brought into sharp focus. These recent incidents have brought into public consciousness what has long been a blight on our nation. For many South Africans, including myself, the shock becomes more painful when considering that this violence is a daily lived reality for women.

The violence against women can be analysed within the context of a society in which violence is manifested in a variety of ways. South Africa is a violent society. Institutions which are supposed to help keep us safe are known to be violent. We have churches using Doom insect repellent and other poisons on congregants and bullying continues unabated in schools and in homes. For many, a life of poverty is one of continued structural violence.

Violence dehumanises us and strips away our dignity. As the son of an elderly woman, the father of a teenage girl, a brother, a husband and an uncle to many children, and girl children in particular, I am horrified at what is happening and terrified for them. Violence breeds violence. Many victims become scarred for life and can become perpetrators themselves. This cycle of violence also has roots in our political history. Many people are surprised by the violence we see today, but could it be part of a cycle brought on by decades of witnessing or being victims of apartheid state-led violence carried out with impunity?

I felt her shame

I recently had the pleasure of hosting Mme Marah Louw in my office on the eve of the launch of her autobiography, It’s Me, Marah. In the book, she relates the story of the abuse of her sister who was eventually burnt to death by her partner. The wound is still fresh for Mme Marah Louw even though the incident happened many years ago. The recent attacks on women and Mme Marah Louw’s visit reminded me of a call I received a few years ago. While sitting in my office at the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), a relative called to inform me that her 10-year-old daughter, let’s call her Dikeledi (tears in Setswana) had been raped by a neighbour. It was a cry for help as they had received no support from the police or social services. The phrases “the discarded” and “the forgotten” came to mind as I realised that because they lived in the rural North West province justice was out of reach to them.

As my relative related to me the horror of the attack on her little child, I felt her shame. A shame that stems from a culture of victim blaming. As a result of this shame, many rape cases do not get reported or they get withdrawn by people who, like both Dikeledi and her mother, have been stripped of their dignity.

After speaking to SAHRC chairperson Jody Kollapen and CEO Tseliso Thipanyane about the phone call, they both gave me advice and through their networks I was able to contact the commissioner of police in the North West.

The matter was attended to swiftly. Within 24 hours the investigating officer was replaced, the perpetrator was arrested and social workers came to the house to provide the necessary counselling. I kept on asking myself how many other people had access to such contacts, how many more Dikeledis do we have out there whose cases are never reported or investigated? We owe it to the people whose cases do not make headlines to fix the system. We owe it to “the discarded”, “the forgotten”, to correct their status in society and accord them the dignity they deserve.

"We need a fundamental change of mindset"

In Setswana there is a saying “Matlo go sha mabapi”, which loosely translated means that when your neighbour’s house goes up in flames you should feel as though it’s your own house that’s on fire. To help build the country of former president Nelson Mandela’s dreams we must move beyond bandaging the wounds of the past and make a concerted effort to build individuals, families and, ultimately, a nation that cares about the pain of others.

We must recognise that the walk towards achieving this will be very long but that we are armed with tools such as the Constitution and its values and determined men and women who want to deal with this deep wound. We must also work hard to overcome the macho culture that we continue to breed in boys and men. Madiba himself struggled with this monster of chauvinism and patriarchy.

In 1971 he reflected: “Some say that chauvinism is one of my weaknesses. They may be right. True enough, my blood and brain do not often synchronise.” But Madiba worked hard on this during his years in prison and in his lifetime. In his later years he reflected on the role of men and stated: “We need a fundamental change of mindset with regards to the way we speak and behave about sex and sexuality. Boys and men have a particularly critical role in this regard, changing the chauvinistic and demeaning ways sexuality and women are traditionally dealt with in both our actions and speaking.”

As men we must do the hard work of unlearning the culture of patriarchy that binds us and try to emulate Madiba in working on the self and our conscious and subconscious biases.

Hatang is chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

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Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  gender equality
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