Guest Column

Men-on-men violence is the norm

2017-08-06 06:06

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Ramaphosa: 'Violence against women and children has become an epidemic'

2017-07-31 13:40

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the National Campaign against Violence towards Women and Children, at Randburg, Johannesburg, Gauteng on the weekend. Watch. WATCH

Mbuyiselo Botha

As South Africans, we have murdered more than 500 000 of our own since the dawn of democracy in 1994, recent statistics from the Institute of Race Relations have confirmed.

This means that, while we have not been at war, a large number of our fellow citizens have died violent deaths at the hands of their compatriots.

Institute of Race Relations crime analyst Kerwin Lebone had this to say while releasing the statistics:

“South Africans live with horrific levels of violent crime. While the murder rate has fallen since 1994, at 31.9 per 100 000 people, it remains one of the highest in the world.”

Lebone added that the murder crisis was so serious that some South Africans were more likely to be murdered than the residents of many countries affected by terror.

Although shocking, these statistics shouldn’t surprise us at all because our society has institutionalised the violence of men against men in the first place.

Society gives men badges of honour for being violent. We drive recklessly and we are praised because “this is how boys are”.

As men, we have institutionalised self-destruction.

An example is the violence that seems part and parcel of some football matches.

There is no outrage from society when men at football games, dissatisfied with the score or the referee, resort to pulling out chairs and hurling them at each other.

If there was outrage from men, it would be about the match not finishing in the 90 minutes, not that these men are fighting each other.

We seem to have normalised this form of violence and accept it without so much as voicing our objections to it.

If you visit morgues, the majority of corpses there are of men killed by other men for some of the flimsiest reasons in the world.

Road rage is one example of situations in which men attack and even kill each other for something that could have been resolved through patience and tolerance.

Culture of violence

As a society we seem to expect men to display a gung ho attitude towards other men and, not only that, we encourage it by raising boys to be strong and to learn to fight for what is theirs.

We never raise boys the same way we raise girls – to be nurturing, tolerant and compassionate people.

When young boys display even a small semblance of being caring and nurturing, we label them as “showing gay tendencies”.

When we do that, we force young men to learn that, in order for society to appreciate them and to affirm them as men, they need to show strength, toughness and physical strength in dealing with their problems.

Even at schools, we applaud a boy who displays aggressive tendencies bordering on bullying as “iskhokho”.

Then we get a shock when this culture of violence, which had its genesis in the early stages of a boy child’s upbringing, spills over to affect women and children.

The Institute of Race Relations study backs this assertion by showing that “murder affects the most vulnerable people in society.

Over the past decade almost 10 000 children have been murdered.”

It says that 884 children were murdered in 2015/16.

Violence in our prisons or correctional facilities is so endemic, yet society turns a blind eye even though it eventually spills over and affects law-abiding citizens.

Yes, men commit some of the heinous crimes, but that doesn’t give us the right to condone prison violence because, in many instances, it leads to premature deaths and the spread of HIV/Aids.

There is no outrage from society and, certainly, those men who have been victims of violence, especially in prison, don’t come out and tell their stories because they are ashamed that people will realise that they have been emasculated.

However, it doesn’t end there because these men are the ones who leave prison and go out into the world and want to prove that they are still men and have power over those who are weaker than them – mainly women and children.

The statistics confirm this.

These men want to regain their lost power and lost prestige by preying on those vulnerable women and children.

In prison “I was powerless, gang-raped and emasculated.”

This culture of silence and the stigma attached to being violated is also destroying many men.

The thinking is that, as a man, I don’t want to be associated with being a weakling because if I tell what happened to me in prison, I will be called a “cherry” and nobody will respect me after that.

This is a vicious cycle and affects all of us – those who have been to prison and those who haven’t – because those men who are being brutalised and violated in prison will eventually come out and be abusers and brutalisers of ordinary people and, by the time that happens, there is very little we can do about it.

How many parolees commit violence, including rape, when only a few weeks or months out of prison?

Instead of our adopting the stance that those who are sentenced and sent to prison deserve to be violated in addition to the jail time they will serve, we need to concern ourselves that we don’t create institutions that will be breeding grounds for more violence.

Interestingly, there isn’t outrage from prison warders. Instead, you hear stories that they even assist in some of the violence that is meted out to prisoners.

I would like to close with a quote from a famous man, one of our founding fathers of democracy – Nelson Mandela himself, a person we should all emulate because he always denounced violence as a means to attain peace in our country.

From him we have much to learn.

Mandela said: “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are a result of collective consensus and public investment.

"We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”

Botha is a commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality

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