Men show they can take the initiative

2009-12-05 11:46

THE 16 Days of No Violence Against Women and Children campaign has come and gone. Politicians made the right noises, NGOs got their sound bites and a few brave women came out to say “Enough is enough!”

So what happens now? This is the burning question some of South Africa’s men also want answered.

Sonke Justice Network’s senior programmes adviser, Mbuyiselo Botha, TV and radio on-air manager Nkhensani Phaweni, corporate communications specialist Silvanus Mabaso, accountant Mandla Ncube, ­Olive Leaf Foundation’s Molelekwa Molefe and journalist Dingilizwe Ntuli sat down for some real earnest talk.

Have you ever raised your hand to a woman?

Mbuyiselo Botha (50): There were moments when I raised a hand to a woman, a long time ago.

Mandla Ncube (37): I have had remote incidents where it happened after my girlfriend attacked me. Most of the time when she did it I would not do anything and tried to push her away, but I noticed that one time during this period of 16 Days of Activism the attacks became more frequent, I reacted. So I ended up raising my hand to her in self-defence. Regardless of how you tell yourself that you’re a gentleman, which I’ve always regarded myself as, you can only be pushed so far until you snap.

Silvanus Mabaso (31):
I grew up in a different kind of environment, where the neighbours were very quick to raise a hand to each other. However, in my family even though there would be tension between my mother and stepfather, they never had physical altercations. The arguments were always there, my mother was quite vocal and she would give us a hiding when we’d been naughty but not hit my father or vice-versa. I ended up in a relationship where the woman was vocal, and knowing that I have more of an advantage than the woman, I made it a point not to ever hit any woman because I’d cause a lot of damage. I developed a mechanism for dealing with it – just walk away. I would argue or talk more about it later.

Nkhensani Phaweni (32): I’ve never laid a hand on my woman. Ever. I grew up in a family where my father used to hit my mother. I never liked that and even today it still hurts to remember that.
So I grew up telling myself that I needed to be a better man than my father. We do fight, but our fights are civil. The only time I’ve come close to being physical was when I punched the wall. But never her. I’ve never hit a woman in my life.

Molelekwa Molefe (40): I never raised my hand to my partner before. Maybe because we’re fairly religious. Where I felt like there was some form of abuse is when, as a man, I get answers like “I’m tired” or “I don’t feel like it”, then I would blackmail her by pulling “spiritual verses” where the Bible says that for spouses “Your body is my body”. So when she says no, I tell her she can’t say no to sex because it’s my body too. Today I would look at it as rape.

Dingilizwe Ntuli (34):
I have always had a fear of raising my hand to a woman. And there came a day when I did just that. You argue and reach a point of no return. You are no longer reasonable and the woman is talking too much and when you get out of the house she locks the door. And then you end up slapping her and the regrets follow.

With these kinds of campaigns, do you feel unfairly judged when you are grouped with men who physically abuse women?

The circumstances are always different. There’s never any room to justify your reasons. People tend to just group us in the same basket.

The majority of men will agree that not all men are violent. There are also many who will not take responsibility for their ­violent behaviour. So all of us end up being tarred with the same brush.

MN: I believe the campaign is lopsided. These campaigns take the view that no woman can be abused. Let’s be fair; it should go both ways. We must agree there should be no violence at all, whether its on men or women. Otherwise we men end up feeling marginalised because women also abuse men.

Do you believe that if you do not hit them often and have only done it once or twice it should not be considered abuse?

MN: Yes. Even in the court of law when they sentence you, they will have to look at the frequency. Like I have said, I have hit my partner once and it was under extraordinary circumstances. It has never happened again. I think its wrong to be considered an abuser just because you hit someone once.

NP: I don’t agree because if you have been abusive once what stops you from doing it again? Even though I have never hit a woman I have been verbally abusive and most of the time I have done it to respond to what is being done to me.

How many times does it have to happen ­before a woman should get out of the ­relationship?

SM: Look at the interventions that took place after it happened the first time. Rehabilitation and interventions are necessary but at the end of the day they can only help so much. It’s up to the individual to decide what to do with the tools given them by people trying to help. But it is the individual who makes the decisions .

MB: There are success stories of guys who say they have seen the error of their ways. All we need is faith and hope that we can surmount this problem and fix it.

SM: You have the choice as the woman to decide whether to staying or leave. We can go to counselling and get help but it comes down to the individual’s choice. Sometimes you make the decision that you won’t do it again but with lack of proper support, it leads to regression.

Does it help for men to talk about it?

SM: I think shame plays a big role when it comes to talking about a problem to anyone. I have no problem with a guy coming up to me saying: “I hear you beat up X”, whereas if a woman confronted me I’d simply tell her to mind her own business. That’s why the type of education you get at initiation schools is important because that is where you learn to speak to other men. They teach you important values that do not ­promote violence against women.

Maybe it is time to revive those traditions where men went to the mountains to learn about being men.

In the olden days if a man hit a woman he would be called to order and shamed by the elders at a meeting. Those non-Eurocentric values are important to our African cultures. So we need the campaigns to have real support structures that play the same roles as all those cultural structures we lost. Posters and slogans don’t help with anything.

MM: Men will listen to other men. We talk about everything from soccer to politics, women and love. When are we ever going to talk about real issues? Sometimes I’ll be sitting in a taxi and hear two women who are strangers to each other talking about issues affecting their lives. Why can’t we men do the same? I for one find it difficult to open up to a man that I don’t know. I’m not saying we should open up to just anybody. Rather, we should start talking about important issues with the men we know and call friends.

NP: This campaign is targeted at all men but what I need to understand is for a person like myself who considers themselves a “new school guy”, I have a circle of friends that I feel free enough with to tell them about issue that bother me about my wife and ask for advice. Most of my friends are also like that. They are open about their relationships. That whole feeling of shame is a bit too “old school” but I understand why you would feel ashamed because of how you grew up (speaking to the guys who grew up in the villages). But as for me, If I hit my woman, first thing tomorrow morning I’ll be on email chatting to my friends about what I did and asking for their guidance. At the end of the day I want to have solved the problem with my wife.

When does abuse become abuse? When does it begin?

SM: More than once is abuse in my book. You cannot justify hitting a woman more than once. Especially if you do it deliberately, then you start a pattern.

DN: Abuse also starts once the abused party starts feeling mentally scarred. I may hit you once, twice or even three times but once the other person feels emotionally scarred, it has started.

SM: The campaign is against violence, not abuse. Sometimes that woman might be hit but she won’t consider it abuse. I grew up in a place where there was a belief that “if a guy doesn’t hit you he doesn’t love you”. Were they feeling abused? Probably not. Were they violated against?
What support groups do NGOs have for men to talk about their issues and get advice?

MB: We have support groups in various areas like Orange Farm, Thohoyandou and other interventions where men gather to talk about their HIV status, being violent towards their partner and the path to being non-violent and success stories in their lives. It is ultimately like the old way of solving issues.

However, the number of men coming to these sessions is not indicative of the current statistics, therefore we do need to find a way to let more men know about these sessions.
We also have a campaign called One Man Can and another called Brothers For Life, the concept of Ubuntu. All these concepts give men an idea of how to be leaders in their community by living an exemplary life.

The One Man Can campaign simply says one man can mobilise a group of men to set up a forum. Mandla can gather a group of five men to come and have meeting in his garage about various issues that affect them. The point is you will build each other.

MM: We do most of our work in and around schools where we have community action teams in the Eastern Cape, where we train young boys to replicate the message in their communities. The children take the messages very seriously and run campaigns on their own on Saturdays and their communities support them. There was a 13-year-old boy who ran a discussion and had to stand on the desk in order to be able to see everyone. His level of dedication was quite powerful and inspirational. In Western Cape we have two men’s clinics where we encourage men to make use of mobile testing station for HIV and get counselling.

What can ordinary Joes and Janes out there do to tackle this problem?

MN: Let’s research and find out what are the causes for this in the first place, narrow them down and tackle them. This idea of blaming upbringing and alcohol is idiotic. You don’t go falling in rivers because you are drunk do you? You need to take responsibility as an individual.

DN: You do need to catch them while they’re still young. We cannot just point a blame finger at the government. It’s a societal issue and we all need to play our part to ensure we eradicate all forms of abuse.

NP: We need to have the campaign running for longer for maximum impact.

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