‘To get the desired effect we have to shift our focus’

2009-12-05 12:05

By Sibongile Khumalo


has been 10 years since South ­Africa first marked the 16 days of ­activism for

no violence against women and children.

Ten years in which we have seen an escalation of violence within

broader society. 10 years in which women and children remain the primary targets

of a myriad of travesties. 10 years in which the message has remained pretty

much the same yet we keep churning it out the same way, regardless of the fact

that we are not getting the desired results.

What is the desired outcome of this campaign? Campaigns start and

end. How come this one does not seem to roll down to an end? The obvious ­answer

is that the violence against women and children is not ending.

Women are lumped together with children, so that we are constantly

­reminded that we are helpless creatures that need protection in the same way

that children do. On the other hand we are repeatedly ­reminded that we are

powerful ­beings capable of running not only our homes and households, but of

running the world as well. Both these messages are subliminally very ­powerful.

Are we surprised we are ­increasingly becoming so disconnected and


The safety and protection of ­children is the responsibility of

both men and women. So can we please change the focus, find a new language to

ensure that all of us do what we need to do to create a safer society for our

children? I believe this change in focus will enable all of us to interrogate

our roles, individually and ­collectively, of what it is we need to do to foster

a caring, safer and more humane society in which our ­children can grow and


We often talk of old-fashioned ­values when we refer to things like

respect, compassion, integrity, loyalty, honour and so on. What makes them

old-fashioned? Values don’t come and go like a style. And we need to remember

this. It is when we recognise them as such that they will help us define our

social and political ­discourse. It is in embracing a values-based approach to

living that we will continue to advance our humanity in the same way as our

parents and ­older generations were able to, even as they contended with milieus

that sought to denigrate and de-humanise them.

In this modern paradigm, where all things “new and fresh” are

gospel, it becomes a challenge to keep a perspective and an understanding that

most things in life are not new and fresh. In many instances they are a

replication of what has come before and they return in a different or ­disguised


Values are always retro, to borrow from the fashion world. Values

will always have currency because they are the glue that binds us to what’s good

in the past as we contemplate a desired future full of promise.

Our responsibility as the older ­generation is to give guidance and

­direction, to instil those values that helped us determine our own paradigm. It

seems pretty obvious. Yet we have seen a resignation, an almost copping-out from

a responsibility to instil discipline and order.

It is in the nature of youth to challenge authority and push

boundaries. And it is the responsibility of the older generation to engage, rein

in and give guidance and direction. We cannot continue to observe, with

­resignation, a political and social ­discourse driven and determined ­only by

young people.

As they challenge authority, young people instinctively know that

there are boundaries beyond which they are not meant to go. The challenge for

the men and women of this older ­generation is to step up and take on the

responsibility of raising responsive, compassionate young people.

How do we reclaim our essence so that each and every day is a day

in which every citizen feels safe and protected both under the law and as a

social right? What is the moral ­compass that guides our vision of how we want

to be as human beings? Not how we want to be seen by others, but how we

appreciate our individual and collective selves.

This is a responsibility for men and women. Not men alone, as the

subtext of the 16-days campaign implies. We can only get this right when we all

pull together, as partners, in fostering a healthy and caring society, by

contributing to an environment that shows a respect and appreciation for our


We are a communal people who have always taken pride in our ability

to pull together when it matters the most. We all have the power to bring about

the change we want to see. I am asking that we change the focus from a campaign

against violence to a campaign for the safety and protection of our children, of

women, of men, in other words, of broader society. That we take part in a

campaign that ­advances our humanity, a campaign that liberates our minds and

our souls from always embracing concepts that emanate from outside of ourselves.

We have a powerful human-rights based Constitution. Let the rights

we demand be infused with the humanity for which we used to be so famous.

I have often heard it said that “you are what you think”.

The basic premise is that when you think about something and you

speak passionately about it you bring it into your experience. If this is indeed

true, which I believe it is, I am hopeful that with a shift we shall see a

winding down of so much violence, pain, poverty, disease, unemployment and all

other societal challenges, as we focus on positive desired outcomes. Call me an


  • Khumalo is a musician and a

    ­member of the Advancement for the Status of Women

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