A new challenge

2011-11-25 00:00

SEXUAL crimes committed mainly against women and children in greater Pietermaritzburg have declined significantly since 2010, according to the latest crime statistics of the South African Police Service. There were 801 sexual crimes reported at the nine police stations in the city between April 2010 and March 2011, compared with the 928 recorded in the previous 12 months, a decrease of 13,7%.

However, offences involving the neglect and ill-treatment of children are up by 30%, from a total of 26 cases reported in 2009/10 to 34 cases in 2010/11 when comparable figures for KwaZulu-Natal as a whole show a decline of 18,3%, from 455 cases to 372.

Thulani Mthalane, of the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa), finds it difficult to explain the increase in cases of child abuse in the city, but he believes it offers a new challenge for the 16-Day Campaign of No Violence against Women and Children, which runs from today until December 10.

The focus will be specifically on challenging the stereotypes of males as uncaring, irresponsible or abusive, and instead to portray boys and men in a positive way.

Mthalane says: “Every year during the 16 Days campaign, we’re bombarded with reports in the media about social problems that can be traced to the high number of absent fathers and broken relationships, and problems like domestic violence, sexual violence, violence against children and discrimination against gay people.

“In the past two years, Pacsa has taken a fresh approach in contributing to the campaign with its Sports Against Abuse initiative, which we believe can break such stereotypes by inviting people of different genders to take part in sporting codes that are usually strongly biased towards men or women.”

This year, Pacsa’s sports project is planned to take place on the sports fields at Alexandra Park at 9 am on November 30. The games will involve mixed teams and take the form of a hybrid between soccer and netball, sprint races and an obstacle course, among others. Pacsa is expecting at least 200 participants from organisations such as the uMngeni Gender and Paralegal Centre, the Gay and Lesbian Network, the police Men for Change group, SOS Children’s Villages, the Built Environment Support Group (which campaigns for the rights of poor people to access decent housing and resources), Project Accept (an initiative that trials measures to prevent the spread of HIV) and Pacsa’s community partners.

Another important way of breaking down gender stereotypes this month has been Pacsa’s “How to shoot a real man” photo competition, which aims to show images of men doing good, caring things with their partners and children. “We’re not trying to source photos of celebrities or macho men,” says Mthalane. “We’re trying to show the faces of males from our communities in and around Pietermaritzburg: media images that present different and inspiring role models of ordinary men.” The Witness is publishing the winning photos in the weeks building up to and during the 16 days. The best images from the competition will be shown at an exhibition in Pietermaritzburg on December 8, and many of them will be published in a limited-edition book to be published next year, to show what Pacsa means about being a “real man in South Africa today”.

Mthalane and his colleagues help to mobilise the Umpithi Men’s Network, most of whose 120 members are active in Mpophomeni, France, Kwashange and Nxamalala. They organise marches, workshops, condom education and HIV testing in venues ranging from churches to shebeens, from police stations to circumcision camps.

Mthalane says: “Umpithi’s focus during the 16 days is to challenge the abuse of women and children by speaking out in such cases as the crime statistics show, by engaging with men in our neighbourhoods and by picketing outside courts where men face charges, like rape, sexual abuse and refusal to pay maintenance.

“We also encourage men to report cases of abuse that they face in the home. This might take the form of emotional abuse, for instance when a man is taunted by his partner because he is out of work and cannot support her and the child. We often pick this up during our men’s dialogues.”

But perhaps the most formidable stereotype that Pacsa aims to break is the prejudice faced by teenage fathers. Most of Umpithi’s members are themselves unmarried fathers, and they understand only too well that society often sees teenage dads as irresponsible, immature and delinquent.

Teenage fathers face formidable obstacles to becoming good parents. Many of them are either at school or jobless or otherwise penniless, and look to their parents to support them. The transition to parenthood is difficult enough for older men, yet teenage fathers are expected to negotiate both adolescent development and parenthood.

Then there are the customary issues that prevent them from becoming involved fathers. As Mthalane notes: “In the rural areas, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, many of these guys don’t have jobs. They can’t afford to pay damages [ukuhlawula], let alone lobola, and the parents of the girls don’t acknowledge the youngsters’ paternity. If you haven’t paid, they say, ‘We don’t know him’. They even refuse to give the child the father’s surname. That creates a distance between the father and the child. It is that lack of access that is often the source of the young father’s anger.”

Teenage fathers also lack adequate support from health practitioners and social workers. There are very few services that cater for them. Little wonder that so many teenage fathers end up losing self-esteem and confidence.

Mthalane says: “The socialisation of boys is lacking. Our government tends to focus mainly on single young mothers, but little is being done to address the needs and challenges of teenage fathers. One example of this is that the personal details of a child’s unmarried father are never documented by Home Affairs.

“That’s why it’s important for organisations like Umpithi to work on campaigns that educate communities about the importance of supporting and working with teenage fathers for the betterment of not only the child and the child’s mother, but for the father as well and the society at large.”

Pacsa is working in a partnership that involves umbimbi, a Camperdown-based network of amabutho, or groupings, in which elders and group leaders do the socialising by instructing and guiding young men in their roles as responsible fathers. The subjects are all over14 years of age, and the groups are organised according age.

The focus of such groups is a form of initiation that is more about changing attitudes than about a ritual like circumcision, which is being done anyway as a clinical exercise as part of the provincial government’s policy to combat HIV/Aids. Such groups will be starting soon in greater Pietermaritzburg, Mthalane says.


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