A few weeks ago, during an interview about being abused by her partner, Graça Machel’s daughter Josina Machel was passionate as she considered the causes of domestic abuse. She asked how it was possible for men not to see their own mothers and sisters in the women they beat up.
“How dare they raise their hand to beat a woman? Men come out of women, men have sisters. And if they dare raise their hand to someone who they profess to love, how would they feel if someone raised their hands towards their sister?”
She went on: “My [young] son knows that if he dare raise a hand towards a woman, I will call the police. Once he got upset and wanted to hit his sister, and I picked up the phone and said: ‘I will call the police if you hit my daughter.’”
On Wednesday, President Jacob Zuma launched the so-called 16 Days of Activism for no Violence Against Women and Children. This lowly newspaperman prefers to call it the 16 Days of Violence, because there is no evidence that it makes any difference. Year after year, violent men continue to beat up their partners for 365 days. It is arguably one of the most meaningless campaigns on the government’s calendar.
Arbor Week, which is celebrated in early September, has more of an effect than this lame effort because we get to watch a tree grow.
The meaninglessness of 16 Days was best illustrated by the launch event in Naauwpoort village in North West on Wednesday. It was a festive affair that saw Solly Moholo lead the crowd in song: “Ha ke gopolola Zuma, ke tlhakatlhakana tlhogo [When I think of Zuma, I lose my mind].”
According to a City Press report, the crowd promptly lost its mind and danced along. Naturally, the nation’s chief dancer and giggler joined in enthusiastically. North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo outdid himself with the ZCC’s mukhukhu dance. Supporters of the ANC Women’s League – the musical outfit that usually performs outside court – were in full voice and dance.
Mahumapelo also seemed to forget what the occasion was about and launched into political speak, encouraging his leader to stay strong in spite of people “who will go around blocking
The giggling dancer did get around to addressing the issue at hand, boasting about successes in government efforts to fight the cancer. He decried the nation’s violent culture, which led to people violating the rights of others. Violence against women was an extension of this culture.
“We need to confront this problem and begin to eradicate the culture of violence,” he said.
As he droned on in his usual speech-reading pace and cadence, his audience drifted into boredom. They only emerged from their slumber to applaud when he mentioned that papgeld defaulters would be blacklisted.
Between now and the end of the campaign period, there will be many speeches. There will be pledges about redoubling of efforts to fight abuse. On December 10, we will be told about the incredible success of the campaign and just how much it has raised awareness.
On December 11, life will go back to normal. Men will beat up women. Women will scream. Neighbours will pretend they do not hear.
Ashamed of being victims, women will hide their abuse as if they are the perpetrators. Abusers will continue their rampage.
Next September, whoever is 2016’s national police commissioner will reel off disturbing statistics that will show that the 16 Days was a waste of time.
There will be outrage and calls for “something” to be done. Anti-abuse bodies will pronounce that the numbers are conservative because of under-reporting by women who don’t want to be outed as victims. The months will roll by and, on November 25, there will be yet another launch of yet another 16 days of meaninglessness.
Those involved in the 16 Days programme will argue that it is harsh to say the campaign is meaningless. They will say anything that raises awareness is useful and that a focused blitz grabs the attention of the public much better than permanent campaigns.
They might have a point, but that is the sort of argument one would expect from a marketing director or a coke-snorting yuppie at an advertising agency.
The fight against the abuse of women is not a product to be marketed to consumers.
As has been said countless times by countless people, if there has to be a 16-day blitz, then it has to be supported by a visible and sustained effort throughout the year. Otherwise, it is just pointless.
There also has to be a sustained effort targeting tomorrow’s men. Abusive men do not suddenly become that way the day they become adults. Disrespect for female peers develops early. Violent tendencies creep in when boys convince girls that “I hit you because I love you”.
These tendencies are normalised by a society that doesn’t actively shun abusers. And the fight against abuse is trivialised by meaningless campaigns.