Where the blame lies


Lebo Ramafoko

Sandile Mantsoe, Brickz, Mduduzi Manana.

These are powerful men who, this year, made headlines for murdering, raping or assaulting women.

Mantsoe is on trial for the particularly brutal murder of Karabo Mokoena, whose charred body was found in a ditch in May.

Kwaito star Brickz (Sipho Ndlovu) has recently been jailed for 15 years for raping a 17-year-old relative in 2013.

He threatened to kill her if she told anyone.

Since his sentencing, poet and musician Ntsiki Mazwai has also accused him of rape.

Manana resigned from his post as Deputy Minister of Higher Education due to public pressure after a video of his assault of Mandisa Duma at a Sandton nightclub went viral in August.

A R100 000 fine or 12 months in jail was imposed on him on Monday.

We all know the story.

Even if we can’t immediately call to mind accurate statistics to bolster our argument, gender-based violence is a huge problem in South Africa.

It has many definitions, but in general the term denotes “violence as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between genders within the context of a specific society”.

In 2012, a study by NGO Gender Links concluded that 77% of women in Limpopo, 51% in Gauteng, 45% in the Western Cape and 36% in KwaZulu-Natal had experienced some form of gender-based violence.

A shocking 76% of men in Gauteng, 48% in Limpopo and 41% in KwaZulu-Natal admitted to committing some form of gender-based violence.

Consider this: of the seven women murdered every day between March 2010 and March 2011, at least half were killed by intimate partners, research by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) shows.

The police recorded 39 828 rapes in 2016/17.

While this was down on the 41 503 in 2015/16, it’s an average of 109.1 rapes daily.

Bear in mind the Institute for Security Studies’ warning that the rape statistics “cannot be taken as an accurate measure of either the extent or the trend of this crime”.

This is mainly due to the fact that most cases of sexual assault are not reported.

Studies show that people who grow up in households characterised by violence are more likely to see violence as “normal” and to use it, or at least not act to ban it, in their adult lives.

That’s not to say that every person who grows up in a violent home will become violent – some people have the opposite reaction and work to ensure a total lack of violence in their later lives.

It seems, therefore, that, in order to address gender-based violence, we need to address issues related to parenting – a very challenging issue.

Almost half of the country’s children (48%) grow up without their fathers being involved in their daily lives, although these fathers are alive, the Institute of Race Relations reported this year.

How do we then deal with violence against women in a comprehensive manner?

The CSVR research found that boys growing up in households where a father was absent were more likely to “man up” – to display hypermasculine behaviour in an attempt to fill that gap.

Given that we live in a predominantly patriarchal society that generally views men as more powerful and more aggressive than women, it is not surprising that this often translates into these boys displaying a greater propensity for violence.

They believe that they have to be “in control” to prove their manliness, and they believe that if they meet with resistance they can, perhaps even need to, resort to violence to maintain their dominant position.

Across the board, society places women in a position inferior to men.

This means their ability to contradict the powerful position men – and often boys – are placed in is diminished, sometimes hugely.

Culture, tradition and religion often work against women, placing them in a subordinate position to men; they powerfully normalise the disparate gender roles, making it difficult for women – and children – to stand up for their rights.

Not only do these women have to deal with men who are mostly physically stronger than they are and more attuned to using violence to enforce their positions, but they must stand up to the weight of the culture, tradition or religion – or all three – to which they belong.

It’s an invidious position.

As is so often the case, South Africa looks good on paper.

Out of 87 countries surveyed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development for its 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index, we ranked fourth – and the highest in Africa – in making progress in terms of gender equality and women’s rights.

But the track record on this in practice is appalling, as we have seen.

Even the increased power women have gained can work against them.

It is fairly easy to see why it is hard for women who are economically dependent on their male partners to leave abusive relationships, but research by the CSVR shows that women who have more economic power can be at risk, precisely because of that power.

In recent years, many women have become educated and are earning good money by themselves.

This alters the power relationship between men and women, and some men take their humiliation at no longer being the “provider” out on the woman, who is providing.

So gender-based violence is once again a powerful way to reinforce patriarchal power.

There are ways in which women can reinforce patriarchal power, too.

They can accept without question the cultural, traditional and religious entrenchment of patriarchy, and even excuse violent male behaviour with phrases such as “He’s sweet when he’s not drunk” or “Boys will be boys”.

This, however, does not make women responsible for gender-based violence.

The fault lies predominantly with men.

As does part of the answer.

. Ramafoko is CEO of Soul City Institute.

The 2017 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, to be held on November 25, will be addressed by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J Mohammed under the theme Centring gender: reducing inequality through inclusion


How can the seemingly intractable problem of gender-based violence be stopped?

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