Mamphela Ramphele | Reverberations of unaddressed history drive toxic masculinity

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Authorities conduct a raid on illegal miners in Krugersdorp after eight women were raped in the area.
Authorities conduct a raid on illegal miners in Krugersdorp after eight women were raped in the area.
Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi

Healing initiatives at the introduction of democracy were quickly sacrificed at the altar of political expediency and compromise.  Events such as those in Krugersdorp are a consequence of that, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

Our courageous mothers and grandmothers who marched together to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 were protesting against a system that not only controlled the movement of black people and excluded them from the economy, but also exacted a massive toll on family structures and self-esteem. 

It would be no surprise if, among the illegal miners arrested in connection with last month’s horrendous multiple rape in Krugersdorp, are the sons and grandsons of former migrant labourers who helped build the mineral wealth of our country for the benefit of a few dominant mine owners at the expense of many indigenous families. Children who grew up without fathers; children whose fathers and grandfathers were humiliated and emasculated and treated like boys. While, living in the Krugersdorp suburbs and expressing horror at the savagery, are the children of fathers and grandfathers who regarded black men as boys, and continue to employ black women in their homes who they refer to as girl. We should all take stock of the cost of unacknowledged wounds and ongoing pain of the legacy of extractive socio-economic relationships. 

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Unacknowledged and unhealed trauma and injustice do not simply go away. The impacts of skewed power relations – between black and white people, men and women, elite governing and working class – are handed down from generation to generation. They reverberate.  

Living in the shadow of fear

The women who marched against the pass law system 66 years ago could not have envisaged that all these years later – 28 years after our liberation from apartheid – multitudes of poor men and women would still be living in humiliating conditions without dignity, in a climate of dwindling hope. It is to South Africa’s shame that the national public holiday meant to symbolise gender equality has become a platform for politicians to compete with each other to decry gender-based violence.  

Women have not been struggling all these years for the right to be able to walk safely in the streets, without coming under physical attack. They have not been struggling in order to pick up the crumbs of compassion that happen to fall off their master’s tables, to borrow the late Archbishop Tutu’s description of the anti-apartheid struggle, in the 1980s.

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Women want, and are constitutionally entitled, to the full menu of rights. Yes, we have reasonable gender representivity in our Parliament, and we see women occupying top seats in many professions, in academia, and at the helm of powerful companies. But multigenerational rage is driving the brutal gender-based violence in our society.

Many women's daily experience is an uphill battle to provide food for their families, while living in the shadow of fear of being brutalised by men - known and unknown to them. 

After the shameful events in Krugersdorp, the state’s response has focused on arrests. Arrests or, rather, successful convictions are good. But the conditions in society will continue to produce a stream of raging misogynists until societal conditions are changed for the better to enable boys to grow up supported by communities that teach them about the beauty of complementaries between the feminine and the masculine. This beauty is exemplified by the genetic codes of men being XY and Women XX, to signal that all human beings carry the feminine within them as the generative caring disposition that only needs to be nurtured to come to the fore.  

Dealing with multigenerational traumas

As a community of people, we need to outgrow the national obsession with the festering and factionalised governing party, and begin to acknowledge the primacy of the task of transforming the dehumanising conditions inherited from the past – left unaddressed in the democratic era.

We must acknowledge the impact of colonial conquest and apartheid on family life and the complementarity of men and women in society. We must square up with the past. Then we require urgent interventions by state institutions and civil society organisations to begin the process of healing.

READ | OPINION: Thuli Zulu - Magistrates courts play a critical role in curbing gender-based violence

Conditions and platforms must be created in our communities and society to have conversations about how we deal with multigenerational traumas behind the conflicts and violence in our midst and promote mutual healing.  Conditions need to be conducive to investing in the creation of opportunities for participatory democratic processes in which ordinary good people, who are in the majority, have the courage and agency to stand up and take charge of their communities.

Ordinary people must be inspired by the values of interconnectedness and interdependence of Ubuntu. Healing that is essential to enabling each person to feel they have a stake in society, that they are recognised as co-members of the human family – and begin to respect themselves and others and acknowledge the humanity of all others. South Africa’s Constitution provides a framework for healing, and enjoins us to heal the divisions of our past, but it is up to lawmakers, citizens, faith communities, and those in charge of the national fiscus to give it life. 

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In the 1990s, soon after the dawn of the democratic era, South Africa fleetingly appeared to acknowledge the primacy of healing the socio-economic injustices of the past with the introduction of the Reconstruction and Development Programme and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC made a host of recommendations to address economic inequality (besides recommendations on reparations and prosecutions), which remain unaddressed by successive ANC governments.  

These healing initiatives were, however, quickly sacrificed at the altar of political expediency and compromise.  Events such as those in Krugersdorp are a consequence of that. 

- Dr Mamphela Ramphele is a veteran advocate for social justice, academic and business leader, who today chairs the Club of Rome and the Archbishop Tutu IP Trust.

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