Senzo Meyiwa's death gives us a morality lesson

2014-11-12 09:25

Senzo Meyiwa’s death continues to spark a discussion about morals. A morality discussion is not a problem, so long as it is not dogmatic or devoid of logic. Those who accuse others of being judgmental commit the crime of thinking that a society (made up of people with differing interests) can function on autopilot without a guiding value system that denotes the good and the bad within the parameters of that society.

Since Senzo Meyiwa’s death, a bigger (yet understated) debate on sexuality has been going on. When societies experience higher degrees of liberty and freedom of expression, this often extends itself to other spheres of human life and activity. As technology also transforms and makes communication easier, the platforms to express our freedom expand. This freedom includes sexual freedom.

The #TeamMandisa vs. #TeamKelly factions that took shape in social media and society at large were an attempt to delineate boundaries of sexual freedom and how far they should extend. Part of the problem however is that people committed too much positionality on a subject they did not have facts about and still do not. This is most dangerous. There are people who now irrationally hate Kelly Khumalo – they do not have facts to support their accusations. The only person who could help them is now six feet underground.

Others chastise Mandisa for not having left a ‘toxic’ marriage, as Senzo was openly in a relationship with Kelly, humiliating her (if they were indeed still happily married) in front of all South African citizens who cared to read the papers. Here Mandisa is seen as a willing victim. However, the same Mandisa was probably taught to fight (anyamezele) for her marriage, not give up easily because you must endure pain and suffering in a marriage. It could be that she fought and stayed on in her marriage for other reasons aligned with her interests. Perhaps she paid heed to Thabo Mbeki’s call:

“Trying times need courage and resilience. Our strength as a people is not tested during the best of times. As we said before, we should never become despondent because the weather is bad nor should we turn triumphalist because the sun shines.”

The circumstances of the Senzo Meyiwa’s case are not clear but in our society, there is a nervous debate happening on sexual freedom. When do people know they want out of a marriage? What should happen when they reach such realisation? These are some of the important questions that should be focused on by the underlying morality discussion. This will help to come up with new ways of approaching marriage and its demise in the 21st century. The reason why the Senzo Meyiwa debate has been so ferocious is that there is serious disagreement on how people should handle their sexuality. This is part of an evolving society.

People are fearful that monogamy is falling apart as people continuously (in numbers, both male and female) want to express their sexual freedom. Generally, around the world, the construct of monogamy is in crisis. This is frightening to many as it decodes the foundation upon which their fantasies about partners and spouses are built upon. What people seek is full ownership of their lover’s heart and sexual experience. This growingly becomes an elusive dream as people often have complex shareholdership. While others sing “these ‘girls’ ain’t loyal” – they will do well to stop their sexism derogatory nature and substitute ‘girls’ with hearts.

What is observable in the Senzo Meyiwa debate, especially if you know some of the people commenting personally, is that there is some psychological projection taking place. Psychological projection can be simplified as, “a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in themselves, while attributing them to others.”

Many people, who threw insults, suffering from psychological projection, saw themselves in Kelly Khumalo as they are currently dating married men or men in relationships with other women. However, in Mandisa these very same people saw their future – of wanting to be happily married to a man that will be loyal and faithful without being tempted by ‘side chicks’. They see their experience with married men as a passing phase and that no one will one day have such a phase with their future husbands. It is a twisted logic.

As a social scientist in the making, I take great interest in the evident re-organisation of the traditional family structure of married men and women as was prevalent during the times of our great-grandparents. Today, family structures are either layered (people having children with partners who are not the husband/wife they are with) or devoid of what we deem ‘normal’ (a father, mother and children). This growing re-organisation needs to be appreciated instead of being demonized if we are to develop policies that are responsive to our societal needs.

Many philosophers from Plato, Socrates, Hegel, Rousseau to Hegel have grappled with the notion of family. They often described family as the most natural (and oldest) structure of society known to human beings. William Bennett, a former United States secretary of Education summed this up two years ago (as many have before him) by saying, “The family is the nucleus of civilization and the basic social unit of society.” However, what is family today does not resemble what was the case many centuries ago when the phrase was coined.

Bennett further went on to conclude, “If we have stronger families we will have stronger schools, stronger churches, and stronger communities with less poverty and less crime.” This could be true but it is also defeatist and fails to seek new ways of conducting development in society in a manner that matches the evolution taking place – which is seeing the dearth of the traditional family structure. In this new era of disintegrating traditional families and unresponsive development, women who find themselves with children who have absent fathers (either because they are married or irresponsible) will be hardest hit and negatively affected.

The continued lack of appreciation of this evolution also leads to children who are born out of wedlock or marriage to be stigmatized in some communities. This unnecessarily creates children who feel like misfits, without centrality for their identity and in some cases it psychologically affects the children and limits their human potential.

The keeping intact of the traditional family hinges on marriage being widely practiced. Yet, this is not happening because in reality women no longer have to marry to feel a sense of security because today they can now work and be leaders of society. This is unlike those archaic societies that kept women at home, banned them from participating in productive work and in the political life of nations. The big question becomes; how compatible is marriage with today’s society? Some view marriage as a repressive institution, yet they still want to have children because the mere possibility that one can bear children without the burden (for both men and women) of marriage is appealing.

Central to the observation of marriage as a repressive institution is people’s need for sexual freedom, to be free to change partners when the going gets tough in order to be with those who satisfy their souls in that moment. Once you are married, a divorce becomes a tedious and ‘shameful’ thing to undergo. People must appreciate this societal evolution – no matter how opposed they are to it, in order for us to have policy directions that are responsive to the society we have not some desirable society informed by past traditional structures, which are barely holding today.

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