- Kabelo Chabalala is a freelance writer and mentor of the Young Men Movement (YMM) in Mpumalanga.
- YMM is a community initiative aimed at educating men about masculinity, fatherlessness and a lack of male role models.
- Kabelo hopes that his initiative will be one of the stepping stones in creating better men for the future.
When South Africa went into its initial 21-day lockdown in March, many worried about what this would mean for domestic abuse victims who might be trapped with their abusers.
And like clockwork, their concern proved justified after the government announced that just a week into lockdown, the South African Police Service (Saps) recorded 2 300 gender-based violence (GBV) cases.
It was the appalling death of eight-months pregnant Tshegofatso Pule during lockdown that once again sparked nationwide calls from South Africans who have joined hands in taking a stand against GBV.
While Kabelo Chabala (29) from Pankop, a small village in Mpumalanga, accepts that GBV is an ongoing societal problem, he also believes that to effect change you have to start in your own community.
As a result, he established the Young Men Movement (YMM) in 2016, which was initially aimed at educating his younger brother and other adolescent boys in his community to express their masculinity differently.
“I wanted to ensure that we nurture masculinity and ensure that the boys in our community grow up to be better men,” Kabelo explains to YOU.
“The dream of having men who are in touch with their emotions and who socialise progressively inspired me to start this movement.
“I wanted to ensure that we get rid of gender roles at home, at school and in our community in general."
Kabelo kicked off his programme by mentoring four boys. In the years that followed their ranks grew to 40 boys aged 8 to 18 in Pankop and surrouding villages. In 2019 he managed to expand the initiative to Pretoria for young men aged 18 to 25.
“Over the years we’ve had more than 80 boys passing through our programme.
“Our main focus is those between 8 and 18 because we believe we have to start them young. For us to have good men, we’re investing in the boy children who’ll be men shortly,” he said.
Kabelo hopes that his workshops, which are usually also facilitated by other mentors and take place twice a month on Saturdays, will assist younger boys to become better men tomorrow.
“The whole country is crying about abusive men. We’re concerned about the unhealthy masculinity many men in South Africa are portraying,” he explained.
“Yet we’re not doing much with the boy child. In YMM we aim to build strong boy children so we don't have to repair broken men in the future.”
Kabelo takes pride in the fact that his workshops can create an environment for young men to “express themselves and to grow. It’s a safe space to unlearn regressive ways and to build and nurture healthy of positive masculinity.”
He added: “It’s a place where a fatherless child knows that he has mentors and father figures to help him navigate his life.”
Taking into consideration the continual GBV cases in SA, Kabelo believes change begins with understanding the issue of fatherlessness. “I know what challenges growing up without a father presented in my life,” he explains.
“So, I choose to work with boys because I want to see a society that’s happy, free and uncaged from toxic masculinity; boys who’ll be healthy and good men in the future.”
With lockdown ruling out their usual contact sessions, Kabelo resorted to interacting with YYM members virtually.
“I started intensifying content for online platforms, particularly WhatsApp chats with most of the boys. I was particularly worried about the older boys who are in tertiary institutions. Transitioning from high school to tertiary can be very tough.”
So when the initial lockdown was extended, he decided to have one-on-one virtual chats with the boys. “I chose this method because group chats are more like our bi-monthly gatherings. I wanted to give the boys individual attention, something we hardly get to do in a group.”
Kabelo urges all men to take a stand against the scourge of violence perpetrated against women and children. “GBV in South Africa is the result of us men not being responsible and not caring enough about women,” he explains.
“We have turned women’s bodies into crime scenes. We’ve not been good to women. We need to do better as men.”
He stressed that he “comes from a place where a child is literally raised by a village”.
“Let us try to create a village for our boy children to grow up in an environment that has good role models and has men who practise healthy masculinity all round. We’re going to have good and healthy men in our lifetime.”
However until that’s achieved, Kabelo believes, “we should all play a role”.
“Most importantly, let us raise the boy child with a focus on health intelligence.
“In short, let us allow him to feel feelings, express feelings, and know that all that doesn’t make him less of a boy or man.”
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