The national trauma we go through annually is back. Not that it does not happen daily but there seems to be a time in the year when cases of extreme violence against women and girl children come to the fore and grip public imagination. It’s a period I detest but which it’s evil we must confront.
Nonkululeko Mpanza (8) and her friend Nompumelelo Mhlongo (9) are the latest girl children to die a very inhumane death at the hands of barbaric criminals. Their butchered remains were found last week in their township of Katlehong. This happened not long after Katlego Joja (10), the autistic Mamelodi girl, tragically died after she disappeared from her family home.
When such a thing happens in that community, members of that community, especially the men, should pause and reflect on how they have failed the victims. Society in general must hang its head in shame when such happens.
We all have a responsibility to end violence against women and children but I want to make a special appeal to us men. The common denominator in this scourge is men.
Men who abuse women can be of different ages, races, religions, and economic backgrounds. They can have different kinds of jobs and education. They can be a husband or ex-husband; a live-in partner, a lover, a boyfriend, or an ex-boyfriend, a son, a relative, or a caregiver. An abuser can be the guy next door or the colleague in the office.
The fact is it is our boys, brothers, cousins and fathers who abuse our girl children and the women in our society. Some of them we know but we choose to turn a blind eye. It is in our hands as men to stop it – both as perpetrators and keepers of our brothers, sisters, mothers and children.
But we would need to take the late Hugh Masekela’s words to heart and action them in order to stop or eliminate violence against women and children. In his famous song, made even more so by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s incorporation of it into his inaugural State of the Nation Address, Masekela sings: “I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse. I wanna lend a hand. Send me”
We all know that Masekela used his music to mobilize against apartheid and the response, both locally and internationally, was phenomenal. Men play his music in their jazz clubs and have it as part of their collection. We would do well if we don’t just stop there but respond in action by lending a hand and being there for the violence of abuse. That’s what Masekela challenged us to do.
Forget, for a moment, about appropriating the song for political messaging. In fact, the song is really about addressing our social ills more than it is about politics. We can respond to Masekela’s song by doing a number of things.
First, we need to take a vow that we ourselves will never abuse women and girl children. This requires us to be conscious of the power we wield – be it at home, at the workplace, in churches and mosques, and in society in general – and to be cautious of how we exercise that power.
For a man raised in a patriarchal society that invests little in making him understand the dynamics of power and gender relations, this may not be easy. But it can be done. It is a deliberate effort that can be aided by open conversations among men about this scourge. We need to talk about it at the bars, in Locke rooms, in men’s societies and in men’s fellowship groups.
Such open conversations will also make us conscious of how we socialize our boy children. Boys hero-worship their fathers and male figures in their families. Their behaviour is learnt from adult males. Once they see us as grown-ups according respect to women and protecting girl-children, they will seek to emulate us. Men can be a positive influence on boys so that the latter grow up knowing that violence against women and children is socially unacceptable.
Also, we need to isolate those among us who commit these heinous acts against women and children. In this regard, I find initiatives like ‘Not in My Name’ and the South African Men’s Forum encouraging. These are men who are taking a stand and telling women that they can count on them. Equally, they are telling men who are abusive that they will not stand with them and that; in fact, they distance themselves from them and their actions.
But as men are taking the above-suggested steps, authorities must be enforcing the law by ensuring that those who abuse women and children are arrested and locked up. Two immediate and practical steps the authorities must take are: (I) ensuring that police officers are trained in handling matters of domestic violence and (ii) passing legislation that stipulates a mandatory sentence for those found guilty of having abused women and children.
Enough is enough we cannot allow this barbaric behaviour by some men amongst us to continue one more day and unchallenged, we must join hands as members of society and say once again “NOT IN MY NAME”.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY OF CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIR OF NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)