Sunday is Father’s Day and earlier in May President Ramaphosa, while addressing the nation stated: “Men have declared war on women in South Africa.” This week the President noted: “Violence is being unleashed on women and children with a brutality that defies comprehension.”
Everywhere you turn you’re confronted with headlines and #’s pleading with men and boys to get involved and reduce – prevent – end GBV. Meetings, strategic plans, marches, vigils, and funerals seem to happen on a daily basis.
Yesterday the President urged lawmakers in parliament to urgently pass legislative amendments pertaining to, minimum sentencing in cases of gender-based violence, bail conditions for suspects, and greater protection for women who are victims of intimate partner violence. Only to find out that his administration hasn’t placed any bills in this regard before Parliament as yet.
In SA femicide is much higher than the world average. But not all South African men have “declared war on women”, there are many good men, who speak up and stand up for their mothers, sisters and friends. Although it seems that it has become “fashionable” for men to take responsibility on behalf of “all men”, surely it cannot be the answer to make all men out to be monsters in the minds of women and girls. After all according to the latest SAPS (2017/18)crime figures, 5.4 times more men are murdered than women.
In 2019 the Constitutional Court found that spanking your child is inconsistent with the Constitution and thus against the law in South Africa. The finding was sparked by a Johannesburg father who severely assaulted his son, who he accused of watching porn on the family iPad. The Constitutional Court finding raise the question: Would somebody who is mentally and emotionally able to abuse a child, refrain simply because it is against law of the country now?
Yes new legislation, social awareness and men getting involved will surely make a difference, but will it break the tide completely or only address the top of the iceberg? If the root cause or causes are not corrected, can it really change? There are many underlying issues, but here are some of them, in an effort to illustrate the magnitude of the bottom part of the iceberg.
Start with the children:
During March 2020 a 56-year-old Wolseley father was sentenced for the rape of his daughter and on seven other counts, including child abuse and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. He had physically and psychologically abused his three minor children since 2012, when his youngest child was a 2-year-old. Western Cape High Court Judge Rosheni Allie said the father repeatedly raped his then 6-year-old daughter for seven years knowing that he was HIV-positive. His 12 year old son said in court papers, that he felt helpless and out of control when he and his sisters was being hurt. The boy noted that their paternal family blamed them (the children) for the abuse.
The “Optimus Study: Sexual Victimisation of Children in South Africa” that was conducted by researchers from the UCT and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention and concluded in June 2016 showed that one in every three young South Africans has experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lives. Boys and girls were found to be equally vulnerable to some form of sexual abuse in their lives, although these forms differed by gender. The foreword in the study states: “Childhood exposure to violence victimises children and plays a role in transmitting violence from one generation to the next”
Growing up surrounded by violence:
Back in 2012, Matthews et al. investigated the nature of child homicide in South Africa and found that boys aged 15 – 17 years old had a homicide rate of 21.7 per 100 000 people, substantially higher than the 4 in 100 000 global rate. Suggesting that violence is a factor that impacts heavily on how many young men reach adulthood.
Women also contribute to the problem:
Although there does not seem to be a study specifically pertaining to South Africa, various studies from other countries have shown that both mothers and fathers may physically abuse children. As a matter of fact in Australia, the UK and USA incidences of abuse and neglect by mothers / stepmothers are much higher than by fathers / stepfathers.
Growing up in abusive family environments can teach children that the use of violence and aggression is a viable means for dealing with interpersonal conflict.
Mashilo Mnisi is the head of the Moshate organization in South Africa. His organisation focuses on domestic violence against men and boys. He describes the abuse of men by women as “South Africa’s hidden crime”. It is wildly understated due to the stigma attached, but his organisation receives between 25 to 30 abuse complaints per month.
The absence of father figures:
The first report on what fatherhood looks like in South Africa was created by Sonke Gender Justice and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) along with numerous organisations. Called The State of South Africa’s Fathers and released in 2018, the report gives insights into the many expressions of fatherhood. These include absent fathers, co-resident fathers, non-resident fathers and social fathers. It also reveals:
- 29% of children live in a household with no adult male;
- 36% live with their biological father in the same household;
- 35% reside with an adult male that is not their biological father.
These numbers gets broken down further in the report:
- 43% of black children (more than 6 million) live with a mother only;
- 35% of coloured children (nearly 538 000) live with a mother only;
- 10% (about 37 000) of Indian/Asian children live with a mother only;
- 17% (roughly 169 000) of white children live with a mother only.
Teach our daughters their value:
Stats SA published a report in June 2018 with shocking the shocking results that 3,3% of men and 2,3% of women in South Africa think it is acceptable for a man to hit a woman. It could therefore be fair to conclude that it is not possible to eliminate violence against women when there are women who still believe that it is acceptable to be hit by a man.
Abuse of alcohol:
Data published by the World Health Organisation in 2019, shows that South African consumers of alcohol are some of the heaviest drinkers globally. While the majority of the adult population are not big on alcohol, the third of the population who are drinkers, do so heavily. Alcohol plays a large role in criminal activities and violence. Excessive drinking has the ability to lower inhibitions, impair a person’s judgement and increase the risk of aggressive behaviors.
Ironically according to the Global Health BMJ Journal in the paper called “the cost of inaction to society and the economy”: Drug abuse in the entire population could be reduced by up to 14% if sexual violence against children could be prevented, self-harm could be reduced by 23% in the population if children did not experience physical violence, anxiety could be reduced by 10% if children were not emotionally abused, alcohol abuse could be reduced by 14% in women if they did not experience neglect as children, and lastly, interpersonal violence in the population could be reduced by 16% if children did not witness family violence.
Part of a bigger crime picture in SA:
Crime in SA is rampant and the most vulnerable will suffer most. Inequality and poverty are only two of the major obstacles to overcome in the process of fighting, but more importantly preventing crime.
These points are by no means a comprehensive list of factors that contribute to GBV, neither is it meant in any way to down-play the terrible violence and heart breaking consequences of GBV in South Africa. It is merely meant to highlight that intervention on many levels, by all walks of life and genders will be needed to really halt GBV in this country. The government has been talking about changes and reforms to ensure reporting, policing and prevention of GBV becomes more effective and “user-friendly”. Unfortunately not much has been successfully implemented. Even though the President’s intent seems clear, getting the government machinery to work effectively down to ground level remains a struggle.
The problem is complex and it is not new, but this Father’s Day let us remember that there are plenty of South African men that we can be proud of, that are doing their bit to act as role models, protectors …. real men of our country.