“I wonder why we take from our women, why we rape our women. Do we hate our women?” – Tupac Shakur
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign will soon kick off on 25 November. The campaign seeks to raise awareness around (and end) violence against women and children. In South Africa, we are nowhere near ending this scourge. This makes one wonder how successful this campaign has been at reducing violence targeted at our society’s most vulnerable groups.
Our country is at once a crime scene and a never-ending horror story. Restoring normality in our broken society will therefore take more than 16 days in a year as gender-based violence (GBV) happens daily. Toxic masculinity is at the heart of GBV and, for as long as it remains unaddressed, it will continue to stain our country’s moral fabric.
Toxic masculinity refers to anti-social behaviour that is largely and wrongly believed to be part of what constitutes being male. This includes, but is not limited to, misogyny, homophobia, stoicism and aggression. While it affects both men and women, it is particularly harmful to children and women; the violence stemming from it continues to claim many lives.
The case of three-year-old Courtney Pieters, who was raped and murdered last year, reminds us how GBV spares no one. It reminds us that normalising violent and anti-social behaviour among men often ends up with the innocent and most vulnerable paying the ultimate price.
In Tshwane, Nicholas Ninow is standing trial for allegedly raping a seven-year-old in the bathroom of a Dros restaurant. GBV knows no bounds and is not confined to our homes, schools and churches. It happens in many other public spaces as well and the fact that an innocent child was raped in a place where she should have been safe and free illustrates the gravity of the problem we face as a nation. So, with all these horrific incidents occurring regularly, where are our leaders and what are they doing to counteract the harmful effects of toxic masculinity?
The Minister of Women in the Presidency, Bathabile Dlamini, has communicated on incidents of violence against women, notably at the funeral of Karabo Mokoena, who was killed her boyfriend. Dlamini left many shocked when she defended former ANC MP and convicted woman abuser Mduduzi Manana’s behaviour after his domestic worker, Christine Wiro, alleged that he had tried to push her down the stairs of his home.
Dlamini was quoted as saying: “There are those that are actually worse than him … I refuse that this issue be made a political tool. It’s not a political tool.” By saying this, Dlamini implied that what Manana had allegedly done was not that serious and that it was likely concocted by someone to settle a score against him. It is disappointing that President Cyril Ramaphosa would give someone, who uttered such insensitive words, the responsibility of protecting women and advancing their interests.
In the National Assembly we witnessed an incident where DA MP Annette Steyn was pushed and manhandled by EFF MP Mzingisi Dlamini. The red berets have in the past been slammed for espousing violence and toxic masculinity and the attack on Steyn by one of their own confirmed this. The Parliamentary sitting was broadcast to millions and one can only imagine what went through the minds of young boys who were watching the proceedings at home. When “leaders” normalise this violence against women, society cannot be expected to act differently.
Unchallenged male leadership has horrific consequences and this goes beyond the political sphere. The trial of televangelist Timothy Omotoso, who is accused of rape, sexual assault and other charges, has once again brought the issue of the abuse of vulnerable women and children by spiritual leaders to the fore. For too long, patriarchal dominance in religious institutions has gone unchallenged and, for various reasons, there has been little pushback from women who have felt disempowered. If women do not feel protected by political or religious leaders then there is a serious problem in our society.
GBV has reached crisis levels and failing to address this will mean that many more people will suffer the consequences. As we approach the start of the 16 Days of Activism campaign, we must commit to demanding more accountability from our leaders. They need to act with greater urgency and explain to the nation why they have failed to protect vulnerable South Africans. The DA Women’s Network calls on men and boys to make women and children’s safety their priority. Let’s encourage men to speak up against GBV and allow their voice to inspire change in this country.
We will continue to stand up and fight for a South Africa where women are safe wherever they go, seen as equal contributors in society and are not subjected to any form of violence and abuse. Our women and children need more than 16 days to heal from the scars of GBV. Our boys and men will need more than 16 days to rid themselves of toxic masculinity. Our leaders need more than 16 days to reflect on how they have failed the vulnerable.
Nomafrench Mbombo is the DA Women’s Network Leader.