Open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa; Mr President, black men deserve better!

President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo.

This letter concerns the Virtual Men’s National Dialogue to “end gender-based violence and femicide” which is organised by the African National Congress (ANC) today, 14 August 2020. As per the ANC’s press release, President Cyril Ramaphosa and a selected group of men will be among the leading participants in this event.

Let me first state that, the Gender-Based Violence or femicide in South Africa as it is currently contextualised, and is an attack on black lives and the black community in totality. I will substantiate my submission with facts and research studies. The crimes; violence, abuse, senseless murder, that takes place in the country, mostly takes place in townships of squalor, hopelessness and helplessness. As I write this letter to you, it is in poverty-stricken Cofimvaba, the dusty township of Umlazi, drug
and gang-infested Mitchell’s Plain, where murder, rape and abuse is a daily reality.

Black pain cannot be gendered

One of the accepted views in our society post-1994 under the ANC led government is that women are victims of men. Hence, Gender-Based Violence campaigns are assumed on that premise; that men abuse and kill women arbitrary because they are engaged in a war against women. Then the dominant perspective is that the criminal justice system must simply arrest and jail them.

Although this be may be true on one part, an important element or dimension is missing. As a liberation movement, we need to be careful in importing ideas that were conceived in other countries without fully appreciating our specific contexts and circumstances. The risk in doing this is that we could be overburdening our men, with crimes and misdeeds against the African people that were committed over many centuries ago.

We could also be shifting responsibility to the ANC, as a result of our failure to carry out the historical mission of fighting for a more socially just society.

In addressing the present problems, we seem to overlook the historical and systematic attack on the black family unit that has led to the total breakdown of black communities and family structure. In other words, our approach to abuse against women and children deals with the effects, not the cause. And, until such time we face and deal with the reason, this exercise of positioning men as simply violators will remain as pointless as it has been for many years.

The annual crime statistics from the South African Police service for 2019/2020 calendar year has been released, and as per usual, it paints a horrific yet consistent picture; that both victims and perpetrators of the crime are from a specific racial and class demographic. This grim picture points to an even bigger problem: that poor black men die in their thousands, and this is normalised in our society.

Mr President, through a virtual Presidential Imbizo, held on 15 July 2020, you were at pains to explain why violent crimes should be explored in all areas they happen even though organisations like Afriforum requested you to focus on specifically farm killings, and in a space where a political party, such as the Democratic Alliance have made you apologise for your remarks on farm murders. You were correct in your response, but I presume the current owners of the economy and the land will not want such a meaningful engagement that looks at the cause and effect of our social- ills because it will expose the historical impact of their apartheid and colonial laws as well as policies on black families and the black community.

The reality that, of the 21 325 murders that were recorded by the South African Police Service in the country, of that statistics only 49 were farm murders, 2695 were mostly black women, and 18 630 of the murdered were primarily black men and boy children. This genocide is taking place in South Africa. By being born black, violence, abuse, murder, poverty, inequality, exclusion, debt, landlessness and humiliation will characterise your life. Whether you are a black woman, black gay man, black business or black lesbian, the colour of your skin will define your socio-economic condition and wellbeing.

In gang-infested Mitchell’s Plain and other places of squalor, black boys are idling. They are either unemployed or unemployable, but only to find themselves in the hands of drug-lords and hospitable groups that seem to restore the dignity and weak image of the victim. In the end, they become alcoholics, abusers and nyaope addicts.

Our society has failed the black African males in the belief that they are ‘just able to get by’. Society insists that “Men mustn’t cry” (indoda ayi khali, monna ke nku o swela ka fa gare). Black men and boy children find themselves in a society which has not allocated the status of emotional beings but just mere wage earners who have to play a particular, well-defined role, for example, “providers”, and or “leaders”. And, when they are unable to live up to the expectation, they are lambasted as nature’s worst creations.

Motseki Mabuya, one of the many black men who have chosen to speak out said the following, “We are a broken society, and as black men in society we owe it to ourselves to find our corners to cry and speak out. Most of us are broken, empty, angry and sad but we have managed all these years to mask everything. Yet daily, we detach from our human core.” 

Ayabulela Ngcelwane simply said, “I’m truly and deeply sorry brothers, I can’t be a man but human this season. Allow me to cry out like a child”.

Mr President, black men, are crying out for help, and no one is listening. As individuals, black men have done well for themselves. Still, the everyday reality of a typical black male is one who has surrendered his body and soul to alcohol, drugs and violence while killing time in the street corners ravaged by depression, anger, drugs, abusing his peers, women and girl children. It is black males in the majority who are illiterate, who are school and university drop-outs, committing violence against each other, abusing their partners, alcohol and drugs and continue to fill the prison numbers.

It is black men who fill up numbers of the humiliating lines of the R350 Covid-19 grant because the system deliberately excludes them. Mr President, this cannot be normal in a supposedly free and democratic society. This implies that as the ANC, we have let down our men, women and children.

Existing in parallel with the GBV narrative is a fallacy that black men control patriarchy and the economy of the country. As alluded above, the black men are in a desperate state of poverty and are considered surplus in an economy that continues to treat them as standard inputs and less human. These men are found in street corners, taxi ranks, hostels and low-paying jobs as security guards, mineworkers, and construction workers. Unfortunately, policy-makers in government and capital use these distortions to deliberately exclude ordinary black men and boy children as recipients of restorative socio-economic justice.

Dr Marcus Bright describes this tragedy facing black males as, “a secret depression that is rooted in economics that many Black men battle with, hidden underneath an assortment of layers including an exaggerated bravado, drug and alcohol abuse, misdirected anger, and other forms of destructive behaviour.”

A male in Switzerland, Norway or a typical White or Indian male in South Africa does not face the same male problems that afflict black males. A black male in the African context generally meets the worst economic conditions and societal treatment.

For example, in communities where male circumcision is prevalent, boys are prepared to be “men” (amadoda). The reality is that society and its functioning has changed a lot in recent years to accommodate these men. In this regard, the “man” leaves the rural side to the urban area to search for a better life and to become a “man” who can take his respectable place in the family and his community. Yet what remains, is that he is at the bottom of the South African social class since he is without education or employment. The black male then becomes conflicted, desperate, violent and a menace to society.

And it is in such communities such as the Eastern Cape, Kwa Zulu Natal and Limpopo Provinces where men are given a sense of false superiority (indoda/monna). At the same time, the same society humiliates him by denying his fundamental rights to education, work and dignity. How can an ill-behaved monster who is humiliated daily be expected to take his place in society and family? He is told he has no place in a matriarchal household. He is expected to be gender-neutral, but when it comes to raising boys, there is pressure for him to produce well-mannered men when he is said to behave himself badly.

It is time that the ANC invests energy and resources in undressing the everyday reality of a broken and defeated men instead of merely setting police and soldiers on them. Let us apply and deploy new measures in Cofimvaba, Galeshewe or Msinga where black people are killed indiscriminately. If we do not act now to arrest the situation, a tragedy will continue to play itself out in this country, and will soon blow on our faces.

In 2013, Branson, N. Hofmeyr, C. Lam, D, (2013)1conducted research which sought to understand the relationship between progress through school, cumulative the socio-economic disadvantage, household income and parental support in correlation to school drop-outs states. They established that “male learners are to a greater degree the first to feel and react to household credit constraints, by leaving school and looking for work and the probability among females to drop-out is not intrinsically related to household income or school fees.”

Also, a Higher Education South Africa report (2013-2017)2 on the state of higher education stipulated that females make up the total body of students registered in higher education as well as 56% which graduates and 66% which attains a bachelor’s degree. This finding was supported by yet another study in 2015 by the South African Department of Basic Education3 on the national education annual assessment which indicated that boys are behind girls in reading, writing and mathematics.

Mr President, it appears we have a severe problem in our hands, and it has been there for years yet little or nothing has been done to improve the challenges facing this important section of our society. The root cause for the problematic behaviour of men is known; empirical evidence is available, but the government and social sectors somehow pretend that all is normal. At worst, no comprehensive programmes have been devised in the past 26 years to support men in their daily struggles.

Firstly, a comprehensive survey was undertaken by the National Department of Health of South Africa, in 2012 to evaluate the health risk behaviour in adolescents and young people between 2002 and 2008. The research was conducted amongst boys and girls who were in high school, and the findings were as follows:

● VIOLENCE – Measures of violent behaviours indicated a high prevalence of violence in the country, about a fifth of the students surveyed, indicated to have carried a weapon in/or outside the school in the month preceding the survey, on all of the violence measures the numbers were significantly higher for boys than for girls.

● SUBSTANCE ABUSE – The national prevalence rates for smoking, alcohol use and marijuana use, and lifetime use of illegal drugs were respectively high, on all measures boys scored significantly higher than girls.

● UNSAFE SEX – Of the boys and girls surveyed who had sexual encounters, 64% of the participants reported to have had at least unsafe sex once in their lifetime, with boys scoring higher than girls.

Secondly, Professor Bozalek from the University of the Western Cape (2010) concluded that the level of unemployment and wage inequalities experienced by black males is the least appreciated and acknowledged phenomenon in South Africa. Not even equity surveys of the Department of Employment and Labour care to study this occurrence with the view of designing appropriate interventions to save black males from slave jobs. At the same time, these males are heads of families that they are supposed to provide for.

Motape Motokwe who is a community and trade unionist mentioned Professor Bozalek’s findings, which argue, “Once a black African man is 35 years, there are no defined opportunities for him, even though he may have benefited from all the set interventions while he was a youth. As the interventions are mostly biased and continue to be mostly bias and exclusionary beyond that point. And it is actually at this age, needs grow exponentially as they may likely to have children, extended families and families of their own.”

Unorganised as black men are, excluded from gender empowerment policies and without any formal government structure that advocates for their issues, a black man in South Africa has survived and continues to survive against all the odds. It is indeed a great mystery, and this deserves to be studied in-depth to gain a better understanding of how black men have adapted in this highly adversarial environment.

More than four hundred centuries of exploitation, segregation and dispossession has inflicted immeasurable damage on the sanctity and sanity of black African men in South Africa. And we have all turned a blind eye.

With all the research done on the crisis facing black males and the annual crime statistics that have a race and class dimension, why are we using western binary definitions which perpetuate antagonisms between black men and women in particular? Over and above the systematic exclusion of African males, there are consistent distortions, myths and fallacies that have mostly gone unchallenged. While black men may benefit from patriarchy to a lesser degree, and they don’t control it.

The annual economic, employment and wage equity statistics in the past two decades continuously exonerates them. It is White, Indian and Chinese South African women who are at the top of the economic hierarchy and are also the biggest beneficiaries of BEE and Affirmative Action policies far above black African men and black African women.

Black lives matter

These are the discussions we are forced not to have simply because we will anger the white community, Mr President. What we call or consider as the freedom to the ordinary black men and woman in post-1994 South Africa translates to mere civil rights and not a life of dignity and economic freedom which sees the majority of men dependent on social grants of their fragile old mothers while making babies that also depend on charitable donations.

Mr President, as the head of state, you can begin to drive a balanced conversation and initiatives aimed at reversing the generational cycle of self-defeatism, dependency on the state and exclusionary policies that have relegated black African men to mere spectators in the land of their forefathers.

It is time that we are brutal and honest as to why negative societal trends are mainly prevalent in the black African community. Why do black African males beat up, rape and kill each other, and the women and children? Why is alcohol consumption predominantly linked to violence and sexual violence in townships, informal settlements and rural areas? But more importantly, why black males are falling drastically behind in education, health and the economy?

Today presents an excellent opportunity to do something about this finally. Let us break the silence, if not biased view, which seeks to devalue the reality and factors that directly and indirectly affect black males, their situation and behaviour.

As an African Nationalist organisation, let us not be shy to also look at Afrocentric empowerment programmes where males and females will complement, protect and love each other and not always compete with each other. That could be the most profound definition of comradeship (to love each other).

Mr President, black African men and black women deserve better!