A research study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation together with Oxfam South Africa reported that three women die at the hands of their intimate partner every day. Also, one in five South African women under the age of 18 has experienced some form of physical violence and South Africa is now officially the rape capital of the world.
Being reminded of these incomprehensible statistics, behind which there is a woman with a name who has the expectation to be loved, yet she will be brutalised again before the end of this day, has left me despondent, deflated, discouraged and just downright bedonnerd.
I am sure that I was not the only one who was left with a sense of despair at learning that South Africa paradoxically spends more money than many other countries to deal with gender-based violence. Nor was I the only one disheartened at the foot-in-the-mouth comment made by the Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women and Children, Susan Shabangu, that violence against women is not a crisis, but a challenge.
The Minister truly seems to have a penchant for making the most inappropriate comments every time a microphone is held in her face. Violence against women and children is both a crisis and a challenge. Statistics clearly show that South Africa has a crisis on its hands and that as a society we are faced with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of changing the male mindset that believes that the appropriate reaction to anger is physical violence.
Something about the tone-deaf reaction of those in government reminds me of the Mbeki government's whistling past the graveyard on the HIV/AIDS crisis, the only difference being that the Zuma-led government has allocated resources to deal with this crisis.
However, just like a parent who thinks that giving a child money and material things is a substitute for engaging and spending time with their child, the South African politicians seem to think that if they allocate a budget to deal with violence against women and children, then that absolves them from the moral imperative to acknowledge that violence against women and children has reached epidemic proportions and to condemn its occurrence harshly.
We must provide legal and practical support for women on how to leave an abusive relationship...
It is true that condemnation alone does not result in a change in abusive behaviour, but every voice of disapproval counts because victims feel that their plight is not being ignored and we create an environment where each person hearing that condemnation of violence against women and children knows that our society has zero tolerance for physical violence and sexual violation.
The deafening silence on the part of government surrounding the Robert McBride incident does not result in affirming the young victim for doing the right thing or encouraging others to seek help and not to be intimidated or fearful when parental discipline becomes assault.
Much has been written about the impotent response of politicians to gender-based violence and before this too becomes a letter of lament, about how the men and women politicians must step up to combat the scourge of abuse of women and children, allow me to offer my two pence about what we can do to temper the crisis that is the rate of male aggression against women.
It is true that education programmes and awareness campaigns are vital tools in our fight against gender-based violence. Supporting and strengthening the self-esteem and resolve of women is also of paramount importance. We must provide legal and practical support for women on how to leave an abusive relationship, for experience teaches that women are most vulnerable and at risk of being killed after they have left or plan to leave the abuser.
Besides helping women in abusive relationships develop an exit plan, women must be given the option of going to a place of safety where they and their children can find shelter from their abuser. Thus our government must make the funding and establishment of safe and effective shelters for women a prerogative.
As a society, we must let women know that it is not their fault when a man brutalizes them so they should get rid of the shame and the silence that surround the issue of violence against women and children. Many South African women are confident enough to speak up and they should not take on the shame and guilt because that should be what the abuser must feel. So often, men do not feel ashamed of being a perpetrator of violence against a woman; instead, they feel that they were justified in their reactions, as they convince themselves that there was a reason for the violence or that they were provoked.
Once a threshold of hitting a woman is ignored and overstepped, it becomes easier to repeat such behaviour in the future and a pattern of aggression develops and is perpetuated.
However, if we are to beat the battery of women and children we will have to take a closer look at the perpetrators. Beating women and children who clearly have less physical strength than their abuser is no feat, so unless the abuser is a cold-hearted psychopath unable to empathise and feel compassion, then most of the time violence against women and children is learnt behaviour.
Whether from their childhood homes or from society, boys and men are all too often taught the baneful mix of ego, pride and selfishness that has resulted in a warped idea of what male behaviour entails. Throw in the archaic belief that real men are strong, that real men are neither emotional nor sensitive, that real men drink and hold their liquor or that real men do not allow themselves to be disrespected by anyone, let alone a woman, and the result is toxic masculinity that is pervasive in our society. Once a threshold of hitting a woman is ignored and overstepped, it becomes easier to repeat such behaviour in the future and a pattern of aggression develops and is perpetuated.
To break any cycle of destructive behaviour, it is necessary not only to realise that such behaviour is harmful but more importantly one has to acknowledge the fact that one is engaging in that behaviour. It is important that men who abuse, start saying "Hi, my name is Mduduzi and I beat women" for by doing so they will be acknowledging that they have a problem: Nobody beats another person when they are happy and content, thus men must identify what the triggers are that cause them to lash out.
From the interview conducted by EWN with Robert McBride's daughter, it was clear that his fatigue, frustration and feeling of being under pressure caused him to unleash his wrath on his daughter. For many men, it is alcohol and other substances that impede their judgement and cause them to lash out at the slightest provocation, whether it is real or perceived. For many, it is the sense of being overwhelmed and anxious or fear and sadness that result in the loss of control.
Aggression and violent behaviour cannot be the only response to anger. Anger is a secondary emotion that often has at its root cause fear, frustration or hurt and pain. Anger is not always destructive, for it can certainly be a good motivator. However, where anger results in men flying off the handle and beating the ones they love, it is important that they recognise what triggers their anger and to find more productive ways of dealing with that anger.
Changing the behaviour and helping men break the cycle of lashing out at those they love will require intervention and work in communities in the form of workshops and support groups. In an ideal world and with unlimited financial resources, South Africa will unleash an army of men and women who will flood our urban and rural communities. They will embark on a process of trust building, something like community health workers in public health.
There is little hope that the ANC-led government will be willing to step up in defence of women and children.
Women will work with, educate and support victims of violence, thus creating a safe space for them to fight back against their abuse. The men will run workshops where abusers can learn to recognise their anger triggers and control their responses as well as learn how to react differently when they are angry. Through support groups, men can share their difficulties while encouraging and supporting each other to do better once they know better.
For violence against women and children strip men of their humanity and a society of the opportunity to flourish because the most vulnerable people in our society are safe, secure and productive.
Ending the canker that is gender-based violence will require effort, commitment and endurance from the government, business and civil society. Unfortunately, if the response of Bathabile Dlamini, president of the governing African National Congress's Women's League to the Mamana incident and the failure of Minister Susan Shabangu to recognise gender-based violence as a crisis in South Africa is any indication, then there is little hope that the ANC-led government will be willing to step up in defence of women and children.