This Is A Man’s (abusive) World

It started like any ordinary day, I never would have guessed it would end with me questioning all I have come to know about what it means to be a man in this world.

It started with a video that showed the Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, Dr. Sizwe Mabizela, shoving a protesting female student. He apologised shortly afterwards and when later that day he was challenged on this by a caller into a radio interview added, “. . .we are all human and in the heat of the moment with frustration, things do happen”. Later in the day Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos referred to women in general and those working at Cell C in particular, as having “a bitch switch”. On Cell C hiring Miss South Africa finalists as interns Dos Santos went on to say “You know what that does to a company? The men dress better, they shave every morning”. The in-studio panel were unfazed and joined him in laughing at these blatantly sexist comments, I can only assume, in agreement. It is notable that one of the panelists, when asked for a comment afterwards said, “The mindset of the person at the top does have a dramatic effect”. Later in the day, women at Rhodes University had a naked protest to show their frustration at the tepid response of the administration to their demands for urgent action against rape culture on the campus. On twitter this was met with much ridicule and disgust from men of all ages, it was at that point that I stopped and asked myself, what the hell is going on?

These seemingly isolated incidents are part of a broader pattern of abuse by men of women that plays out across the planet daily but I will focus on South Africa because this is where I live. From crude jokes, to insults, to physical violence, this is happening all the time and we all know it. On that particular day it really hit home for me that there is a problem with all men in this country, regardless of age, race, social standing or education, we all share the problem of abuse. Regardless of wether we are perpetrators or silent witnesses to this violence, we as men are all responsible. We don’t get to say “not all men” because it is all men who are ultimately responsible for creating the society in which it is not unusual to hear the term rape culture, where just about everybody knows somebody who has been sexually assaulted or raped and this is no exaggeration.

As men we are responsible for the normalisation of violence in our societies because more often than not, it is men who are the perpetrators and defenders. It is men who, out of a misplaced sense of loyalty lead the defence of alleged perpetrators on social media simply because a guy must always be given a chance. It is men who push the perception that women can’t be trusted and will do anything to bring a guy down. It is men who, after it is beyond doubt a woman has been assaulted, will seek to identify what role she played in her own assault. It is men who dictate to women the consequences of overstepping moral boundaries that only seem to apply to women as crafted by the same men. It is men who claim ownership over women’s bodies then through this false claim feel entitled to treat women as they deem fit whilst simultaneously feigning ignorance when women reject this sense of ownership. It is men who are silent whilst this happens all around them only reacting when challenged by women or a woman close to them is a victim of this culture they have inadvertently fostered with their silence. Here’s the thing, you can’t say or do abusive things then when the people you have affected call you an abuser you say they are wrong. This is wrong and needs to change.

This change cannot come from women because, no matter how many naked protests they have or men they name, it is the responsibility of men to stop giving each other a pass and reeducate each other on, first, mutual respect. One of the first lessons we learn from birth is respect, it is not a gendered lesson, it is respect for all but somewhere along the line we start to be selective about who we afford respect. Much of this selectivity comes from mimicking the older people around us. We internalise this selectivity and soon, we too are influencing others to do the same. I have written before about how saying boys will be boys only serves to entrench a sense of entitlement in men from an early age. It is therefore a lie when any man claims not to know what women are on about when they demand that men respect them in general and their bodies in particular. It is a lie when men rise in defence of a rape accused who they don’t know and try to play Devil’s advocate because, well, “you know how these women are”. It is really because we know how men are and we just don’t want to deal, we have evolved into masters of rationalisation, we routinely justify the most heinous of acts and do anything so we never have to deal with our collective conscience.

I don’t know what it will take to get men to change or when, but I highly doubt it will be after some great leader somewhere says something. I am far from perfect but I do know the difference between right and wrong. Whilst I may not have always practiced it, I also know to respect other human beings as do we all. What I saw this week and every other day is not right and it is high time men started having this conversation amongst ourselves. If each of us were to start talking with the man next to us that would be a start.

 

Why We Need To Stop Saying “South Africa Will Be Another Zimbabwe”

Yesterday I listened to a podcast of a talk-show hosted by one of my favorite radio presenters, the topic was, Is South Africa on the brink of Zimbabwe’s fate?. Newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube and another guest were in studio talking about a warning Ncube had tweeted about how South Africans risked becoming like Zimbabwe. Now this warning is not uncommon, in fact, it has become more commonplace with every passing economic and political scandal in South Africa, no need to mention them here.

With every person who repeats it this theory has gained traction, become increasingly easier to swallow so much that I too, have said a thing or two in this regard. However, after some reflection, I realize I have been wrong. South Africa is not on the road to becoming another Zimbabwe and never will be.

 

I realized I too, had fallen victim to easy comparisons and the expectation of African failure because, well, this is Africa and that’s what Africans do right? Our continental post-independence history does not do us any favors, from Ghana to South Sudan there are just too many stories of failed or failing states. It becomes easy to believe there is a template for African failure and resign one’s self to the “fact” that at least we’re not as bad as (insert name of appropriately failing African state here). This illusion allows us a false cushion from our reality, even today, with things as bad as they are in Zimbabwe you will frequently find somebody saying “at least we’re not as bad as . . . . . “.

 

Now in South Africa, Zimbabwe has become the ultimate bogeyman. From that scary story told to by business to the media so they keep an eye on government and not them, to a shrill cry on talk radio from sunrise to sunset and beyond. I believe this is wrong and incredibly misleading. South Africa is a unique country with a history and economy like no other, she should only be measured against herself. An often trotted out line when government talks about how great things are in South Africa is “before 1994. . . .”, it is now 22 years after that and 26 since the country set on the path to majority rule. South Africa should be measuring herself against the goals set since 1994 and what has been achieved since. Measuring South Africa against Nigeria or Zimbabwe is a cheap cop-out when the post-1994 data is there for all to use. It is always curious to me when people don’t pay more attention to this.

 

It is also easy to berate South Africa for not having achieved economic freedom for all after 22 years of independence but that is unfair considering what a mammoth task that is, despite successive governments’ promises. A man I admire recently gave this analogy:

 

If the white economy was a cup of boiling water and the rest of the population a lake of cold water, pouring the cup into the lake will not change the temperature of the lake.

 

He was speaking to the redistributive practices of every developing state, post independence, it is not just an African problem. In South Africa, things started out a little differently. The first 20 years of democracy saw the economy grow by over 60%, a phenomenal achievement, however, the demands of the population reliant on this economy grew by far more, now please allow me some statistical latitude. Prior to 1994 10% of the population controlled and benefitted from virtually the country’s entire means of production. Post 1994 an economy which had been designed to benefit some 5 million odd now had to sustain almost 40 million. What is really scary is, this is pretty standard for post-colonial independence and comes with a hefty social development debt from international financiers that, more often than not, can never be paid off.

South Africa did a remarkable job of growing the economy under this incredible pressure and for the most part, citizens were accepting of the challenge before them, “Mandela Magic” some called it. Fast forward to 1998 and then deputy President Thabo Mbeki’s famous two countries speech, suddenly it was out in the open that despite government and the majority population’s efforts, South Africa had entrenched economic structural problems characterised by jobless growth and growing inequality that were not just going to be swept away by post-94 euphoria. Considering all this, how does one even start to bring Zimbabwe into the picture?

 

The increased service delivery protests since and more recently nationwide unrest across tertiary institutions are testament to the growing impatience of citizens who have grown tired of waiting for their elected government to deliver. The protestors have it right, they know South Africa is not another Zimbabwe and are calling on those responsible to account. The protestors know to measure South Africa against what was promised and what was delivered. South Africa is a country gifted a bounty that is more than adequate to sustain her citizens and a majority citizenry willing to do the hard work to make this happen. Problems arise when those who have benefitted from historically skewed resource allocation want to maintain their status at the expense of those who are just trying to get ahead in life. Try telling them “at least you’re better off than Zimbabwe” and let’s see what happens.