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.

 

Confessions Of A Late Bloomer. How I found wellness at 40.

As some you get deep into your Christmas indulgence, let me tell you what happened to me this year. In January I wrote here about how traumatized I was after visiting the doctor and coming to terms with the fact that I was overweight.

It’s now the end of the year, a few weeks after my fortieth birthday and I am in the best health of my life. My training story is probably not unusual so I won’t bore you with details but it has it’s own quirky milestones. I joined a gym in February after moving house but only started going in March because, procrastination. I hadn’t been in a gym in so long I didn’t recognize most of the machines they had on the floor. The last time I was in a gym mobile phones had five lines of text and polyphonic ringtones were a thing. I decided to get a trainer before I hurt myself, enter Monika Human.

After my initial assessment we set out a training schedule and I chose to train at 05:00 because I’d be up anyway and I thought it would be a great way to start the day. The first morning was a disaster. I didn’t eat before training and halfway through I didn’t know if I wanted to pass out, throw up or crap my pants. I   ended up on the floor of a toilet cubicle watching my life flash by and waiting for Satan to take me. He didn’t and I made it back to training the next day and weeks after that. My twin goals were to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle so I can keep up with our daughter as she grows up. If you’re going to work with a personal trainer, find someone who you can relate to. Training is something deeply personal, you want somebody who is going to understand and motivate you when you’re at your most vulnerable. Monika has been that person for me and after four months I started training on my own. I was travelling for much of this year and this is likely the reason I didn’t progress as quickly as I would have liked.

I always knew that being healthy starts with eating healthy but I had been eating whatever I want for so long I didn’t realize the mental shift it would involve to make healthy eating a part of my life again. Monika designed an eating plan for me that I really had trouble following in the beginning with family and travel. The trick at home was to get everyone else eating healthy so I wouldn’t have to make separate meals for myself.  On the road was a different story. On my last trip I spent two months away from home and picked up some weight, don’t ask me how much because I couldn’t bring myself to step on a scale. I knew then something had to change, it was early October, I vowed that by December 31 2015 I would have hit my goal weight and fitness level.

I have experienced tremendous personal growth over the last ten weeks or so both physical and mental. Two weeks ago I surpassed my goal weight and whilst at the time I felt such a sense of accomplishment, it’s gotten better as I continue to lose body fat and get even healthier than I could have dared imagine just a year ago. Another thing I did the last year was interact with other people who are also on a wellness journey, two of them have been great motivators. One ran the Paris Marathon earlier this year and the other is currently training for a half Iron Man next year after having summitted Mount Kilimanjaro a few months ago.

I don’t know how I am going to test myself next year but the priority now is to at least maintain the goals I have achieved. Anything more is a bonus because being healthier at forty than I was in my twenties is a gift to a late-bloomer like me.

The Trap Of Instant Digital Gratification.

Recently I attended a two day conference at Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg called African Futures where we spoke about aliens, comics, science fiction and the pervasiveness of social media, some of my favorite topics. It was intoxicating to hear people speak with such passion about ideas that I had previously thought too far-fetched to even conduct conversations about. There was so much to take in but weeks later, one particular talk has stuck with me, speakers were asked how they use social media in their work and the answers caused me to pause.

I spend what is probably an inordinate amount of time on social media, mostly Twitter and Instagram, but of late I have been wondering how this is shaping my worldview. Asked how he uses social media, Faustin Linyekula a choreographer from the DRC, spoke of how for him it is functional but at the same time invasive. He went on to speak of how social media forces us to live in the now, not seeing the immediate past or future, how we’ve become so transfixed on the absolute immediate present, as finite as it is. A great example of this is Twitter, where it is said 9000 tweets per second are tweeted and depending on how many people or trends you follow, your timeline can become a raging river of tweets where you can easily drown in your attempts to stay current.  In Japan in 2013 this peaked at 143199 tweets per second. This is typical of other modern media sources, constantly updating the latest news story literally by the second.

We’ve become so conditioned to seeking instant online gratification that by the time we get it we are already seeking the next new shiny thing. It is a cruel, cruel irony that in our search for instant gratification that gratification itself is nonexistent. If it did exist logic follows that once we we were satisfied we would log out until the next craving.

I realized that I was as much a perpetrator as a victim of this vice. That morning I started to think critically about just how much time I spend online and what benefit I derive from it and contribute to those I interact with. How much information am I actually consuming and what am I doing with it? What is the mental shelf-life of all this data streaming past my eyes and into my sub-conscious somewhere to be pulled out in random conversation later? Do I really need to be out here as much as I am? How much of this is me actually engaging with people for greater understanding and how much of it is me feeding my ego? Retweets and those exploding red hearts can be so addictive.

I realized I couldn’t introspect whilst remaining plugged into the machine so for the first time in years, I took a Twitter break. I spent the time reading articles and instead of tweeting out every next thought, taking the time to think that thought through. Till then I hadn’t realized just how mentally trigger-happy I had become. The whole world slowed down, the immediacy ebbed away, I started having conversations with myself again.

I really must thank my cellular service provider though, without their ridiculous data charges I might never have considered tuning out as a real option. I find tuning out is therapeutic for me, I can’t live life at the speed of the next big trend, that way of life is not great for my goal-setting. Life is more fun when you decide just how fast it comes at you.

We Need To Stop Saying Boys Will Be Boys

A few weeks ago the internet went into meltdown when a photo of barely teenage boys simulating a groupsex or rape scene surfaced. There were the expected outcries about how this could happen, shock, horror and disgust were trending. Without delay, there were also those who said the whole affair was being blown out of proportion and all this attention would do more harm than good to the boys.

I went to a boarding school with very similar traditions to the school these boys attend. Both schools are founded on the English public school template designed then to produce future leaders for the British empire. Too bad nobody told these schools the empire no longer exists. Much of what was standard practice a hundred years ago was still unchanged when I was in school twenty five years ago. It is disturbingly apparent little has changed since then. Effectively, boys are still being boys and this is a problem.

In my day we called it seniority, a strictly enforced heirarchical system that positioned the school prefects and head-boy at the top with the youngest students at the bottom. The teaching staff maintaining a laissez-faire attitude as the boys effectively managed themselves only stepping in when there was some sort of crisis. It was a veritable animal farm with minimal supervision. Looking back on it now, this was clearly a recipe for disaster far beyond the gates of the school. This was a breeding ground for troubling mysogynistic attitudes, we arrived as impressionable boys and left as damaged young men.

Much as the boys who trended, we engaged in acts of sexual miseducation and violence that in most cases, were directed by seniors. These seniors were boys barely three years older than ourselves and we replicated this as we moved up the seniority chain in an effort to be seen as part of the collective. We were conditioned to be go-getters but along the way became aggressive, vicious, callous even. We were also trained to be loyal to each other to a fault, nothing was more disgusting to us than ratting out fellow students to anyone in authority. For a long time I didn’t realize how much this last lesson had affected me.

I know now that it is this code of silence that caused me to look aside when I saw questionable behavior by my peers. It was because of this that I knew I could get away with being abusive to younger boys because nobody would say anything, besides, it was expected because that’s what had happened to us. After leaving school this bond remained, growing stronger in some cases. It even led to some boys committing crimes together.

I know that this is pervasive across other men who have gone through the schoolboy system and plays itself out in everyday life in the most unsettling ways. Guys give each other a pass because of an unspoken allegiance which they cannot even fully explain. It can be traced back to how they were socialized in high school. This skewed code of silence is the result of boys just being boys and needs to stop. Saying it’s all part of growing up is wrong and destructive.

More men who went through the system need to speak against it. I wonder what one would find if they studied the ratio of violent offenders amongst men who went through the schoolboy system. We cannot, in 2015, still be raising boys the same way as we did a century ago and expect them to be better men than we are. We know better now, boys cannot be left to their own devices as the lessons they draw from each other mark them for the rest of their lives.

Do Zimbabweans Really Speak So Well?

In 1986 I was a ten year old boy going on eleven doing grade 6 at a highly rated government school in Bulawayo. One day our teacher, Mr. Lewis, a Welshman, says to me “You speak so well that if I was to close my eyes I would think I was listening to a white boy”. I was so pleased with myself I went home beaming and couldn’t wait to tell my parents about this amazing compliment Mr. Lewis had paid me. I cannot remember my mother’s reaction but my father said dryly, “and you think that is something to be proud of?” I was ten, what did I know? That day marked me for the rest of my life and informed my interest in history and how we Zimbabweans came to speak English to begin with.
I was reminded of that day when recently on Twitter I got into a debate with someone who believes Zimbabweans are superior to other Africans, especially Nigerians, because we speak English so well. Now it is one thing to think you are highly proficient in a particular language but it is totally another to laude this proficiency over others when the language in question is the result of colonial conquest and was forced upon your ancestors just as it was upon countless millions around the world. Can one really say they are superior because they have more fully adapted the ways and graces of those who formerly oppressed them?

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the functionality of English as a medium in the world that we live in but I am also acutely aware of the way it has been used in the past and even today to obliterate indigenous culture, religion and thought. It is for these reasons that I see no reason for someone who is descendent from these obliterated cultures to celebrate their proficiency in English AND laude it over others who share the same scars of having their history robbed from them. I just don’t get it.

The discussions went on all day with many Zimbabweans telling the author of the claim that he was wrong in his assertions but he stubbornly held on. The low-point for me was when he responded to those who didn’t agree with him by tweeting “this isn’t going to expand anything. A lot of you are being primitive on here.” I was left wondering, if this was just his arrogance, ignorance or something worse. Had the black self-hate I read about online manifested itself in this young person? Did he really believe that his affinity to whiteness made him better than other black people? Was he really telling me of all the traits and talents he had developed, speaking English well was the one he prized most? If so, was he the only one? Soon enough others came out in support of this position but none with such fervour and commitment as he who started it all. He was unapologetic, as a Zimbabwean, he was proud to speak English so well and other Africans should just deal with the fact that we are just better at it.

Interestingly enough, at least two Nigerians contested this saying their English accent was better than that of Zimbabweans whilst a number of southern Africans, particularly South Africans, were insulted and none too polite in their responses. What this did show me though, was that the majority of interactions were united in their rejection of using English proficiency as a yardstick for superiority, in fact, they rejected the entire notion of one African being superior to another. This something that I take to heart because I have never understood the zeal with which our governments attempt to outdo each other in whatever ranking comes out of whatever organisation that claims to have authority of whatever sort. One that particularly bothers me is the manufactured fight between South Africa and Nigeria to be Africa’s biggest economy. As a collective we would be so much better off if we looked to the least developed countries on the continent and together worked to uplifting them out of that dire situation, but I digress.

The British were very good, no, uniquely excellent in spreading their language and culture across the world as part and parcel of their brand of global conquest for over six hundred years. It is wishful thinking to imagine we can erase that legacy in Zimbabwean minds in two generations but one hopes that with each generation this influence is tempered by our rediscovery of ourselves as a people with a past, present and future that is not dependent on affinity to the so-called global standard of doing things. As Zimbabweans, we need not speak so well to get ahead.

N.B. This post first appeared in Her Zimbabwe.

Of Carts And Donkeys: Why it is wrong to think exports will restore and sustain Zimbabwe’s economy.

Unlike the chicken and egg riddle, in economics, there is no question that a strong domestic economy is always the basis from which strong exports are built. This is why it remains a wonder to me that every other day there is talk of how Zimbabwe’s exporters need to ramp up production and take advantage of international markets. At the same time the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mike Bimha, is telling any foreigner who will listen that Zimbabwe is open for business with a vibrant domestic market. A few weeks ago Minister Bimha reportedly went as far as to invite a South African business delegation to take advantage of the current jobs bloodbath and set up shop in Zimbabwe because local industry is practically stalled. So local producers must export whilst the domestic market is serviced by foreign firms who come in and produce? How does this work? This is the same thinking with the Look East policy that has seen Chinese firms benefiting from generous investment initiatives going back at least a decade with no reciprocation. It is now clear there was never any incentive for the Chinese to do so to begin with because Zimbabwe did not negotiate a trade deal, they simply gave the family jewels away.

What Zimbabwe needs to do is focus on deepening the local economy, a Marshall Plan, if you will. The first step is to restore trust in the government, nobody puts in a country where those who run it cannot be trusted to honour their commitments unless they themselves are not trustworthy. Next would be to restore local industrial capacity to supply the domestic market by investing in base infrastructure such as roads, rail, electricity, education, telecommunications, health and housing. This can only be done once Zimbabwe becomes a viable investment destination, a factor largely determined by the level of government’s trustworthiness. For too long Zimbabwe has tried to sell itself as primarily a source of raw materials and a conduit to the continent with the domestic economy treated as ancillary to that. The central location of Zimbabwe previously made it ideal for channeling southern and central Africa’s produce to the ports of South Africa and Mozambique and imports up north. Any benefit falling to the local economy was more of mere consequence rather than actual intent. This is Zimbabwe’s colonial legacy, it is still strong and highly evident in the trade language of today’s government. But there is hope.

It is notable that barely days after President Mugabe gave his surprisingly brief State Of The Nation Address parliament is seized with passing a raft of laws aimed at creating a more investment friendly environment. Needless to say, last week’s visit by Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote and the announcement of his intent to invest in Zimbabwe could not be coincidental. This has been borne out in various news stories of the behind the scenes negotiations culminating in last Monday’s whirlwind visit. The local broadcaster had hardly scrambled together their usual analysts and Dangote had already left Harare. Since then cabinet has approved all of Dangote’s projects, though I am not sure what that means as no plans have yet been presented to them, let alone drawn up. Meanwhile the Zimbabwe Investment Authority’s Nigel Chanakira has said they will not be found wanting when the time for issuing all necessary investment permits comes.

Whist I have many questions about what this deal means for how Zimbabwe conducts business I am cautiously optimistic. I am hoping government may just have finally painted themselves into a corner such that they have no room to mess this up as they have done countless times before. Another reason to like this deal is that it is totally about local capacity building to cater for Zimbabweans. The coal will be mined locally for domestic power generation to feed a cement plant that will primarily supply the local market. It is now to wait and see how local businesses are going to compliment these developments and thus deepen the economic multiplier effect.

This is what it means to put the domestic economy first. It is not prone to the whims of export markets and fancies of international commodity brokers. The more integrated the domestic economy, the better it will carry a country through any international crises. It is the donkey that will pull the proverbial cart and it must be fed. If such efforts can be replicated across other industrial sectors over the next ten years there is hope yet to see a Zimbabwe restored to it’s rightful economic status in our lifetime.