Taking Responsibility for Violence against Women and Children Through the Ballot

By Thami Kobi

POET Lebo Mashile recently posted a series of tweets on violence against women and children, which prompted a debate from many people including actresses Rami Chuene and Florence Masebe and politician Naledi Chirwa. Thami Kobi concurs with their views but says we can only address the issue if we stop voting for leaders who have shown no interest in eradicating the scourge. The electorate, he argues, are accomplices, directly and indirectly, to the violent crimes committed against women and children in South Africa our country. 

Lebo Mashile tweets

“Will you tell your daughter that you & 4 friends once pinned a girl down & pulled up her gym dress. Will you tell them how the girl fought & got away after you pulled her underwear down. Will you explain that this is who you once were even if it’s not who you are now as a father?”

Lebo Mashile Tweets

“Will you tell your partner about the women you hit? The girlfriend you beat regularly to the point where other people watching was not an issue. The one who ran to her friends outside the club when you were drunk & enraged. Will you talk about how you swore at all of them?”

“Will you talk about the woman you assaulted on the way home in the veld? Will you talk about how she screamed, cried, and ran away from you when you were done? Will you talk about how you used your power to buy the docket & your family to silence her?”

I concur with your sentiments on violence against women and children. However, I am going to be more nuanced in engaging this critical issue and we agree to disagree on issues raised.

At the expense of nostalgia and indulgence, most of us remember vividly growing up under apartheid.

Despite the brutality and how inhumane the system was, we were taught by our mothers, fathers, and grandparents to conduct ourselves with respect at all times. To share with your brothers, sisters, and cousins your toys, clothes and food. Beds back then were for the elders thus we slept on the floor as children sharing blankets and mattresses until puberty. I will tell my children that we did not rape each other, let alone having sexual thoughts at that age.

But today, children are sexualised at a very early stage and on daily basis by us men. I am not arguing that back then, and in some places today, there were no customary acts that sexualised adolescent girls and objectified women.

Boys and girls played the same games of trek, 3-blikkies, skipping, uphuca, etc. during the adolescent stage. We swam naked in the same rivers, boys on the other part of the river and girls on the other side, and there was always an adult looming around checking on our respective behaviours and who, curiously, always ‘finished’ her washing when it’s about time for everyone to go home. We did not rape each other. I am not saying the two genders were not curious about each other’s bodies as it was natural, but rather that curiosity was tempered with through societal supervision. Respect for elders and each other.

We played sports (soccer, netball, boxing) together and supported each other by watching others when it’s their turn to play. We were involved in choirs, concerts and beauty contests. If any of those events happened to end late boys would be instructed, by parents present at these activities mostly to keep an eye on things, to accompany girls to ensure that they have arrived safely at their respective homes. That would be the routine up until every girl is safely accounted for at their home. We were taught to respect and protect women. Today, judging by the violence against women and children, the opposite is true.

I am not saying that each household back then did not have its own family problems, as that would be false and deceitful.

However, I am pointing out that there was this sense of responsibility towards each other back then. Prince Mashele correctly points out, in one of his thought provoking articles written in the Sowetan online (2018), albeit in a slightly different context, that our crass materialism has eroded the foundation of black communities which was to care for and about each other.

The brutality that we, men, subject women to on hourly and daily basis is unconscionable.

We saw how colonialism and apartheid demasculinised black men, our fathers – systematically reducing them to children and stripped away their dignity, self-worth, and self-respect. These systems made them feel like sub-humans for economic exploitation and using their pigmentation to justify it. Steve Biko stated “black men you are on your own” but we are not only on our own but shells of our former selves.

Nevertheless, women never experienced such levels of brutality at the hands of black men, and that is not to say women and children never experienced any kind of violence at the hands of men back then. But this behaviour has been largely incremental since 1994, advent of ‘democracy’.

Professor Paulus Zulu, in his book titled ‘A Nation in Crisis: An Appeal for Morality’ points out that South Africa is a nation in crisis and needs to find its moral compass if we are to survive as a nation. He further argues, correctly so, that the importance of the quality of leaders leading that overall societal process is critical.  

That process, I respectfully submit, is a political one. Yes, politics. Politics need to be demystified.

We, Homosapiens, are political beasts at various levels. Politics determine the future of generations to come. Politics determine whether people eat or starve. Politics decide whether schools, hospitals, recreational centres and sports facilities are built or not. It is politics that decide whether laws are passed or not. It is politics that decide whether crime must be dealt with or not. It is politics that decide whether to help a factory to stay open or close it down. It is politics that decide what to include or exclude in an educational curriculum. It is politics that shape countries.

I am not arguing that politics in itself is an end. But deliberate involvement in the political processes, at various levels, is absolutely critical. For example, voting is a political process where the citizens get to choose public office bearers via political parties.

All the brutality against women, children, and LGBQTA+ community has been happening under this government which we voted into power with huge majorities until recently. When there is no political will to pass laws that will protect its most vulnerable and to build institutions capacitated with personnel that will enforce these laws then there is no reason to keep voting such people into public office. Period.

I am not talking about the false and mischievous claim that there are no alternatives. Put ideological dogma aside for a moment. On what rational basis do I justify voting again for a party, or someone who has been serving in a party, that has given lip-service to combating violence against women and children and outsourced that role mostly to NGOs? Honest introspection is needed.

Voting is misguidedly viewed as a personal choice. Nothing could be further from the truth, as it pacifies critical thinking. It is a civic duty. Yes, we can blame political parties for not doing enough on educating citizens on this critical issue. Not that parties are blameless but that will be diverting attention away from citizens themselves, educated or not.

How is government helping communities when it releases rapist, paedophiles, and murderers into communities that already face social ills like drugs, gangsterism and unemployment? I am not debating our prison systems right now but I am putting the spotlight on the decisions of those in office for making such policies. We need to realise that we, as a people, owe each other the responsibility of voting to power people that will help communities to address their problems at grass-roots level.

Truth be told, our intermittent outrage about the senseless violence on women and children flatter to deceive. A microcosm of the overall society.

We complain about police incompetence and corruptness, yet we absolve ourselves for voting in a party that stretches the police force to its thinnest, with no or minimal resources and with poor trained personnel. I am not debating the police as an institution and how it’s run, though connected but that’s another issue. But I implore us as citizens to take a look at what the current government has done to this institution and whether it still benefits citizens. We owe that to each other.

We need to substantively engage with the ramifications of voting and our civic duties towards one another.

The very people that experience this brutality, directly and indirectly, and who are outraged on various platforms will go and vote for the same government come election time. The excuse for that: there’s no alternative. So the rape and killing of women and children must relentlessly continue. We should reject such lack of critical thinking with the contempt it deserves.

We need to graduate from outrage, despair and apathy, towards pragmatic thinking. Holding marches, vigils, starting foundations for victims of violence, and apathy will not all of a sudden get rid of selfish, corrupt people and replace a chronically corrupt government. But our votes can.

It is our civic duty to vote. Many people paid the ultimate price for us to have it. But, it is also our civic duty to vote in a manner that bequeaths something of value to future generations. We look at things from an individualistic point of view, a foreign concept to us even though we have embraced it to our detriment. We deliberately and deceitfully isolate issues as if they happen in a vacuum.

Elections, whether local, provincial or national are inter-connected. You cannot have a corrupt government at national level but expect provincial and local governments to be corruption free. It does not work that way; the Eastern Cape government being a typical case of one in many. It’s tragic what is happening there and yet people keep voting for the same government and want to run away from taking responsibility for what is happening in the province. That province is in that state because of how they voted.

We cannot continue to keep playing the victim card, when we tacitly put in positions of power those that guarantee our victimisation through deliberate poor policy decision making that prioritises their loyalty to the party rather than the citizens of this country.

We all need to put up our hands and take full responsibility for where this country is and the level of brutality against women and children. Each time we vote we can either choose to free or enslave the up-coming generations. Twenty five years of ‘democracy’ and we voted ourselves into a cesspool.

We are accomplices, directly and indirectly, to the violent crimes committed against women and children in South Africa our country.       

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