South Africa

Maverick Citizen Op-ed

Gender violence is not a private issue

Gender violence is not a private issue
Tens of thousands protest outside Parliament against gender-based violence in September 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

Pulling a veil of secrecy over violence in the home is exactly what entrenches this violence.

On Thursday 28 November, Given Mkhari was scheduled to have his yearly Power FM Chairman’s Conversation event. The guest of honour this year was President Cyril Ramaphosa and they were billed to discuss the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children.

However. It was not to be. The discussion took a dramatic turn when the president cancelled his participation at the eleventh hour because of civil rights NGOs Soul City and Wise4Afrika questioning why he was willing to sit down with Mkhari for this discussion in light of allegations of domestic violence against Mkhari. Notably, in 2018, Ipeleng Mkhari had laid a charge of assault against her husband. Her husband countered by laying his own charge of assault against her. Both charges were subsequently withdrawn.

eNCA senior anchor Thulasizwe Simelane held an interview with the couple on the evening of the Chairman’s Conversation, following the cancellation to hear their thoughts on Ramaphosa’s decision to not participate in the event.

A visibly rattled Given Mkhari tried to maintain a diplomatic and collegial disposition, but his choice of words and body language gave away his true feelings. He often talked over Simelane and even put a cautioning hand on his shoulder when he asked a question that was particularly difficult to answer.

Ipeleng Mkhari, on the other hand, was composed and provided more balanced dispassionate responses, careful with her words and expressions. Given Mkhari kept repeating that he is “only human” and that the matter was a “private one” for him and his family to deal with and that he wanted everyone to respect that. When asked pointedly by Simelane whether her husband had laid a hand on her, Ipeleng Mkhari answered: “not before”.

It seems to me that this was a missed opportunity for the Mkharis to use their platform to engage the country’s imagination about the serious issue of gender-based violence with their story as a backdrop. The notion of privacy in relation to domestic violence is a fallacy; it’s a harmful way of thinking because pulling a veil of secrecy over violence in the home is exactly what entrenches this violence. Violence against anyone in any form is not a private issue – it is the moth that eats away at the fabric of our society.

Listening to PowerFM the next morning and even looking at social media, it was disappointing to see the lack of engagement on gender-based violence. What people seemed more upset about was that the president pulled out at the last minute. What gets lost in these 16 days is the action element and opportunities to meaningfully dismantle this practice of violence using real- life scenarios. Everybody has an event or talk shop anchored in the most progressive theories for hypothetical situations, yet when an incident happens on live television, those theories fall away and the voices go silent.

The silence of men is particularly conspicuous in decrying this. They seem to speak loudest in their absence. Is it perhaps because men see a bit of themselves reflected in Given Mkhari and indeed see nothing wrong with the false narrative of “we are all human and this is a private matter”? It’s easier for men to speak out against the perpetrators of the extreme acts of violence, like those who rape and kill their victims, than a man who is their friend, mentor and father and who, just occasionally, also beats his wife.

Now there seems to exist a phenomenon where the loudest responses are when women are reported to have been fatally brutalised. Then men rush out saying things like “real men don’t beat women” and “stop killing our women”, which is at most times directed at the nameless and faceless perpetrators. Not men like Given Mkhari who enjoy great public standing and wields social and business capital. Is it to be assumed that other men are fearful of speaking out against such men because they see themselves in them and perhaps aspire to be like Given Mkhari, creating an uneasy confrontation of self?

There is also the very real misconception that the face of gender-based violence is a poor or working-class man and very seldom the smiling face of an upper-middle-class man decked out in a tie and tailored suit.

Perhaps what lies beneath that is an uneasy reckoning with the self and principles of what it means to be a man of means and stature in society. The difficult conversation is not speaking out against the Luyanda Bothas, Sandile Mantsoes or Nicholas Ninows of this world. Abhorrent as they are, they do not exist in a vacuum. These men represent the extreme behaviours of men, but it is not the extreme behaviours alone that ensure violence continues.

It’s the wide-smiling good guys who lose their tempers once in a while and slap their partners.

It’s the hardworking man who wakes up before the crack of dawn to provide for his family and, because of a combination of work and societal pressure, ensures his dominance by “disciplining” his wife and kids.

It’s your friend who when at the club wants pretty girls to sit with you, buys them drinks and then expects to take them home and when they refuse he gets aggressive, calls them “hoes” and coerces them.

It’s the men we know and love.

So, how then do we continue to be perpetually shocked, disappointed and saddened by cases of domestic violence constantly marring our screens? The Mkhari incident is not an anomaly and treating it as such means we are complicit in the continued existence of endemic gender-based violence. We need to look at ourselves, our partners, our friends, our family members and reflect on how vocal we are in accepting their violence and shielding it under the guise of privacy and being “only human”. MC

Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist with Maverick Citizen.


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