When exploring the reasons why we as South Africans do not have an open society as yet, the question, what is the social fabric that binds us, comes to mind. Apartheid and its many vestiges was single-handedly responsible for the destruction of all that was good, the individual (man and woman), the family, the community and the state.
Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle have long grappled with elements of such a good society, equality, justice, who should rule the state, and what form of government is best. As South Africa taking our insight from Jean-Jacques Rousseau we attempted to fashion what we thought would be a good “social contract”, informed by the Freedom Charter (1955) and a new Bill of Rights. These found expression through our world renowned, lauded Constitution. But evidently, this was not enough on the road towards a good society.
When talking about the ills of patriarchy through the ages, we often forget the pressure and unfair responsibility it also places on men. Patriarchy undermines men, it forces us to become the rock on which the family must be built. A man must be the provider for the family or fear to be seen as useless. He must provide the necessary security for the family and demonstrate his masculinity.
These are but some of the unfair expectations placed on us as men, by society at large. And if that’s not enough, we need not talk of the damage caused to men under the apartheid system. Stripped of all manhood, treated like a boy, brutally exploited in the workplace, stripped in the final analysis of his humanness. This is how man has lost his humanity. No wonder then he feels compelled to engage in violence in the home, to show he is a man, beating, raping and in some cases killing the women he claims to love. All because he needs to prove he is man enough, he has his dignity intact, for his role in society is being constantly questioned.
The women, as we have always known (besides the fact that Socrates Plato and Aristotle themselves treated them with disdain and observing in some cases that they are merely above the common slave) that they undergo what is commonly referred to as “triple exploitation” in South Africa. First, as a black woman she is daily confronted with race politics in this country, racism knows no bounds. Second, she gets exploited in the workplace, whether she is a high-flying executive in the banking sector, constantly having to deal with chauvinist men who are continuously harassing her sexually, or a domestic servant in the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg, it does not matter. To say nothing of the often unspoken of traditional and cultural machinations in our rural hinterland.
The dignity of these men and women is gone, lost in a sea of hatred, racism and indignation.
The social relations are what suffer in these circumstances, that which keeps us as a society intact. That which knit us together.
The family has been broken since the time of colonialism but more specifically during the migrant labour system in this country. Men having to leave the homesteads to go far afield to the city centres, to go and voluntarily subjugate themselves to the mining bosses. Faced with humiliating and dehumanising conditions, the servitude and exploitation knows no bounds.
All this in pursuit of super profits and supposedly happiness for the few. The elite do not realise or don’t want to accept that their actions directly contribute to broken homes. Children having deep wounds, of fathers whom they see only once a year if they are lucky; this created division between men and women, husbands and wives. It goes without saying that this was a successful project on the part of the apartheid government. Husbands would also invariably have a second wife in the city, with another family in some cases. Single-headed households and all the concomitant negative effects of this.
And where there are broken families, how then does one expect a common public, a good community? When women are asked what their greatest fear is in South Africa, the answer is unequivocal – being raped. And for men, the answer is, being killed. How sick has our society become? How many fathers have taken care with their loved ones, their daughters and their sons? How many have undertaken that “road of passage” with their boys, I wonder. Where he leads by example, inculcating values and discipline towards the boy’s fellow man but also towards his fellow women folk.
Then there is the state, as outlined above, the apartheid state really messed South Africa up, black and white. We are today still unable to talk openly and frankly about our past, our present and our future, not about the deep wounds suffered nor the fact that whites have until today not apologised for apartheid; they have shown no penance in any meaningful way whatsoever.
Of course it would be equally remiss of me not to talk about the utter incompetence, corruption and destruction of the little good we had under the Jacob Zuma years. The full force of the tyranny that was brought to bear upon us as citizens, cannot be underestimated.
In a state of scarcity and disillusionment with society as a whole, what is it that you as an individual are doing to correct this destructive path? It has to start with oneself, you have to free yourself, fix yourself first. Then and only then can we attempt to fix family, community and state.
Leo Tolstoy in his Letter to a Hindu remarks that “if only people freed themselves from their beliefs in all kinds of Ormuzds, Brahmas, Sabbaoths, and their incarnation as Krisnas and Christs, from beliefs in Paradises and Hells, in reincarnations and resurrections, from belief in the interference of the Gods in the external affairs of the universe, and above all, if the freed themselves from the belief in the infallibility of all the various Vedas, Bibles, Gospels, Tripitakas, Qur’ans, and the like, and also freed themselves from blind belief in a variety of scientific teachings about infinitely small atoms and molecules and in all the infinitely great and infinitely remote worlds, their movements and origin, as well as from faith in the infallibility of scientific law to which humanity is at present subjected, the historic law, the economic laws, the law of struggle and survival, and so on – if people only freed themselves from this terrible accumulation of futile exercises of our lower capacities of mind and memory called ‘sciences’ and from the innumerable divisions of all sorts of histories, anthropologies, jurisprudence, cosmographies, strategies-their name is legion-and freed themselves from all this harmful, stupefying ballast – the simple law of love, natural to man, accessible to all and solving all questions and perplexities, would of itself become clear and obligatory”.
Like Mandela and Gandhi, who chose to be human first. We have to choose love, all of us, if we are to create a good society. Without it, I fear, we will perish.
In wanting to restore these, we must rebuild our “common public” among others. DM