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Opinionista

Men need to do more to ensure that women and children in South Africa have a future

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Mmusi Maimane is leader of Build One SA.

I have the responsibility to teach my son values; how he ought to treat my wife and our daughter. He needs to see that through me – not just for me to speak on it, but to also act on it. Families transfer value, inspire education and morals, and as a father that is my responsibility.

August 9, 2020, marks 64 years since over 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of national government, to protest dehumanising “pass laws”. These brave women sent a clear and simple message to government: certain people were treated unfairly based on incidence of birth and the colour of their skin, and this must change. 

Sixty-four years later and those laws have been abolished – every person is equal, formally, before the law. However, the structural effects of such a law, and others, persist. In short, those inhumane laws do not exist in any statute book, but they are in effect in communities across South Africa.

Today, millions of South Africans face markedly different chances of success in life due to incidence of their birth and the colour of their skin. On this Women’s Day, I want to draw attention to the state of our nation’s home and how this more often than not perpetuates existing patterns of inequality in our society. In particular, the intertwined relationship between unstable homes and the prevalence of crime and violence in our communities. Ultimately, we can increase policing all we want, but if we fail to address the mitigating factors in our homes, we will never build a safe and prosperous society. 

The numbers and cases of gender-based violence (GBV) keep rising and the stories keep making front pages. GBV is closer to home than we wish to imagine. I believe that GBV, like many other crimes, starts at home in the sense that children witness acts of violence which then they act out sometime in their future. Young boys are shown how to mistreat girls, and how to treat their mothers and sisters, because of unstable homes and no father figures.  

Basic psychology suggests that the environment a child grows up in will have an impact on them in the future; how they act, their values, morals and their mental temperament. 

This Woman’s Day I call on men to step in and do their part. More than 40% of all households in South Africa are headed by a single parent. It is our responsibility as men to also get involved in home situations and look out for the wellbeing of our children. 

We must ease the burden on women and mothers. This can contribute to gender stereotypes – masculinity and femininity resulting in unequal gender roles. Last years’ crime statistics showed that seven women were killed in South Africa every day. Where are the voices of men in this injustice? 

I have the responsibility to teach my son values; how my son ought to treat my wife and our daughter. He needs to see that through me, before anywhere else, not just for me to speak on it, but to also act on it. Because families transfer value, inspire education and morals, and as a father that is my responsibility.

According to the latest available statistics, 31% of black children have their father living with them. This statistic is 80% for white children, showing how the destruction of the black family by the Apartheid government is still affecting children in the year 2020.

Recently I visited Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town. When I arrived, a murder had just taken place. It was one of the 54 murders that took place that day throughout the country. The body had been lying there for two hours; the police had blocked off the area – however, it was as if this was as common as a broken-down car. I was struck by how the community carried on with life as if nothing had happened.

It was reminiscent of my youth days in Dobsonville, where, as school children, we could walk past dead bodies and it was just the abnormal normal. While many are trumpeting farm murders – which is correct to raise – what is undeniable is that murder in our townships is a crisis we often normalise. 

Six of the country’s top 10 murder precincts are in the Western Cape; Khayelitsha is second in the country only after Delft. My point is that the life of a resident of Khayelitsha is no less valuable than the life of a farmer.

Our children grow up in these environments. What kind of message are we sending to them? Are we saying it’s right to see such things on a daily basis? 

I reflected deeply on why crimes are not reported when criminals are often known in our communities, and why crime has become so normalised. Despite having bumped into a journalist on site, that crime had not been reported. 

Sociologists frame correctly that crime is at one level about policing, but on another level it’s about ensuring that youth don’t become criminals. The state of our homes and families is in crisis as South Africans. 

Therefore, policy intervention is urgently required. Here are some ways to start:

  • Paternity leave to be expanded to encourage the presence of fathers with their children.
  • Ensure sufficient minimum income and adequate standard of living for all families, especially those who are vulnerable and/or in extreme economic or social need, through a variety of social protection policies and programmes. 
  • Intensify efforts to create employment and other income-generating opportunities for working-age family members to ensure a regular income.
  • Provide higher education and training opportunities for young people in order to improve their skills and assist them in entering the labour market.

As the famous African proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” 

What children see around them, from neighbours and the community, will largely impact them. They will most likely be the ones having their lives ended because of street activities, gang affiliations and the social infrastructure. 

It is the duty of parents to get involved and reinforce and instil a value system in children. A value system that allows them to prevent their choices from being influenced by street activities and violence. A value system that teaches them to care for themselves and others; not cause harm and to not just sit when abuse is happening on their doorstep. 

Children are the future and we need to protect them, and protect our women, so they can prosper and not feel as if they are in a country or world that wants in every way to inflict harm on them. DM

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