Last weekend, famed actor Patrick Shai allegedly took his own life after a stream of videos he posted on social media found their way to our timelines. We all watched and shared them in shock and dismay. In the videos, Shai challenges popular musician Cassper Nyovest to a boxing match in which he promises to pummel him and ends the video by calling Nyovest a “son of a b*tch”, which sent shockwaves into the Twittersphere.
The issue was not that he was challenging Nyovest to a few rounds in a square ring, because it is well known that Nyovest has been running a boxing challenge campaign. What is problematic is the violent slur he uses involving Nyovest’s mother, which he repeats in a follow-up video with a bevy of supporters chanting the slur.
Shai was a troubled man whose complicated life played out in public. While he is probably best known for being a brilliant actor, he admitted in 2010 to perpetrating gender-based violence (GBV) against his wife. He attributed this to the abuse of alcohol and subsequently founded Khuluma Ndoda, a men’s social movement against gender violence that works towards combating and speaking out against it.
After the recent videos, however, people doubted the authenticity of his stance against GBV and were quite vocal in denouncing it – rightfully so, in my opinion.
While Shai later relented and apologised for the unsavoury utterances, the words he used not only caused distress to Nyovest but also to many women in South Africa who face GBV in their lives as a matter of course.
The nature of violence needs to be understood as taking on more than just one manifestation and that it is not only physical. In fact, there are seven kinds of violence, namely: control and coercion; jealous behaviour; physical violence; emotional or psychological violence; sexual violence; online abuse, image-based abuse and “revenge porn”; rape myths and victim-blaming.
In an interview with DRUM magazine in 2017, Shai’s wife said: “He would call me horrible names, which left me crippled emotionally. Patrick turned into a monster when he was under the influence of alcohol. I could not believe that the man who loved me would say such words to me. The verbal abuse turned physical.”
This means that the use of words is often indicative of a person’s disposition, can harm the psyche of the person to whom it is directed, and can lead to physical violence.
Since the news of his death, there has been a narrative that he was bullied to his death by those who spoke out against what he said. I don’t buy into that, because that in itself is a way of trying to detract from the issue at hand, which was his violence. A more compelling discussion would be the acceptance that he was a tortured man, fighting demons that only he knew, and in the end it all unravelled. Being in denial does not take the discussion on mental health, alcohol abuse or GBV forward.
This moment should be used to reflect on the intersecting issues that Shai, and our society in general, face – and what can be done to address them.
South Africa ranks fifth in the world when it comes to alcohol abuse, and is number 38 in world rankings for violence. The country is regarded as one of the most violent countries in the world. Our mental health has also been deteriorating, as was seen in 2021 when the South African Depression and Anxiety Group reported that one in every five calls was suicide related.
With our GBV statistics on the rise, we shouldn’t need much convincing that using violent language against women is wrong and must be called out in the strongest terms.
While we are all fallible and imperfect as people, we still need to be honest and see each other in our wholeness, and not just as who we are in our final moments. We also have to look at the material conditions that contribute to shaping the people we are and how we navigate the world.
We dishonour the dead once we immortalise their memory into a singular story. DM168
Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.