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What is the future of the girl-child in Africa? Part 1

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Picture: Simone Kley/African News Agency (ANA) – Our best and lasting line of defence against the scourge of gender-based violence is radical consciousness-raising among men, who will have a new appreciation of women and the girl-child, the writer says.

By Dr Wallace Mgoqi

“It seems to me that every person, always, is in a kind of informal partnership with his community.

“His own success is dependent to a large degree on that community, and the community, after all, is the total of the individuals who make it up. The institutions of a community, in turn, are the means by which those individuals express their faith, their ideals and their concern for fellow men … We recognise that our obligation to fellow men does not stop at the boundaries of the community. In an even larger sense, every man is in partnership with the rest of humanity in the eternal conquest, which we call civilisation.” [Charles Stewart Mott 1875—1973 ]

In the time we live in, we find ourselves confronted by extraordinary circumstances calling for extraordinary measures. The scourge of gender-based violence, domestic violence, femicide, sexual assaults on women in general and the girl-child in particular, has escalated at such a scale that we may think the measures we looked down upon in the past, as being extreme and barbaric, may now come for consideration, as part of punishment against those who are perpetrators of the scourge. However, upon a deeper reflection and thinking, it may not be so.

These same methods were used against struggle icons who were fighting for freedom and human rights. We may reason that whereas now they are going to be used against those who are undermining that very freedom and human rights obtained at a great price, even death of countless men and women, they may attain different results. But it is again not so.

Before I come to the specifics of the proposals on this matter, let me go back to the former times. As they say, in order to move forward, you must first go back. I was only ten years old in 1959 when I heard for the first time, the word “iZuma” meaning a rapist in isiXhosa. A man who had come into the small farming community, in a rural village of eThwathwa, just outside Fort Beaufort, in the Eastern Cape.

Apparently, he had forced himself on one of the young women, something that was frowned upon, and was uncommon. My elder brothers, cousins and other men in the village visited upon him severe physical punishment for the deed.

All over his head he was full of knobkierrie wounds. Imagine for a second if he was falsely accused or his motives were wrongly interpreted?

It was unheard of in the village that a man could do such a thing. The next thing was that he was above the age of circumcision. He was forcibly circumcised, as they thought he did this thing because he was still “a boy” yet in age he was past boyhood stage.

As a community, and society, we are in partnership with one another, everything that happens to one individual affects all of us, hence we cannot live in our little isolated cocoons, but in a live partnership with one another. And this is how the strong protect and defend the weaker members of the community. This is how communities functioned in the past. You would never find a bully imposing himself upon a woman, without the stronger men confronting the bully and putting him in his place very quickly.

However, in modern thinking, this is viewed as vigilantism and cannot be countenanced under a constitutional democracy.

Under Apartheid the security police, under the Bureau of State Security, used abhorrent methods of torture, to extract information from underground operatives of the various political parties like the ANC, PAC, Unity Movement, and latterly, the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).

A security officer generally known as “Spuiker” Van Wyk used a very cruel, barbaric and abominable method of inserting a rusty nail, through the front of the penis in a man. And a man, no matter how strong he was, would “spill the beans” as it were, and tell who he worked with and what their activities were. This happened under parliamentary sovereignty, where what parliament said became the binding law upon citizens.

Now it would seem, on the face of it, that since we are dealing with an extraordinary situation — such a method and others may have to be clothed with legality, through amending the Constitution or legislation, by being employed against the perpetrators of the scourge, under the rubric and supervision of the law. This cannot be.

However, freedom and security of the person is an absolute right, under our Constitution, for all, both the victim and the perpetrator.

Some people even hanker after the past and advocate revisiting the death penalty. Yet our Constitution, the supreme law of the land, pronounced on it unequivocally, as being unconstitutional, for its inconsistency with the Constitution, as expressed in our Bill of Rights.

What then must we do to deal with the situation?

In my humble view, it would seem that we may draw some lessons from the work of the Stewart Mott Foundation, which has been doing this work in US communities, as well as in South Africa, based on its philosophy, which I would label radical consciousness raising. They state that it is based on its founder, Charles Stewart Mott‘s belief in the partnership of humanity as the basis upon which the Foundation was established.

Inherent in all grant making is the desire to enhance the capacity of individuals, families or institutions at the local level and beyond; Fundamental to its grant-making work are certain values aimed at systemic change, these include:

● Learning how people can live together to create a sense of community, whether at neighbourhood level or as a global society.

● Building strong communities through collaboration to provide a basis for positive change.

● Nurturing strong, self-reliant individuals to ensure a well -functioning society.

● Promoting the social, economic and political empowerment of all individuals to preserve fundamental democratic principles and rights.

● Encouraging responsible citizen participation to help foster social cohesion.

● Developing leadership to build upon the needs and values of people and to inspire the aspirations and potential of others.

● Respecting the diversity of life to maintain a sustainable human and physical environment.

This radical consciousness raising is something that has to be done from bottom up, from kindergarten up to tertiary levels in our society.

It is more than head knowledge, more a matter of the heart. Knowledge which does not lead to change of heart and transform conduct is useless and a sign that we are off course.

Our best and lasting line of defence against the scourge is radical consciousness-raising among men, who will have a new appreciation of women and the girl-child. Only then will a woman or girl-child, who is unwilling to consort with a man, will feel protected and feel safe, wherever and whenever, she finds herself.

The more prevalent and publicised the new regime, the fewer instances of these incidents are going to be experienced.

We also need to place before the eyes of the people the role women have played in society from the time of creation. Women are the source of all humanity, and have been the only means by which reproduction took place. There could only be multiplication on earth when women offered their bodies to men, in a relationship of trust, such as marriage.

Women have nurtured the child to be born (the nasciturus) from conception, through the normal period of pregnancy, with all the tumult that accompanies some pregnancies, until the child is born. Even then, like with my wife’s mother giving birth to her younger sister, she herself did not survive the birth process.

Women have given birth to kings, queens, princes and princesses. Women have given birth to ordinary men and women, who happened to have talent of one kind or another, which bloomed later in life and catapulted them to stardom or fame in one field of human endeavour or another.

Women have given birth to men and women of all fields, including law, as magistrates, prosecutors, judges and chief justices, more recently, as the vistas of women’s liberation have expanded.

Women have been carers in the home, in places of work, in education, from kindergarten to tertiary levels, everywhere where you find them in the world; in the field of health women have given birth to the full range of medical professionals. Women have produced artists, craftsmen and women, musicians and everything you can think of which makes life liveable and enjoyable.

Why this hostility and antagonism, vitriol and antipathy, all bitterness against them? It is just incomprehensible.

It cannot be that the minority of men who are perpetrators of the scourge should succeed in giving all men the bad tag or label that they are “trash” which is evidently not true. A ring has to be made around the perpetrators and fence them off for the severest punishment for their misdemeanours, through the law.

However, for the long term, radical consciousness-raising for transformation is the way to go, by every means possible!

Mgoqi is chairperson of Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd. He writes in his personal capacity.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.