An end to this vicious cycle of violence by Kingsley Khobotlo
“It wasn’t until I raised my hand and out of anger that I…” Hendrik Potgieter paused. “It’s okay Hendrik”, said Dr. Masuku, “we are all here to better understand what a man, a South African man, in the twenty-first century needs to do in order to create positive change in our society.” The tears rolled down the mountain of a man as he shut his eyes closed as if trying to keep a painful memory at bay. “That look… the look of terror in her eyes…” His entire body trembled at the thought. “It was the scream that stopped me from… It was like re-living what my father used to do to my mother all those years ago. She used to scream…” The tears were now cascading down his cheeks and he lowered his head and clutched handfuls of his hair in tight fists. Dr Masuku walked over to Hendrik and put an arm around his shoulders and gestured to Thabo to come forward.
“I raped her because I thought I could cure her”, was Thabo’s bombshell. Some of the men looked at each other as if their ears might have deceived them. “Earlier in the week, I stumbled out of a local shebeen and there they were – kissing in the shadows. Thandeka and some… woman”. Thabo said the word woman like it disgusted him. “My wife! Kissing another woman!” he shouted. “So that night” he continued, “I thought I’ll remind her what it’s like to be with a real man. She tried to sneak into the house hours later, but she didn’t notice me sitting in the shadows. I grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her to the floor and…” his shoulders dropped. “Is this what you want” he yelled as if speaking to Thandeka. “Let me remind you of what it’s like to be with a real man!” After a long pause, his jaw seemed to relax and his shoulders seem to let go of something. “It’s not the 15 years behind bars that hurts me, it’s the fact that I was so enraged that I refused to take any responsibility for my own part in the deterioration of our relationship.”
Harold spoke next. His father worked every day of his life until he died at work, age 74. Harold, now 52, was retrenched a year ago. Growing up, he had been taught that a man must always provide for his family. Now he was unemployed and his wife, Lynette, was paying the bills. For the first time in 20 years, he was unable to take care of her financially. “To watch her have to wake up every morning and go to work so that we could eat… so that we could survive. Being a woman of faith, she tried to keep my spirits up and told me that we would be okay… but I just couldn’t look myself in the mirror anymore knowing that I had failed where my father and his father had succeeded. New Age Man has given me hope and helped me realize that it’s all a matter of perspective. Dr. Masuku explained to me that I could still provide for Lynette, just in a different way. Now I wake up every morning with a new sense of purpose. I’m volunteering at a school down the road and have started offering my services as a handyman in our community. When Lynette comes home, I have cleaned the house and cooked supper.” Harold pauses for a moment with his finger on his lips, as if searching for the right words.
“You see, what retrenchment has taught me is that there is more than one way to support your significant other. It has taught me to have faith in my marriage and understand that I am not my father and therefore my journey will not be the same as his. The trick is to not allow pride to breed bitterness. I’m happy to announce that I have just drafted a business plan and have been called in for a meeting next week to present it in more detail to a potential investor.” This news was received with a warm round of applause from the dozen or so men that sat in the room as Harold made his way back to his seat.
Makgatho stood up from his usual spot in the corner and made his way to the front. To hear him speak was rare but something had obviously compelled him to stand up tonight. In front of the group of men, he looked a little unsure of himself. “Go on Makgatho” Dr. Masuku encouraged with a broad smile. He was the son of a man that had never shown him support, drank like a fish and beat up his mother. One night when Makgatho was 12, his father took a swing at him, but was too drunk to maintain his balance, tripped over a cord, hit his head on the kitchen table and died. Makgatho had been angry ever since because he was never afforded the opportunity to confront his father and tell him what he really thought of him. He too had been attending private sessions with Dr. Masuku and had finally made a breakthrough. He reached into his blazer pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper.
“The Doc asked me to write a letter addressed to my father and tell him, my father, everything I wish I had the opportunity to tell him all those years ago. Tonight I would like to read that letter to you.” The room was still.
For a long time I hated you and cursed the day I first laid my eyes on you. You have brought mom and I nothing but heartache and misery. To this day, the smell of alcohol brings back painful memories of those many nights when you would kick down the door and wake up mom to fix you a plate of food. Loud noises leave my nerves shattered thanks to you and to this day I can still see mom screaming when I close my eyes. The images of her trying to get away from you as you lunge across the table fill me with hatred that forces me to clench my fists until my finger nails dig deep into my own flesh.
Dr. Masuku, my therapist, has rescued me from those painful memories that have imprisoned me for so many years. He has made me realize, bless him, that you actually did teach me something: I never…EVER want to put my children through what you put us through. You see we live in a violent society that is filled with men who are confused and hurting. The role of the man has changed and the relentless assault on the dignity and person of women and children must stop. It starts with us men.
If we, the current generation, indeed live in patriarchal society then we need to acknowledge that the role of a man has evolved. Our women and children require a different kind of love, a different kind of support from us. Being a man is not about going out drinking all night only to come home to terrorise your wife or girlfriend in front of your children, leaving them with lifelong emotional scars. What message are you sending to your son by hitting his mother? What is your little girl’s self-worth going to be some day when she reaches dating age?
My son needs to learn from me how a lady should be treated. He needs to learn from me that it’s okay to cry in public… to show emotion. He needs to grow up understanding that a woman is one of God’s greatest masterpieces and deserves to be respected and cherished at all times.
During the dark days of Apartheid it was the women who ran the household while their husbands took the train to go and work in a mine hundreds of kilometres away, often for months at a time. It was the women who had to raise the children when their husbands were arrested for not carrying a dompass. It was the women who said we will march to the Union Building in 1956. It was the women who sacrificed so much for us, for this country.
Now is the time for us men to groom the boy-child to be part of a generation that will say “Not in our name! Not in our name will female students on university campuses continue to be raped. Not in our name will grandmothers, mothers and daughters fear to speak their mind or be successful because some of us have fragile egos. Not in our name will sons continue to grow up without fathers. Not in our name will a man’s hand continue to be perceived as a source of pain. NOT IN OUR NAME!
That’s what you have taught me, father. You have taught me that I don’t want to be anything like you. I don’t want the vicious cycle of abuse to be inherited and continued by my children. It stops here! I’m taking back what you robbed me of and through the help of Dr. Masuku and like-minded men, creating an environment in which our women can walk down the street without having to look over their shoulders. From now on a man who beats his wife must know that if I, as a neighbour, hear her scream, he might as well call the police himself.
Thank you dad for making me realize the kind of man I don’t want to become.