This is the question that was asked during a gender-based violence (GBV) round table discussion held at Ebukhosini Training Centre in Mamelodi township in Tshwane, Gauteng on 30 April 2021. The majority of the group were men.
This scene played out in an emotion-charged room filled with community leaders – all seeking answers to questions that have plagued communities for years. Lingering in the air was one word: WHY?
Ranyaka team member, Andile Wah! Mafa, addresses the group with host, Pastor Mahlangu on the left
The host, Pastor Penuel Mahlangu, introduced the purpose of the discussions, namely that this diverse group of people were present in the room to adopt a holistic approach towards tackling issues around GBV in Mamelodi. “I want us to have an honest conversation as men about why men are not doing enough to protect our women and children? Why are the police not standing up for men who are being abused? Why are there no solutions?” said Mahlangu.
Engaging in the discussion to find answers to some of these questions were church leaders, representatives from the South African Police Service (SAPS), local councillors, traditional leaders and representatives from community organisations dealing with GBV-related matters.
Before the event, pastor Mahlangu conducted a survey where 100 men were asked to participate in answering questions related to GBV. These included questions such as ‘Why do men abuse women?’ To this, 19% of men said they blamed women for their lack of respect towards them, whilst another 19% attributed their abusive behaviour to stress and depression. Another 10% pointed to substance abuse as a cause for men’s violent behaviour towards women.
“The honesty in the answers given by some of these men is refreshing, yet unnerving considering the reasons given for what they thought was the reason why men abuse women. It is not a surprise, but it’s sad that this is what is happening out there,” says survey conductor, Vusi Kokela.
When asked what they thought could be the solution in addressing some of the challenges around GBV, 27% said that more dialogues and discussions involving men should be held in every community. 21% leaned more towards consistent and ongoing GBV awareness and educational programmes in schools, while 10% suggested harsher sentences against perpetrators, like the death penalty.
Echoing the same sentiments from the floor, the audience added that education about GBV should start at home and then spread out to schools, the broader community and the workplace. Some participants touched on the spiritual element that they felt also needed to be addressed. “Parents need to take the responsibility of educating their children about such issues and they themselves also need to be empowered so that they can rightfully shape the minds of their children,” said one of the attendees during the open discussion.
Warrant Officer Mohlala from the Mamelodi-East police station spoke about the measures that SAPS has taken to ensure that the fight against GBV is given the attention that it deserves. “We have the SAPS GBV van that makes frequent rounds in the community to make residents aware that there is help nearby should they need it. We also have a private office in the station where victims can report their cases and we go out of our way to make sure that it’s a safe and judgment-free space for them,” he said.
Warrant Officer Mohlala addressed the group on the role of SAPS
Also present to show her support and pledge her commitment to advocating for the rights of women and girls; as well as promoting education around issues of GBV, was Miss South Africa semi-finalist, Lebogang Hlakola. Lebogang touched on the lack of psychological support that men receive in dealing with their mental struggles and overcoming the cycle of abuse. “I think we as a society are not doing enough to empower men. We are not addressing the issue from the root level,” she said.
The Mamelodi GBV brigade (below) demonstrated a survey app that they have created that consists of questions designed to obtain an in-depth understanding of the root causes of GBV, especially towards the LGBTQ community. “The LGBTQ residents in our community do not feel safe and welcomed anymore. We need to do better as people to treat everyone equally with respect and to protect each other and to educate our kids about GBV,” said Lebogang.
Moving forward, Pastor Mahlangu (below) urged the community to act as consultants for all organisations focusing on fighting GBV to come together and create a centre in the community that will act as a central point for information relating to GBV. “The centre will not only provide information, but training and counselling for victims and family members affected by these issues. There is a lot that needs to be done and it will not be fixed by one or two meetings. We need to pledge our commitment, that we will come together on a regular basis, to engage on existing GBV projects and how we can get involved.”