Comment and Analysis

Mngxitama: Time to rethink the root causes of violence

Andile Mngxitama: COMMENT

The 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence campaign has become an empty ritual the nation performs to feel good about itself.

Violence against women and children shows very little sign of abating, despite massive investment in awareness programmes. (Gallo)

 Violence against women and children shows very little sign of abating, despite massive investment in awareness programmes. What is needed is a radical rethink of how we understand the problem.

Liberal feminism is no longer a perspective but an ideology that conceals more than it reveals. It can't account for the generalised violence within the black community. The focus on violence against women conceals the anatomy of the scourge.

Steve Biko took a structural perspective when he tried to make sense of this violence: "Township life alone makes it a miracle for anyone to live up to adulthood. There are situations of absolute want, in which black will kill black to be able to survive. This is the basis for vandalism, murder, rape and plunder that goes on while the real source of evil – white society – is sun-tanning on exclusive beaches or relaxing in their bourgeois homes."

What needs to be made obvious is the unbroken link between privileged lives and the wretched existence in township and squatter camps. The black ghetto is oversaturated with violence.

The extraordinary violence of the alienated is a case of dispossession turning people against themselves. In South Africa, discourses about gender-based violence do not make sense of the stubborn refusal of violence to go away. The solution is seen as better policing, turning a question of social justice into a criminal issue.

Last year, South Africa experienced about 16000 murders, which places our society about four and half times above the global average. The black township is a morgue and a factory of death. How can we hope to extricate a woman, child or a lesbian or gay person from this environment and make sense of this violence?

There are prejudices, beliefs and practices that present themselves opportunistically in choosing, at any particular moment, who will be the public face of victimhood. But all are marked by the same sign of violence: it's just a matter of when it will be your turn.

The empty masculinities of subjugated black men, imbued with patriarchal beliefs, play no small role in this violence. But we have to re-cognise that this patriarchy kills both women and men, and is principally generated by an environment inimical to peaceful existence.

No amount of preaching, symbolic protest or building of prisons is going to help to end this violence. Shifting the blame to a decline in family values is based on a fallacious assumption that we can have functional families in a dysfunctional society. It's time to rethink all we know.

Andile Mngxitama will present a paper on this issue at a seminar at the Children's Memorial Institute, 13 Joubert Street, Braamfontein, on December 2, starting at 9am

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