White men also perpetrate acts of violence

Pole position: Mbuyiselo Botha writes that Oscar Pistorius’s image embodies the notions of white privilege. (Madelene Cronjé)

Pole position: Mbuyiselo Botha writes that Oscar Pistorius’s image embodies the notions of white privilege. (Madelene Cronjé)

As Oscar Pistorius is set to return to jail soon, I think of the death of Reeva Steenkamp, three years ago, and reflect on the elements that make up white privilege and how it is often disassociated from violence.

The face of privilege is not often associated with violence, but rather with all of the things that point to societal astuteness, wealth and a much higher order of society.

Pistorius’s image somehow embodies the notions of white privilege – and this is why it may have been difficult, under any other circumstances, to imagine him as a person who would commit such a crime. This is what white privilege does; it often distorts some of the nontangible human aspects of individuals that are masked by wealth, power and a higher societal class.

The majority of young white men grow up in privileged circumstances that affect all aspects of their lives. They have good education, health, good family surroundings, well-off parents, who bequeath wealth to them, which ultimately sets them up for a good and long life, as opposed to young black men, who grow up in poverty, unemployment and poorly structured two-roomed houses with no privacy.

It is these conditions that make white men oblivious to black men’s struggles and pain. It is the apartheid system that systematically separated black fathers from their rural homes and that had a direct impact on how they related to their children.

How do we expect a father who has never been given, or shown, love to show or give love to his offspring in turn? I am convinced it is impossible, if not unlikely.

How many of us appreciate the level of dehumanisation, degradation and disrespect that black fathers have had to live with throughout their lives? How could they still be expected to provide love, warmth, caring and responsibility to their children when the system of apartheid had done nothing but treat them as nonentities and lesser human beings?

It is only when we acknowledge what apartheid has done to black men that we can start appreciating why there are such high levels of violence in black communities.

The militancy of these communities is in many respects associated with the emancipation of black communities from apartheid, at a time when the military wings of the liberation movements in South Africa sought to take up arms in the attainment of freedom.

White men were also forced to undertake military training (by being enlisted in the army) from which the then regime benefited in its machinations of maintaining oppression and white domination under the guise of “law and order”. 

The idea of involving men in programmes that are aimed at ending violence against women and children should involve both white and black men. Both were part of an abnormal past, which by its very nature was violent.

It is a concern that, in many of our efforts to bring men closer to the issues of violence through various programmes, white men are missing in great numbers. This is perhaps the consequence of our perceptions about the effects of white privilege on white men.

Our failure to work in the white communities entrenches a flawed thinking that rape, murder, car hijacking, domestic and sexual violence happen solely in black communities. The Pistorius case remains an example of how white privilege masks the imperfections of white men in respect of their intimate relationships with women.

I believe Steenkamp would still be alive today had we been proactive in working in white communities and not assuming that white men are not capable of being violent to other men or their own partners. The failure to do so entrenches white privilege and creates a false sense that white men are “holier” than their darker-skinned compatriots.

It is true that, in South Africa, gender-based violence has a class character; but avoiding engagements with white men does a disservice to the thousands of white women and girls who die at the hands of their white partners.

It is important for all of us, and especially those of us working in the field of violence prevention, to integrate issues of gender violence, ranging across different class formations, to make sure that both white and black women are protected.

It is a concern that the exclusive attention given to black men in respect of undoing the cycle of violence presumes that violence is a black problem, when it is in fact a societal problem that affects all communities in South Africa irrespective of class and race.

  Mbuyiselo Botha is a government and media liaison specialist at Sonke Gender Justice and a commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality

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