/ 10 May 2018

South Africa’s killer men, smiling and unfazed

Why are men continuing to breed a culture of toxic masculinity even at their own peril and can anything be done about it?
Why are men continuing to breed a culture of toxic masculinity even at their own peril and can anything be done about it?


On Tuesday, it was revealed that member of parliament, Mduduzi Manana offered his former domestic worker Christine Wiro R100 000 to withdraw assault charges she made against him.

In an audio recording, Manana is heard telling Wiro’s friend in isiZulu and English that he is “willing to do anything” to stop Wiro from pursuing the charges.

“I’m saying, just for any consolation, just to take care of uMama for what she feels is humiliation, I can give a consolation to her. I can give her consolation to take care of her health, of her family.”

According to TimesLive, Wiro opened a case against Manana accusing him of assault and crimen injuria after she and Manana had had an argument, resulting in Manana allegedly pushing Wiro down a staircase. A few days after the story broke, Manana changed his tune, claiming the Wiro family was “extorting” him.

“They even made me to sign a letter to say that I will give them the money, but I felt that this is extortion in the main,” he said to TimesLive.

Manana is not a first-time offender. In 2017, the former deputy minister of higher education was was convicted of three counts of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court. He was sentenced to one year in jail or to pay a fine of R100 000.

READ MORE: Patriarchy is not just a black thing, FYI

On May 3, convicted murderer Sandile Mantsoe appeared dispassionate during his sentencing for the assault and murder of his former girlfriend Karabo Mokoena. Throughout the day, Mantsoe smiled as he talked to family members when court adjourned. The day before, as his verdict was read, Mantsoe smiled at the media and posed, flashing a peace sign.

As Mantsoe spoke on the witness stand to mitigate his sentence, social media users following the trial commented on Mantsoe’s seemingly unperturbed demeanour, saying he expressed little remorse for killing Mokoena as he blamed her family for ‘limiting’ her by not giving her opportunities to succeed in life.

When sentencing proceedings commenced, the judge said that the case should be an example for future cases involving crimes against women.

But did Mantsoe’s trial really resonate with perpetrators? Apparently not if Thabani Mzolo’s case in anything to go by.

On the same day that Mantsoe was learning his fate, Mzolo made his first court appearance. Relaxed and smiling broadly, Mzolo sat in the dock for his bail hearing. He is accused of shooting and killing his former partner Zolile Khumalo at the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT). Although the former student allegedly confessed on Facebook to carrying out the killing, Mzolo has so far showed little remorse in court.

Sporting a smirk, his general mood was described as “upbeat” by a News24 correspondent. The murder accused has been convicted of assault in the past.

The psychology of a perpetrator

When a man is convicted of assaulting or murdering a woman, would you expect them to smile, laugh, make peace signs apparently in blatant disregard of their actions?

Faced with these images of seemingly unfazed men, the Mail & Guardian spoke to four experts about the behaviour of violent men when confronted by news cameras.

Professor Garth Stevens of the University of the Witswatersrand (Wits) studies masculinity, gender and violence. He says psychopathy rarely plays a role in these instances of men not expressing remorse for violent crime. Instead, Stevens says, it is masculinity and more broadly the patriarchal society we live in, gets in the way.

Men who appear to not show remorse are seemingly executing a “social performance” in order to “compensate for social shaming” and to “elevate their masculinity” says Professor Stevens.

“This is a performance of an attitude towards the crime that seemingly legitimises it. The lack of any remorse is normalising that it’s OK to commit crimes.”

Stevens says this social performance is reinforced by toxic masculinity. Because South Africa is a patriarchal society, gender-based violence is “commonly normalised,” said Professor Stevens.

“The problem of gender-based violence is a social problem around inequality. In uneven societies, women’s bodies are treated in a manner that is less valued. Violence becomes more doable against these bodies because [men] devalue them. This impacts on ability to express remorse.”

So why are men continuing to breed a culture of toxic masculinity even at their own peril and can anything be done about it?

Dr. Malose Langa, a psychology professor at Wits specialising in masculinity studies, finds that the answer is socialising young boys differently.

“If you take a group of young boys at a very, very young age and if one of the young boys cries, [the] boy is going to be laughed at,” explains Langa.

Langa believes that social scripts, or learned and expected series of behaviours, create an expectation for men to be “tough” in public.

“The whole notion of what it means to be a male and what it means to be a female is a social construct. It’s a construct that we develop from a very small age and it is societal in nature.”

In order to change scripts, Langa explains that male students in primary schools have to be taught that expressing and talking about feelings and emotions, rather than displaying physical acts of violence, is normal. Langa also believes that campaigns against gender-based violence should happen throughout the year.

If changes can be made, Langa believes there will be fewer instances of men physically “projecting those feelings on female counterparts.”

Mara Glennie, the founder of the non-profit organisation, Tears Foundation, believes that perpetrators have to be properly educated on the wrongdoing of their actions, “It is a hurtful and sad reality that many perpetrators laugh their way into jail. We are all responsible for the choices we make in life,” she says.

“The men who abuse all have the following in common: Denial, minimising and blaming, which are destructive tactics of power and control. There are facilities for assisting rape survivors both men and women but there are no facilities that help abusers. We need to address this.”

Director of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Group Nondumiso Nsibande believes that in order to develop South African society, victims of gender-based violence need to be recognised.

“We are all affected by it. We cannot speak about development of the country without talking about gender-based violence,” she says.

“I think as communities that this is a societal problem and that we all need to come in to support survivors of gender-based violence.”