Of prowling beasts and toxic masculinity

By Time of article published Aug 31, 2021

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01/11/2018. Women cry during the National Gender-based Violence and Femicide Summit held at St George Hotel in Centurion. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Vuyisile Msila

When a friend, Sipho, arrived at the police station he thought deeply about it and decided against it as he made a U-turn. He had gone to report an incident of abuse at the hands of his spouse. But there was no privacy at the police station, he feared ridicule, as he looked around the half-full charge office.

After all he was a man and men are strong, they swallow pain and never cry because they are powerful. The paradox of these stereotypes is that they lead to strong men who have embraced toxic masculinity and the same societal stereotypes create monsters and dragons who know no bounds.

Many institutions in our society are to blame: religious groups, families, schools, government as well as some of our traditions. Communities have witnessed dangerous attacks on ubuntu as gruesome femicide cases rise in South Africa.

The death of the University of Fort Hare student, Nosicelo Mtebeni in East London last week reflects the beast that has grown within many, as her body succumbed at the hands of her barbaric boyfriend. Like an animal she was decapitated and slaughtered to pieces.

Her body parts were found in a flat she shared with her alleged lover, Alutha Pasile, who confessed to butchering her to death. A nightmare for her family and an incredibly macabre act for society.

As this bestiality is revealed, the humanity recedes with wild men believing in their physical power, rather than intellect and, in their mad resolve, rather than sobriety.

What gnaws many is that the weeping is the same every year as women expire at the hands of their hateful loved ones. The statistics are despicable: just this year the United Nations has pointed out that one in five girls has been abused in childhood and one can be certain that many of these young women grow up to be suspicious of men and society.

Gender-based violence desecrates human rights and rattles the ideals of democracy. It frequently makes us question our social justice system which is usually seen as too lax by victims. Many gender-based violence offenders are sent to prison but almost immediately, they are sent back home on parole after flaunting good conduct.

I listened to a radio programme this past week of how awoman was locked in a bedroom by an irate boyfriend before he doused the place with fire. Fortunately, the badly charred lady escaped with her life but her three year old girl died in the inferno, a fire started by an ogre who cared less about women and children. He went to prison after being sentenced to ten years but there, as it usually happens, due to good behaviour he was out after four years. He came out to haunt the survivor. The woman lives to tell the frightening story of what happened. Yet help for survivors is still not adequate as countless end up harming themselves.

The story of Nosicelo is neither the first nor is it the last. Every year our campuses are like battle fields for young women who trudge like lame game on cold plains where bloodthirsty hunters perennially take aim. We have come to realise that murderers and malcontents are prowling the campuses in search of victims, as they seek to gratify their vile intentions.

This year still, a woman student, Precious Ramabulana was murdered in Capricorn TVET by a man who raped and robbed her of her possessions. Of course, the death of Uyinene Mrwetyana from the University of Cape Town, murdered by a post office worker, is still fresh in our minds. We do not know what the future portended for all these women who died in the bloom of youth. These may have been the leaders we need in our ailing society but madness and crisis-driven masculinity halted their full bloom.

Yet there are many who die outside these institutions of higher learning, in homes and in barren fields. In 2019, we heard the sad tale of how a pregnant Tshegofatso Pule was hanged from a tree by her boyfriend. Violent, sick men see the loopholes in our legal system, for many can be found roaming freely after committing heinous crimes.

Children and women are never free from the inexplicable wrath of these beasts. The symbolism of how Nozicelo’s killer dismembered her shows his disgust for her femininity and his belligerent temper reflects the waning of ubuntu in many of our communities.

We have forgotten to live for others and instead live for our selfish desires and private gluttony. We still need to deeply understand the social and sociological aspects of gender-based violence that destroyed Mtebeni.

With or without pandemics, gender-based violence has been widespread in our communities. Yet some have argued that the Covid-19 pandemic with its restrictions such as the quarantine or lockdown periods has increased gender-based violence.

Referring to it as a twin pandemic to Covid-19, gender-based violence is responsible for many ills against women around the world. Recent research shows that women suffer the consequences of these pandemics.

These results are reflected in the first world and developing countries. This was the same case with HIV and Aids which saw women bearing the brunt of society. Society should always be mindful to consciously fight the accompanying pandemics in order to defeat the scourge of gender-based violence. We need to look at our battles in totality.

Two aspects have become crucial in this quandary. The first one implies the second. On the one hand, schools and other institutions of learning should constantly instil values of dignity and respect. But this should also be the responsibility of homes and families where children – boys and girls – should be taught to live together.

And of course, this will only be possible when we change the patriarchal rules of the game. On the other hand, there has to be a way of ensuring that women eschew silence because quietness is complicit with the perpetrator’s actions.

Numerous femicides occur because victims have been taught to hush. Silence fits into the role expected by stereotypes; meek, soft and feminine and prowling beasts ride on these qualities. Women need the power and they have the strength. The beasts that kill have brittle hearts and their souls easily melt in the face of the voices of powerful women who stand their ground.

There are several reported cases of male abuse but while we acknowledge these we should never belittle the brutal killing of women in our society. Femicide continues to rattle our society thus shaking its very fabric. This time Nosicelo is gone but her passing should prick our conscience.

When we are silent, within us we also conjure the spirit of the daring, prowling beasts. The maligned masculinity we see today is detrimental but should never defeat the ends of building communities. The gruesome acts against women mar the march towards an optimistic future. We should move to change society before the violence imbibes and drowns us all. There will be no society without mothers and there will be no children when fiends scavenge.

Vuyisile Msila works at Unisa. He writes in his personal capacity.

Sunday Independent

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