Society needs to make violence really ugly - with consequences

ANC MP Mduduzi Manana has been advised to seek help so that he can deal with his homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic attitudes. / ALON SKUY
ANC MP Mduduzi Manana has been advised to seek help so that he can deal with his homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic attitudes. / ALON SKUY

I have been struggling to understand why a man would find it easy to be abusive towards a woman.

I really wanted to understand in particular why MP Mduduzi Manana would continuously behave in the manner he has.

Remember what happened in December at the Cubana club in Fourways, Johannesburg? And the recent fight with his domestic worker? I asked prominent scholar Professor Kopano Ratele the following question: "Why does Manana behave in the manner that he does?" This is his response:

"In a society where inequality between women and men is embedded in our institutions, relationships, and interactions, the likelihood is for a significant number of men not to object to the abuse of women, and a sizeable number to abuse.

"Inequality between women and men is associated with violence. Inequality is deeply entrenched in our history. Even though we have a great constitution with respect to the right to equality before the law, we are some distance from a society that loves egalitarianism in our everyday life, in our families, in our interactions with each other, and in our psyche.

"It seems that Manana is one public example of someone who has not had a change in mindset.

"He seems to be a man who does not abhor violence against women. He seems to take pleasure in controlling and abusing others, although he used to mouth speeches about women abuse. There are also personal things, psychological variables, that predispose some individuals towards abuse of others.

"These variables could be anything from witnessing abuse in one's early life, harsh parenting, issues of self-esteem, a sense of entitlement, or emotional dysregulation, a feeling that one can get away with it, lack of impulse control, and preference for dominance status in relating to the world."

I went on to ask whether there is something inherently wrong in being called isitabane. "Calling another person stabane is not something that should be encouraged. It is meant to offend. Unless the person is a very close friend or lover, and you have an understanding that such a word is acceptable between the two of you, calling someone stabane, moffie, gay or lesbo can be offensive.

"That said, getting violent against a person who calls you stabane is also horrible. Some men really feel threatened when called stabane. When their sense of manliness is already fragile, they strike out. Manana appears to be characterised by a fragile masculinity.

"He may be afraid that he looks like he is gay, which shouldn't matter, but it seems to matter to him, and we now know he is inclined to violence. Men like these are able to strike out against others because their society has not been able to make violence repellant. Make violence really ugly, with concomitant consequences: that's what society needs to do."

On why would he be xenophobic - he is alleged to have threatened to deport his former domestic worker - Ratele had this to say:

"Parliamentarians, councillors, deputy ministers, ministers or presidents are not these angels or super-people who stand outside of society. We should know this by now.

"We had an un-super president, to coin a word. Politicians and bureaucrats are part of society. They grew up in it. They are shaped by it. If the society does not like black foreigners, then its leaders are not totally immune to the xenophobic animosity.

"In such a society, one had to work harder to believe differently. Most people prefer to go along to get along. In Manana, it seems we have one of the many government officials and politicians who in actual fact do not believe in this African solidarity thing that Thabo Mbeki championed.

"This is in spite of the fact that Manana was enjoined by the constitution and policies of the government he worked for to treat others with dignity and to support projects that improve all of Africa ... why do we have people like these as leaders in our society, really?

"I am convinced that there is a deeper need for Manana to seek help so that he deals with his homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic attitudes. We can't just move on and pretend that all is well when in fact it is not."

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