Ignoring violence in prisons comes back to haunt us

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
The Institute of Race Relations notes that South Africa's levels of violent crime consistently remains among the highest in the world.
The Institute of Race Relations notes that South Africa's levels of violent crime consistently remains among the highest in the world.

As South Africans, we have murdered more than 500,000 of our own since the dawn of democracy in 1994, according to the Institute of Race Relations.

This means that, while we have not been at war, a large number of our fellow citizens have died violent deaths at the hands of their compatriots.

The institute's crime analyst Kerwin Lebone had this to say while releasing the statistics: "South Africans live with horrific levels of violent crime. While the murder rate has fallen since 1994, at 31.9 per 100,000 people, it remains one of the highest in the world."

Lebone added that South Africans were more likely to be murdered than the residents of countries affected by terror. Although shocking, these statistics shouldn't surprise us at all because our society has institutionalised the violence of men against men in the first place. Society gives men badges of honour for being violent.

We drive recklessly and we are praised because "this is how boys are". Men have institutionalised self-destruction.

For example, after football, rugby or cricket matches, there is no outrage from society when men, dissatisfied with the score or the referee's decision, resort to hurling chairs at each other.

If there was outrage from men, it would be about the match not finishing on time, not the fact that these men are fighting. We seem to have normalised this form of violence and accept it without voicing our objections to it.

If you visit morgues, the majority of corpses there are of men killed by other men for some of the flimsiest reasons that could have been resolved through patience and tolerance. Road rage is one example in which men attack and even kill each other.

Our cultures as a society seem to groom men who display violence towards other men by raising and encouraging boys to be strong and to fight for what is theirs. We never raise boys the same way as girls - to be nurturing, tolerant and compassionate people.

When young boys display even a small semblance of being caring and nurturing, we label them as "showing gay tendencies".

By doing that we force young men to think that, in order for society to appreciate and affirm them as men they need to show strength, toughness and physical strength in dealing with their problems.

Even at schools, we applaud boys with aggressive tendencies bordering on bullying as "izikhokho"(great guys). Then we get a shock when this culture of violence and entitlement, which had its genesis in the early upbringing, manifests to affect women and children.

The study backs this assertion by showing that "murder affects the most vulnerable people in society. Over the past decade, almost 10,000 children have been murdered".

It says that 884 children were murdered in 2015/16. Violence in our prison facilities is so endemic, yet society turns a blind eye although it eventually spills over to affect law-abiding citizens.

Yes, men commit some of the heinous crimes, but that doesn't give us the right to condone prison violence which also leads to premature deaths.

There is no outrage from society and, certainly, those male victims of violence in prisons don't come out and tell their stories because they are ashamed that society will regard them as emasculated.

However, these men leave prison, go out into the world and want to prove that they still have power over those who are weaker - mainly women and kids.

Statistics confirm that these men are desperate to regain their lost power and prestige by preying on the vulnerable. In prison "I was powerless, gang-raped and emasculated." Many men are being destroyed in silence due to stigma.

This is a vicious cycle and it affects all of us - whether you been to prison or not -and by the time that happens, there is very little we can do about it.

Many parolees commit violence, including rape, just only a few weeks or months out of prison.

We need to ensure that we don't create institutions that are breeding grounds for violence.

Interestingly, there isn't outrage from prison warders either. Instead, you hear tales that they even assist in some of the violence meted out between prisoners.

I would like to close with a quote from a famous man, one of our founding fathers of democracy - Nelson Mandela, a person we should all emulate because he always denounced violence as a means to attain peace in our country. From him, we have much to learn.

Mandela said: "Safety and security don't just happen, they are a result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."

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