Today's killers and rapists are 'monsters' of our own making

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Luyanda Botha at his pre-trial hearing in Cape Town.
Luyanda Botha at his pre-trial hearing in Cape Town.
Image: Galo Images//Brenton Geach

Last month, Luyanda Botha, the man convicted of the killing and rape of Uyinene Mrwetyana, was sentenced to three life sentences in the Western Cape High Court. Justice was expediently served in this instance, and I hope this case sets a precedent.

However, as we laud the speed and meticulousness of the justice system in convicting the murderer of the UCT student, I am haunted by the pervasiveness of the conflation of methods of deterring or decreasing the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) with preventing gender-based violence through understanding its root causes.

Although these two mechanisms seem to be working hand-in-hand, I would like to argue that one is much more useful than the other.

Like every South African, I welcome any positive change to our justice system, but I cannot help but think that we are sometimes guilty of scapegoating in an attempt to rid ourselves of the responsibility and role that we as individuals have to play in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide, particularly in how we raise our kids - the very kids that one day become these killers and rapists.

I have written a plethora columns on the issue of violence, and the overarching theme is: children are not born violent.

No human being is born inherently violent or prejudiced.

The million-dollar question then becomes: how do these individuals whom we later disassociate ourselves from by calling them "sick'', "monsters" or "animals" come about?

I think it is critical that we grapple with this issue because I think we are very quick to forget that these very "monsters" are and were once part of a much larger ecosystem and part of our broader society.

What, then, in our society led them or contributed to them ending up as rapists and murderers?

I think we shy away from these questions because it is not easy to admit that the very "monsters" have a history and may have been failed by various societal systems and structures, and that may have contributed to them being the "monsters" they are today.

We need to avoid conflating deterrences such as heavy sentencing and other changes in our justice system with gender-based violence prevention methods. The former is an after-the-fact mechanism while the latter seeks to understand the roots of the scourge of gender-based violence and then seeks to prevent it.

Our analysis of the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa, and perhaps the world, is devoid of what some sociologists call the dissociative complex. Simply put, we can define this phenomenon as social isolation from yourself, others and other social institutions for a variety of reasons.

We disassociate ourselves from the responsibility of tackling gender-based violence through looking within ourselves and the ways in which we raise boy children who one day become killers and rapists because it forces us to think of the ways in which we may have contributed to the formation and cultivation of these "monsters".

We would much rather assume that our own children are fine and instead look to other parents to assume that responsibility.

We need to reflect on how we raise our children, our parenting styles in terms of perpetuating toxic gender stereotypes that later come back to bite us in the form of violence against women and children.

We need to reflect in order to move away from viewing ourselves through the prism of sanctity. Ending violence in our communities is a responsibility of the whole community.

I am in no way trying to find excuses for the behaviour of these men.

I am, however, saying before we disassociate them from ourselves by dehumanising them we also need to reflect on how they were once boys who were part of a wider community that may have contributed to who they have become.

That is important if we are to holistically think of the root causes of gender-based violence in our aim of totally rooting it out.

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