Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
3 minute read
9 Nov 2017
5:35 am

SA men are not man enough

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

There has to be something deeply wrong with a country where the men effectively enforce a curfew upon its women.

Woman and men from Soweto gather at UJ Soweto Campus, Pimville at the start of the march to Regina Mundi Church against women abuse under the campaign #NotInMyName, 26 May 2017. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

It’s 2am under a pitch-black, moonless sky and the strobe lights coming from inside a tiny nightclub bounce intermittently on shiny black, smiling faces, puffing smoke in between animated chatter.

I, a woman, have come out of the club for air, unaccompanied and feeling perfectly safe enough to take a stroll down the busy pavement, scanning faces and returning greetings.

Despite being the only female, I can see around me not a single threat of violence or sexual harassment. It’s obvious I am not in South Africa.

This is just one of the bizarre and heartbreakingly rare experiences I had in my time travelling through Mozambique – a country that, despite being far more impoverished, seems to have produced a lot more decent human beings per square kilometre than I think South Africa can ever hope to.

But based on my experience in both countries, it was not surprising to learn that while South Africa’s rape statistics averaged 71.3 victims per 100 000 people in Mozambique, that statistic is at 0.2.

Given our similarities as two post-colonial, politically tense nations, both defined by massive economic potential and devastating poverty, this little moment I had outside a club in Maxixe, Mozambique, bore a haunting question in my head that both scares and angers me: what makes the men and boys of Mozambique seem so outstandingly peaceful and nonviolent compared with their scary South African counterparts?

For the longest time, you see, I assumed that our shockingly high rape and murder statistics, primarily at the hands of men, could be attributed to the trauma of apartheid, as well as the psychological and cultural results of poverty and unemployment.

But based on my experience in both countries, it was not surprising to learn that while South Africa’s rape statistics averaged 71.3 victims per 100 000 people in Mozambique, that statistic is at 0.2.

Our murder rate averaged 55.9 per 100 000 people, while Mozambique’s averaged 3.4 per 100 000 people. On one of the last nights I was there, two other journalists and I walked a few blocks in downtown Maputo, passing children, women and the elderly as we hunted for a restaurant – and I felt as though I were in a parallel universe.

My paranoid South African habits of avoiding eye contact, walking fast and darting my eyes around for potential threats were met with benevolent smiles and greetings from complete strangers.

“It’s because we don’t like to cause trouble, you see,” a total stranger, who had paid for my drink at the hotel’s restaurant, told me. I had asked him why so many Mozambican men were so peaceful to each other and so polite to women.

“We know what it’s like to suffer because of violence. I think that is why.” I am not convinced that is the answer and, in fact, I am even more mystified.

The violence he was referring to was their civil war, between 1977 and 1992. Since then, while the rebel group, Renamo, remains a prevalent, but barely active threat, I am not convinced that a spot of civil war could be the answer to calming South African men down a notch.

There has to be something deeply wrong with a country where the men effectively enforce a curfew upon its women.

A country where brandishing pepper-spray on your morning job is not considered paranoia.

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

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