by Rejoice Ngwenya
International airport transfers and transit slots born of bargain flights result in excess idle time, especially if, like me, one has very little or no disposable income to burn on duty-free shopping. That is the nature of life.
Some have it while others do not. Regularly hoping in and out of planes is not necessarily symbolic of wealth. Besides, I have seen enough of the perpetual generation of new gadgets. Nothing seems to capture my curiosity anymore.
Moreover, duty-free prices are well beyond the reach even of a privileged villager. At times, I wander around in the bookshops admiring bestselling authors reaping benefits of insane literal innovation or simply page through glossy magazines with never-ending human stories. Last month I was lucky because of a task to lead a discussion at a progressive woman’s seminar. Thus, the ladies loaded my mailbox with tons of reading material for reference purposes.
16 days of activism is a great time even for us ‘male feminists’ to ponder over transgressions of our fellowmen. Therefore, my transit hours between Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania came in handy to sink my proverbial fangs into the unfolding story of gender based violence (GBV).
The cases I encountered on gruesome acts of inhuman treatment meted on women, especially in South Africa and other troubled spots of the continent gave me the impression that African men – black – are yet to comprehend fully the message on GBV. We hide behind the veil of tradition and war to inflict untold misery on our women, sometimes in ignorance or as unintended consequences but mostly deliberate.
Yet there are more lessons I learn in transit lounges watching men behaviour than reading NGO reports and Googled articles. In my unpublished book on men-women relationships, I allude to an old adage that ‘white men are more romantic and caring than black men’. I have neither empirical evidence nor specific testimonies as proof, but when you take time to observe the man/woman dynamics at airports, you may just be convinced the adage is true.
Actually, one needs not cross borders to find a few grains of truths in the sand dunes of GBV accusations. In the past few months of Coronavirus lockdown, hundreds of women have been raped, assaulted or even murdered in the SADC region. South African men are the most notorious physical abusers of women. Stories of love gone bad resulting in beheadings, stabbings and rape said to occur literally every minute in that country. In Zimbabwe, women assaulted for the flimsiest of all reasons, their property expropriated by deranged relatives of dead spouses while graduates are domesticated.
In war torn countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, the DRC and Mozambique, we see women abused by both regular armies and rebels as thousands trek into neighbouring countries for refuge. The world was shocked when Mozambican soldiers abused and eventually executed a naked woman for the benefit of online publicity. In Zimbabwe, we have the cases of both vice presidents treating their former wives as villains, unashamedly enlisting even the services of a compromised judiciary system. Only to persecute the hapless women. Political misfits kidnap and abuse women at will as even heads of blue chip companies, ministers and senior government officials humiliate their spouses in acrimonious divorce cases.
There are several cases of popular ‘men of god’ in Africa divorcing their wives – a proof of falsity and frailty of their religious values. Apostolic faith cults known to marry underage girls as school heads and university lecturers corner learners on what feminists term sextortion. I have now learned that the spectrum of *GBV* goes beyond physical to include psychosocial abuse.
African women – no matter their social or economic class – are victims of male-incited deprivation. Many organisations still shut out women from top positions. Properties and bank accounts are likely to be in the man’s name. Women who head families still have to ‘report’ their salary to the couch potato too lazy to work. In South Africa, deranged xenophobic morons persecute Zimbabweans, Somalis, Nigerians and Malawians for ‘taking our jobs and women’. This disrupts families and leaves women and their children traumatised.
I take time to observe elderly white couples at airports huddling, cuddling and hugging as they go about their check-in or ‘window shopping’ escapades. More often than not, the men push the luggage trolleys with giggly kids straddling suitcases and bags. Excited young white couples pore over diamond rings as others playfully nudge each other under coffee tables. I was horrified one time at ORT as a black man of West African origin remonstrated animatedly at his partner to pay for excess baggage. The demon of patriarchy on public display!
Of course, my critics – mainly men – will advance a theory of how *GBV* cuts across races and sexes. I never for once claim that no abuse befalls Mrs or Mr Robinson, but being a well read and well-travelled African black man does help to justify my ‘aggressive man’ theory. Social scientists observe how low incomes, over-crowding and substance abuse result in *GBV* in inner cities of large western metropolitans. Scores of black American super heroes confined in penitentiary for abusing their partners. In Africa, tradition has entrenched ‘women can’t’ stereotypes that may take a few generations to reverse.
So, where do we begin to change the dynamics of our attitudes towards women? My book is full of A to Z suggestions, but I guess, as one who grew up in a family of six older-than-me women, mutual respect is top of the list. Consent is also important.
When a woman says no, it is a no. It also is important for us black African men to work hard to appreciate the noble doctrine of feminism. There are huge benefits derived from giving women more space to express their potential. After all, they are more than we are so if numbers matter,