To shout fire is an act of alarm demanding that everything we are doing at this moment is dropped and postponed because there is a real emergency that overrides all other considerations. The fire threatening us all is the failure of our African masculinity to answer so many of the questions that are being asked of us by our women, our children and eventually ourselves.
The posters on the wall exhorting us to condom use, to be circumcised or to buy a ticket for the show this weekend must be ignored for now. The business deal, the rally for this or that political party all becomes secondary.
Every day a woman is killed by her partner or ex-partner. Our children are abused and raped. Violence against our women and children is not limited to any suburb, or to the poor, or to any fixed, imagined type of person you have in your head.
Any society in which large numbers of men fail to protect our women and to nurture and protect their children, whatever it’s other successes, is a failing society. We are failing.
You may be the banker, the shopkeeper, the farmer or the teacher — it doesn’t matter, action is demanded now and we must act together and with purpose.
In one generation we have managed to go from men who are respected as fathers, as community leaders, as politicians and just as decent human beings to objects of derision, to bystanders in our families and in our communities.
As men we have for too long told ourselves credible fictions, stories about ourselves that we’ve repeated so often that we actually believe they are true — we still matter, we are still needed, we still inspire confidence in our families and in our communities.
While we share these stories among ourselves in the beer halls, the golf, rugby clubs and in our workplaces our women and children have long stopped asking themselves if we inhabit the same world as them and have simply given up on us.
The violence inflicted on our women and children has reached crisis proportions. The brutalisation of their lives, the war on our women and children’s bodies and minds seems to pass almost unnoticed by us as we propagate our credible fictions that the world is still all right, we can control it, nothing is really that wrong that we cannot turn it around with a bit of bravado and a few well-meaning words.
The fire was lit by that small percentage of men who pollute the lives of the rest of us. The rapists of our women and children, the abusers who we hate as much as our women and children do. But it’s a bit too late to blame and protest that it is not us but them. Our mumbled apologies, our quiet inaction and lack of voice and action has fuelled the fire on the mountain.
What matters now is that we, the rest of us, decent men get out on the mountain and put the fire out before it consumes all of us.
You must talk to your sons and explain to them the importance of treating women with respect — and show them what that respect looks like. You need to condemn your friends who think it’s okay to grope women, or scream at them, or insult them. And if you’ve done any of those things, you need to ask yourself: Why? You need to ask yourself why you should then feel entitled to the woman’s respect, love or attention.
I want men to fill the vacuum of male leadership on this. I’m not suggesting that our male voices are more authoritative — that would be absurd — or that men can solve this alone.
We must however correct the absence of male voices. We must help fix this together.
To the men already standing up: brilliant, but remember we need much more than outrage and good intentions. We need a sophisticated understanding of these issues. Take the time to study it, talk about it with friends. It’s important.
We risk the loss of all we love and value while we spin our stories and ignore the fact that the world is demanding that we act, walk the walk in defence of those we cherish.
We men cannot be bystanders any longer, we must be actors with purpose and determination in the face of the crisis faced by our women and children. There is a fire on the mountain right now and whatever our preoccupations we’ve got to get out and beat those flames down.