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It seems men love sports more than they love women.

In fact, they would rather watch soccer than fight the scourge of violence and abuse against women and child abuse.

This is according to the relatively poor turnout at The Brothers for Life “Not in my name” pledge and campaign for the male species to express its concern and protest about violence, rape, abuse and death that some males subject women to.

Less than a 1 000 men turned up at the Johannesburg Stadium for a men’s rally that was expected to draw over 20 000. Instead, more than 80 000 men went to FNB Stadium for the Soweto derby featuring Chief and Pirates while million others just stayed at home eating and drinking while watching the game on TV.

It is time that soccer was turned into a consciousness-raising vehicle and platform to highlight and confront many of our social ills created by what men do to themselves and others.

We should all collaborate to come up with possible solutions to reduce the violence men perpetrate against women.

But let me explore reasons why abuse may not be a priority for some men.

Firstly, some men hold very strong views on the question of equality between the sexes. They believe that men and women were put on earth to play or fulfil different roles with the male as boss over the female. But they are now reluctant or afraid to articulate their views or defend their positions because they are seen as politically incorrect.

Secondly, the way we deal with Women’s Month and related issues of violence and abuse has become quite predictable and monotonous without really delving into the real matters. In fact, as soon as we have organised a march, attended a rally and allowed women to vent out at luncheons and seminars for just one day we (men) immediately fall back into our old violent ways.

Finally, the issue of why men, especially indigenous Africans in this country, are so violent towards women, children, others and themselves has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves. It is glossed over for the convenience of the politically correct.

In fact, serious as it is this issue of violence against women has been elevated into top priority. It has put men in an indefensible position of accepting that the issue of violence against women is an instinctive male problem. This is a misguided and ill-informed view.

The issue of women’s rights in South Africa is promoted at the expense of the land question.

The larger issue in this country is not whether men have a problem with gender equality. Instead, the bigger issue is the historical, racial, political and economic relationship of indigenous men with the status quo in this country. The issue of violence against women, especially, is an integral part of the land question and the monopolisation of the economy and wealth by a few in this country.

We have advanced faster and further than most modern societies when it comes to gender equity in this country but a lot more needs to be done to eradicate violence against women. But we are not dealing with the root causes of this scourge in a factual, accurate and truthful manner that it deserves. In fact, we cannot afford to isolate the plight of women from the gigantic problem of apartheid-created spatial divisions, economic inequality and prejudice and discrimination.

If a man is dispossessed of his land and the means of production to fend and support his family, not only will he suffer from a deep seated inferiority complex but will be disposed towards violence, including towards his family.

Without making excuses for the choices he might take to retain his sanity and sense of worth, when he resorts to violence to express his frustration and anger, the guilty party is the economic system that makes it difficult for him to carry himself with dignity and respect and thus be able to bestow that to others, especially his beloved.

To reduce our national problem to men’s violence against women and children is not only to gloss over the systemic economic injustice and social exclusion but to support and legitimise it. Men who have lost the land of their forefathers and the wealth it holds in its bosom are victims of the most brutal organised economic violence in this country. Often, the same men are expected to carry on with business as usual.

The current approach to examine the issue of violence against women is ahistorical. It is like saying there is no connection between destruction of the African family, poverty — which sometimes leads to crime — and the 1913 Native Land Act.

The biggest problem this country faces is land dispossession and monopolisation of wealth by a few and not violence against women. It is disingenuous of anyone to want or expect indigenous African men who have lost their land not to suffer from deep-seated anger, resentment and frustration that expresses itself in violence.

This is not a justification for the violence perpetrated against women but an attempt to provide context and the causes for that. We should not forget that more men than women are subjected to violence by other men, especially in the African community.

As things stand, we are not clear about how this land dispossession and economic injustice has affected the psyche of indigenous African males and its possible links to the scourge of violence against women and children. What we can see is that men who have been misled to think that they are the head of the family will be inclined to be violent towards others, including women and children, when they are exposed to be powerless and insignificant members of society.

Much as the issue of violence against women should remain a priority in our conscience and activist programmes — and rightly so — we should not forget that the land issue, economic injustice and prejudice are the biggest problems in this country.

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Sandile Memela

Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic, columnist and civil servant. He lives in Midrand.

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