Patriarchy And The Deadly Consequences Of South Africa’s Angry Men [Opinion]

A man ties a five-year-old little girl to a pole and begins to beat her. The girl’s mother tries to intervene, but she too is assaulted. The man continues to hit the little girl’s body with a belt, and before long, she is dead. A precious life is snuffed out in an instant.

This sounds like a scene from a horror film, except this scenario didn’t play out in some fictitious world. It happened in Boitumelong in the North West in January last year. What was her crime? She merely wet her bed, as so many five-year-olds do.

What about the “Modimolle Monster,” formally known as Johan Kotzé, who was found guilty of having raped his ex-wife numerous time, of kidnapping her and attempting to murder both her and her son.

Remember Khwezi!

In Phillipi, Cape Town, a man flung seven-month-old Inganathi Mnyani’s body against a ceiling, a wall, and a prepaid electricity meter. He proceeded to jump on her body, and Inganathi died on the scene. Daily we read about small children, even babies, who are killed in fits of rage. Similarly, we hear about wives, girlfriends and single women, who are abused, beaten and raped into submission by the very men who are meant to protect them.

Remember Oscar Pistorius? Yeah.

Karabo Mokoena, burnt alive by her boyfriend. Qondile Mhlanga’s decomposed body found dumped in a dam. Bongeka Phungula, shot in the head, lying lifeless on a rubbish heap. Popi Qwabe, raped and murdered on the same day as Bongeka. Thembisile Yende ‘s body found decomposing in an office at Eskom. Meisie Molefe set alight and then buried in her lover’s backyard. Hannah Cornelius, found after she was hijacked, abducted, and raped.

Protesters hold up papers protesting against President Jacob Zuma, as he delivers a speech at the announcement of the results of the municipal elections in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. The protest refers to Zuma's acquittal for rape in 2006
Protesters hold up papers protesting against President Jacob's acquittal for rape in 2006. [Image by Herman Verwey/AP Images]

The following unrelated headlines are lifted directly from local media sites: “Zambia arrests opposition leader after his son allegedly shoots pregnant lover, cuts off her head” “Man appears for using baby to beat girlfriend” “Woman allegedly stabbed to death by ex-boyfriend” “Bail postponed after woman is beaten to death” “Four held after woman stabbed to death in Macassar play park” “Man shoots ex-wife, her lover then himself” “Girl killed as man shoots at wife” “Man admits to raping seven of daughter’s friends” and “Kids traumatised after dad shoots wife.”

These are only the incidents that have been reported. It is increasingly difficult to quantify the levels of domestic violence because so many women are afraid to speak out. What we read about in the media is only a small portion of the violence, because most incidents go unreported. South Africa has a significant problem with angry and abusive men.

The common denominator in all these cases? Femicide is most often committed by loved ones.

I realize that in amongst the men who struggle with anger there are also psychopaths, pathological abusers, narcissists, addicts, and a whole range of other cases. There are numerous reasons for domestic violence, and it is essential for the women and the men around perpetrators to recognize the type of behavior, and whether it is pathological or not. This article is about anger, which seems to be a widespread cause of violence.

Why are men so angry?

Patriarchy is a highly pervasive social squatter that has settled into every fiber of the fabric that holds South Africa together, in the same way, that water soaks into cotton. Patriarchy is as pervasive as racism, but unlike racism, patriarchy doesn’t discriminate between class or race. We see high levels of this debilitating phenomenon across the entire socio-economic spectrum.

Members of the AIDS Legal Network petition the court to afford protection, and facilitate access to justice, for women and rape survivors. [Image by Obed Zilwa/AP Images]

Patriarchy seeks to normalize male aggressive behavior. Since the dawn of human civilization, there has been a misconception that to be a “real man” you have to be aggressive and intimidating. A man has to be strong, and any form of sensitivity is seen as a weakness. Could this misconception be placing unnecessary pressure onto an already strained macho-normative idealization of masculinity? I think so.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) claims that South African men, mainly, have additional pressures, e.g. the post-1994 political transition, which is an ongoing process. We have an unstable economy; we feel fear and powerlessness caused by the high crime rate; stress at work, or alternatively, unemployment often encroaches on private time, and this leads to severe frustration.

This frustration is often displaced onto the family, children, friends, strangers, road rage, and even oneself. These pressures have a subconsciously cumulative effect on men, which in turn slowly eats away at male self-esteem. Low self-esteem is a source of many anger-related problems.

Women are rightly fighting hard against patriarchy. This means that men are competing against women in the workplace. Women are asserting their right to say no to men who proposition them sexually. Women are increasingly not afraid to speak their minds and assert their individual power. Men are still getting used to this. Men misguidedly perceive this as a threat to their masculinity. Men fear feelings of inadequacy, which can lead to hypersensitivity and an inability to measure a response to a threatening situation.

South Africa's chief leader standing in the dock awaiting the verdict of his rape trial. [Image by John Hrusa/AP Images]

According to Dr. Michael Kimmel, a Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, a man feels most vulnerable when he perceives the woman with whom he shares an intimate relationship to be a threat to his masculinity. In this situation, the man will often try to regain his control by resorting to physical violence. This is the worst way to assert power, but patriarchy has normalized it.

An abusive enactment of patriarchy is often a learned behavior that men inherit from their fathers, brothers, uncles, and friends. Alcohol abuse also plays a major role in men’s ability to control their tempers. It impairs judgment and any ability to reason out a measured response. Alcohol abuse permeates through all spheres of South African life, from Camps Bay to Mamelodi, and the same can be said for domestic violence.

This paradigm is an unhealthy power dynamic that is playing out in our society. We have to reevaluate how we look at power dynamics, and the false perceptions men have of masculinity. We have to abolish the notion that anger begets power. Men must realize that real power comes from being able to control yourself and confront your insecurities.

So what happens when we get angry?

According to Dr. Harry Mills Ph.D., who is an expert in the Psychology of Anger, it goes something like this: A man perceives a threat, which sets him off. Without warning his muscles tense up. Inside his brain, neurotransmitter chemicals are released causing him to experience a burst of warm energy.

His heart rate accelerates, his blood pressure rises, and his breathing increases at a rapid pace. His face feels flush as increased blood flow enters his limbs and extremities and he begins to feel hot, you know, under the collar. His attention narrows and becomes locked onto the target of his anger – at this stage, he’s not seeing or noticing anything else. Suddenly a final rapid-fire blast of additional brain neurotransmitters and hormones are released which induce a constant state of anger-related arousal.

He’s ready to fight.

Disgraced tennis player Bob Hewitt sits in the dock during his sentencing for the rape and sexual assault of numerous young girls he used to coach. [Image by Themba Hadebe/AP Images]

Through various studies of brain function, it has been determined that emotions originate inside two almond-shaped structures in our brains which are called the amygdala. The amygdala identifies threats to our well-being and will initiate a protective response. The prefrontal cortex of our brain, which is located behind our forehead, is what generally keeps our emotions in proportion.

The amygdala, however, is so efficient at warning us about perceived threats that it very often overrides the prefrontal cortex. This is called the “amygdala hijack” – in other words, our brains are wired in a way that causes us to act before considering the consequences of our actions.

Essentially this means that when we lose our temper, our brains are swimming in hormones which disable our rational mind. We aren’t in control of ourselves, and this can be profoundly devastating to those around us. However, this is not an excuse to misbehave.

The information about the physiological action of anger in our bodies is very useful in helping us understand why we become so irrational when we’re angry. But it is imperative to realize that it is not an excuse to act up. In fact, it is precisely why we have no choice but to find ways to ensure that we have better commands of ourselves.

Our brains can be rewired and our natural propensity to act before we think can be unlearnt. We can learn to help our prefrontal cortex to get the upper hand over the amygdala.

This is good news.

Members of the ANC Women's League are seen outside the Western Cape High Court during the first day of the Shrien Dewani's trial for killing his wife. [Image by Charlie Shoemaker/Getty Images]

But it can only be achieved if there is a willingness to change on the part of the perpetrator. And before there can be a willingness to change there has to be an acknowledgment of the problem. If we are unwilling to admit to having a problem you will inevitably remain stuck in a highly destructive cycle of anger and abuse which not only affects us but our loved ones as well. This is the cycle we have to break. The future of our society depends on it.

But what about men who are in denial?

Denial and blame are not conducive to healing. Anger cannot be blamed on anyone but the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter what you feel justifies your hostile behavior. There is no excuse for domestic violence. It is imperative that angry men take responsibility for their actions and seek help. For many men, this may be the most challenging thing to do.

There is a stigma that surrounds rage and anger. Some psychologists even describe perpetual anger as a mental illness. Men are afraid of being labeled “crazy” and being tossed into the looney bin. The fact is that in our 21st-century society we have an inordinate amount of stress to cope with. It’s entirely reasonable to assume that our minds and emotions may need some help to deal with stress.

The other problem is the shame. Often men who suffer from rage and anger outbursts feel a deep sense of guilt. Shame leads to denial, and all of this only serves to exacerbate the problem.

It is vital that we, as a society, endeavor to destigmatize anger and the shame associated with it. We do this by talking about it. Men need to speak with professionals about their anger. Women need to talk about how the anger affects them. We need to provide safe spaces where these conversations can happen. Most importantly, we need to perpetuate the fact that anger is conquerable.

If you suffer from anger, know this: you are not alone. Many men struggle with this, but it is imperative to realize that the violence and abuse that women and children have to endure as a result of it is unacceptable on every level. If you want to assert your power, then the best way to reclaim it is to seek help.

Another prominent stigma is that going for therapy is a weakness. This is not the case. In fact, seeking professional help to navigate this complex world is a major strength. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for unwanted habits and behaviors. The success rate for this kind of therapy is significantly high.

People in positions of power and influence, who may be reading this article, should lobby the government to ensure that access to quality therapy is provided free of charge. This is vital so that economic inequality doesn’t remain a factor that excludes most people from receiving help.

Real men don't rape
A soccer fan protests against men who rape at FNB Stadium in Soweto, South Africa. [Image by Lefty Shivambu/Getty Images]

Roughly 40,000 incidents of rape per year are reported in South Africa, which has one of the highest levels of femicide in the world.

I believe that the problem is significant enough to demand free access therapy as an essential service to all who seek it. If not for yourself, do it for your wife, or girlfriend. Do it for your daughter and her friend. Do it for the female co-worker who rejected your sexual advances. Do it for all the women you know.

Real men don’t abuse helpless loved ones or even strangers for that matter. Real men dare to face personal obstacles for the greater good of their reality. Real men don’t use alcohol as an escape from related problems. Real men know when to seek help. And, in the meantime, real men know when to walk away from a fight to gain control over themselves.

As the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu, said, “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”

People Opposed to Women Abuse: 011 642 4345/6 or info@powa.co.za – www.powa.co.za. Childline: 08 000 55 555 toll-free.

[Featured Image by Thaworn Nurak/Thinkstock]