More people were raped in South Africa between 1 April and 30 June 2021 than died during the deadly third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. That excludes the more than 5700 people that were murdered during that time, with those deaths including the heart-breaking statistic that a woman is murdered every four hours in South Africa. 

Jacob Tema, a social worker at Alexandra-based Rays of Hope, is focusing on addressing the scourge of gender-based violence in the township, and believes that anger is at the root of the gender-based violence that shatters families and traumatizes the community, rather than political legacies. 

“We’re not going to change the ubiquity of gender-based violence and child abuse until we understand the root cause of perpetrators’ anger, because it is only a deeply angry person that will choose to inflict physical and emotional abuse on another person – even more so if the victim is a family member,” he says. 

“We need to do more than running campaigns to teach women to be stronger, and to arm themselves or learn self-defence tactics – those steps may make a difference in the short term, but they do not address the deep issues of anger flowing through our society, or the fear that it causes,” he says. “We need to address the anger first, and teach new ways of thinking and being, to eliminate domestic violence.”

In Jacob’s work with Rays of Hope and in other South African communities, he believes that a clash of traditional cultural values and the values of a more modern society have caused the anger that is plaguing so many communities. 

“Understand the contrast of a traditional household, where the man of the house sleeps on the bed and his wife is expected to sleep on the floor, responding to his physical needs when poked with a stick, against that woman’s working environment in a corporate office just five kilometres away in Sandton, where she is treated as an equal among her colleagues,” Tema says. “That woman is sure to start rebelling against her subordinate role at home, which is going to cause stress in the relationship with her husband – who is unaccustomed to having his authority as the head of the household questioned.” 

Other complexities arise when both partners in a relationship are employed, and the woman earns more than her husband, who ascribes to traditional norms that he should be the breadwinner, while his partner should still be responsible for all the household chores and child-rearing, in addition to her work. The time is sure to come – particularly if she earns more than him – where she is going to insist that he help with household chores – and he is likely to refuse because doing so would be against cultural norms. 

This traditional patriarchy forms another backdrop to gender-based violence in homes where women who don’t work are completely dependent on their partners, but they also believe that their partners are entitled to discipline them physically as they belong to them, and are there to do the man’s bidding. 

“The tragedy of this type of violence is that children see it and accept it as normal, and grow up to behave in the same way: men who visit violence on their partners, and women who accept abuse as a normal and justified part of life,” says Tema. 

He adds that these are just some examples of situations that cause conflict. There are many, many more. 

Tema, through his various programmes offered through Rays of Hope’s community-based approach, intends to reach the men of Alex – and then the men of South Africa – by teaching men that they are capable of loving, that they can adapt to a developing environment, and most importantly, that they can learn tools to manage and minimize the anger that so often leads to tragic violence. 

“Men need to know that they’re important and that they matter in a family context, even if they are unemployed or their partner is making more of a financial contribution than they are,” he says. “They also need to learn to see their partners as equals, regardless of who is providing an income or who is doing which chores around the home. Families are built on partnerships, and in situations where our counselling has been taken to heart, we have seen the most wonderful results.” 

In his years of working to address gender-based violence, Tema has consistently advocated for counselling and diversion programmes, rather than pursuing criminal justice for perpetrators, wherever possible. When successful, these programmes shift behaviour while keeping family units intact – a vital consideration in communities where single-parent or child-headed households are already the norm. 

“However, because patriarchy and tradition are so often at the root of perpetrators’ anger, male perpetrators who even agree to be a part of these programmes insist on only being counselled by male social workers – which are in very short supply,” he says. “Within Rays of Hope, we are ‘training trainers’ to help manage these programmes, but we need more funding to identify and employ more male social workers, so that we can work more effectively with men.” 

Rays of Hope is a non-profit company that relies on individuals and corporate investment to fund its community-based programmes, which all empower the most vulnerable people in the Alexandra community. So close in proximity to Sandton, yet so different in terms of resources and infrastructure, many of the township’s challenges could be addressed with financial support from its close neighbours. 

To find out more about how you or your organisation can get involved in helping to eradicate gender-based violence from Alexandra, visit www.raysofhope.co.za

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