The importance of telling our stories, being heard, and listening to others’ stories as a way of dealing with our pain, cannot be underestimated.
But this can also be a risky business, as we make ourselves vulnerable, and so it takes a lot of courage.
We Will Speak Out SA and Side by Side, a global movement for gender justice, jointly hosted an online intergenerational storytelling session on 30th November. The space was held in the safe hands of Side by Side’s International Coordinator and feminist theologian, Dr Nontando Hadebe.
Over thirty participants were privileged to hear Bhekisisa Mncube, award-winning South African Columnist, Journalist & Author, tell his harrowing life story. He disarmingly admitted that he had been a rapist. He shared his story of childhood abuse, being let down by his violent and selfish father and how he took advantage of his male privilege by using women as he pleased while abusing his own body through addictive behaviours. -Until he realised through a dream that he had reached the end of the road, and made the momentous decision to turn his life around. Against many odds, he returned to study, carved out a successful career, and met the love of his life. He has tried in vain to find the young woman he raped, so he can apologise to her and make amends. Although his mother has recently passed on, she continues to be his source of strength.
He wrote a book about his life story and has faced male rage for ‘breaking the code’, but he has never stopped speaking out against toxic masculinity and called on men to change their lives.
Three very different people responded candidly to Bhekisisa’s moving story.
Rev Nokuthula Dhladhla, founder Ashes to Purpose, Global Interfaith Network Ambassador and member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians expressed her appreciation as a GBV survivor, as she had never before heard a man confess what he had done in such a disarming way, and she wished him strength to continue this important work.
Ms Tinodaishe Misihairabwi, University of Pretoria Law Student; Chair of the student organisation UP Legal Shebeen and Founder of Spicy Christians, was less enthusiastic, and, also speaking as a survivor, pressed Bhekisisa to be more candid about his thoughts and feelings as an abuser, and what really made him change, and why he had not tried harder to track down the woman he had hurt so badly. While appreciating his speaking up, she felt it was not enough.
Rev Sizwe Ngcobo, priest and Gender Ministry Team member in the Anglican Diocese of Natal, graphic designer and social justice advocate, spoke about the urgent need for men to move beyond carrying placards and saying they care about GBV. He said: “We need to stand up, speak out. We owe this to our brothers, to our sons” who, he said, are growing up in a culture that restricts male choices.
This truth-telling mood was carried into the plenary. One young man was moved to openly apologise for past abusive and disrespectful behaviours towards some of the women present in the session.
The moderator echoed Revd Sizwe’s words in closing, in which he had thanked Bhekisisa for rising above these cultural boundaries and religious concerns to speak out.
This conversation has not ended. In many ways has only just begun. Bhekisisa has since published 3 media articles during the 16 Days Campaign, and We Will Speak Out has taken some of the crucial messages raised into social media as part of an intensive Faith Action to End GBV Collective 120-Day media campaign, in which many and diverse voices have been addressing key issues related to toxic masculinities, GBV and faith.
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