Men for Change
Since the end of apartheid in South Africa, the country has been working to transform itself from a brutal, totally divided society into one aspiring to provide "equality" and "dignity" to all its citizens as enunciated in its new constitution. But that transformation has been plagued by several legacies from the past, including the excessive use of violence as a means to control others. In gender relations such violence has led to an appalling rate of domestic abuse and rape.
Transforming South Africa
One inspired effort at addressing these legacies is a small but growing movement of men working for change in themselves, their relationships with women, children, and other men, and their role in perpetrating abuse. Chief among their advocates is Thulani Nkosi, founder of the three-year-old organization Men for Change in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg.
On a training and education tour in California, Minnesota, and Massachusetts recently, Nkosi visited several organizations working to help men and to challenge men's violence, including an extended stop at the Men's Resource Center. While there he met with staff and board in a series of free-ranging discussions about men's work in the United States and South Africa.
Nkosi believes South African culture inherently has much to offer men. "We are a culture of caring and reconciliation," he says. "As Africans we practice the spirit of ubuntu, that is we know we are people only through our relationships with other people," he explained. "Our problems came when we were warped by colonialism." A South African men's movement, Nkosi believes, will ultimately replicate the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which has helped to close the gap between black people and white people in South Africa by compassionately confronting the country's tortured past.
In 1995, Nkosi was recruited to work for ADAPT, an agency that focused on domestic-abuse prevention and training. ADAPT was founded by Mmatshilo Motsei, a nurse who realized that the abuse victims she saw at her clinic needed shelter, counseling, and support in addition to physical care. She also realized how important it would be to bring men into the organization, and so she recruited Nkosi. He cites Motsei as the inspiration for his creating Men for Change.
"Domestic violence is the microcosm of our society," Nkosi says. In the evolution of the country since the fall of apartheid, "it is a weakness" Nkosi believes must be exposed and corrected for the country to evolve as a healthy nation. Before soccer matches, Men for Change staff and supporters hold signs bearing the words, "Did You Beat Her Today?" and "Do Real Men Beat Their Wives?" in a campaign that brought much attention to the fledgling organization--and more than a hint of inner turmoil to abusive men attending the matches.
Nkosi's connection to the MRC began in 1996, when he met MRC member and consultant Ira Horowitz, then working in South Africa doing trainings in gender-consciousness raising for men. Until then, Nkosi "had been working in isolation," Horowitz recalls. "He was always the only man at meetings about domestic violence prevention." After attending a workshop Horowitz was facilitating, Nkosi deepened his commitment to his vision of helping men change. In addition to maintaining a close relationship with Horowitz, he began an e-mail correspondence with MRC executive director Steven Botkin that culminated in their face-to-face meeting.
To date, Nkosi says, men's work in South Africa is not happening in white or mixed race communities. While offers of help have come from whites, he says whites and men of mixed race have not established programs of their own to address the same issues of male socialization they face in their own communities.
The hunger for men's work in southern Africa is being felt in neighboring Namibia and Zimbabwe as well. Both countries' governments have invited Nkosi to conduct trainings and share what his young organization is doing. He also has spoken at United Nations roundtables on gender relations and domestic violence.
Some of the work of communicating what Men for Change is doing includes publishing a newsletter, S'Camtho, Zulu slang for "Let's talk." And talking is something Nkosi is good at. Among the conversations he had during his stop at the MRC was as a guest at the organization's Young Men of Color Leadership group held on Wednesday afternoons. With a dozen high school and college age African Americans sitting around him, Nkosi told his story of emerging into manhood through the the final years of apartheid. "The young men sat enthralled," says Jeff Harris, MRC youth programs coordinator. "That another men's center, a black men's center, had sprouted up across the world, in South Africa, was not lost on anyone. It was quite a moment."
Nkosi says he is interested in working closely with the Men's Resource Center in the days ahead and hopes MRC staff will share their expertise someday with his staff of eight at trainings and workshops in Johannesburg. Learning about men and about himself led Nkosi to realize who he was: "an explorer and an idealist for men and what we can be."