Today we visited Kalksteenfontein, a township that has not seen help from Americans in 20 years. One word to describe it: Overwhelming. It was an overwhelming experience in many ways, but the most apparent aspect that caught me off guard was the aggression we witnessed in the parental community. As we handed out lunch to countless children sitting in lines on the ground, mothers yelled and pointed at each other about various things we could not understand. Some seemed to be arguing about their children not getting enough food, or others looked angrily at the mothers who’s children got the first few pairs of shoes. One mother looked desperately at me holding a toddler with bare feet, as i held the last small pair of shoes in my hands. Her gratitude when i gave her little boy my last pair of shoes is something I will never forget.
Aggression as a sign of desperation has been a common theme in our education about Apartheid in South Africa. Mental health is a tricky beast, one that can be easily influenced by other people. In the Apartheid museum, pictures and captions described the feeling of helplessness that men felt when the government started pulling them from their families and out of their homes to leave them in poverty and distraught over the loss of any masculine confidence they held before as the men of their families.
I personally believe that there is no explanation for violence toward women. There is no excuse for killing a family member or raping a stranger. But from a psychology major perspective, I can empathize with the fact that the effect of the apartheid delved further than physical barriers. Men who lived good lives and were known as good fathers, brothers and sons turned to desperate measures to find food, money and satisfaction of any sort. They were forced into such demeaning lifestyles that they lost themselves in the dire need for a feeling of content.
It is inhumane that a government could turn so many men of a nation into monsters. Sometimes we see how stress and work can influence men in our own lives, the stock market crash or the great depression are examples of how people, when put out of work, may have changed for the worse as a reaction to stress. In South Africa, men were forced into poverty and forced to change in order to get what they needed. They couldn’t afford food so they stole it, the white men wouldn’t hear their cries for help so they fought it physically, they couldn’t support their families so they spread themselves out over numerous women to feel a sense of power.
I strongly think that aggression against women and abandonment of families are two things that are inexcusable for a man to do. In the play “Egoli”, we witnessed a man reflecting on his history of rape and murder of women. He was not proud, he didn’t even want to hear about it. When Kurt, a one-man acting performer, came and put on a show for us, he described the intense difficulties that four generations of men in his family have been through as a result of Apartheid and racism. He lost his Dad to the mines and described him as an “enigma” for the entirety of Kurt’s life. He then turned to various men to find answers about who he should be, and faces racism by men of his same color as he got older. He showed how the effect that such disrespect toward men can transform them, and summed this up by describing in many ways how “good men (were) turned into pieces of stone”. As passionate as I am about protecting women’s rights for total respect, the men’s reaction to apartheid were a sign that they were being torn apart by the oppression they felt. It is an inhumane act to rape or abandon, but men found themselves indulging in this and other crimes as an impulsive reaction to unjustified control by the government. The government treated men as such animals that they began acting like the animals in the end.
What would drive you to such a low?