Woman at a radio station (Photo by Jeroen van Loon)
| Author: Erlijn Sie | Function: Programme Manager MenCare+

BLOG: Men making a difference in Capetown

Preventing a fist-fight in a township was my first introduction to South Africa. With a group of community mobilisers promoting the MenCare+ fathers’ groups, we went into the Township of Kayelitsha near Cape Town to talk to men. We turned a corner and stood in the middle of a fist-fight of what seemed to be high-school ex-lovers. He was on the verge of hitting her.

Environment full of violence

The community mobilisers jumped between the two to calm the boy down, and she fled the moment she freed herself from his grip on her hair. My heart was beating like hell: This is how it feels to live in an environment where violence is normal.

The event set the tone for the day. Shortly afterwards, we met an old lady who said she wanted to attend the father group information session but was afraid to leave her home. She was too ashamed to face her neighbours as her eldest son was addicted and was stealing from all of them.

That same morning, she turned her own son in at the police station because she could not bear it anymore. “But he is not a bad son”, she said: “ He has nothing else to do. No job and no possibility of starting a family or becoming a caring father.”

 

Couple of South African Men

Father groups

Later that day we visited a local health centre which provides services for men including father groups. One of the men who had joined the fathers’ group told how proud he was to be the father of three children and how the group sessions had given him the strength to change. “My wife and I both grew up in families where violence was the norm. When we disagree on something now or when the children are  naughty, we have to stop ourselves and be aware that reacting with violence is not the right way. It doesn’t solve anything.”

Inspiring

The stories of these men are inspiring: One father started counselling after his wife went to court to apply for a divorce. The sessions taught him how to communicate better, how to control his anger and the difference between intimidation and communication. Thanks to his efforts he was able to save his marriage and he is now proud to be a better father to his children than his own father was.

Heroes

While I was shocked by the violence and the lack of safe places, I was mostly impressed by the heroes. Every single one of these men was able to break the cycle of violence, often under challenging circumstances, and they were able to be caring fathers to their children. Due to their strength, will, and some help from the fathers’ groups and counselling, the next generation will have a brighter, more loving future.

Erlijn Sie
Erlijn Sie Programme Manager MenCare+

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