Young, middle aged and elderly men from Lusikisiki and surrounding areas in the Eastern Cape Region filled the Assemblies of God Church to the brim on 19 August 2023, for an engagement with Correctional Services National Commissioner, Makgothi Thobakgale on finding practical solutions to eradicate the alarming rate of crimes committed against women and children in the area.
This Men’s Engagement Session was a follow-up session emanating from a community Imbizo hosted by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) on 12 July 2023 in the same area which brought to the fore harrowing tales of abuse inflicted on women and children at the hands of men. These include sexual assaults such as rape and other gender-based related crimes that violate women’s rights and their safety.
The session was supported by various stakeholders such as the Provincial House of Traditional Leaders and Khoi San Leaders, South African Police Service, Department of Health, Department of Labour and Heads of Initiation Schools amongst others.
Outlining the purpose of the session, Chief Deputy Commissioner Community Corrections, Phiko Mbambo said the harrowing crimes perpetrated by men in the area prompted Commissioner Thobakgale to call for an urgent intervention by convening a Men’s Engagement Session that will specifically address men in an effort to find the root causes of the crimes that are committed, as well as partnering with other security cluster departments to educate and change the cultural stereotypes that contribute to Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
Delivering his keynote address, Commissioner Thobakgale acknowledged the impressive number of attendees by the men from the area and indicated that this symbolizes their commitment to rebuilding the community, restoring peace and security as well as their dedication to eradicate crime in the community. “The mandate of the Department is to ensure the safety and rehabilitation of inmates in our correctional facilities as well as ensuring their reintegration back into their communities upon release. However, it is also our responsibility to keep the communities safe and this cannot be achieved without the involvement of community members and organisations as corrections is a societal responsibility,” said Commissioner Thobakgale. He also encouraged DCS officials to partake in community engagements that are initiated to enable community safety and to be involved in forums to safeguard initiatives that are aimed at eliminating crime in society.
As part of the engagements, Commissions consisting of different groups inclusive of different ages and roles were formed to deliberate on topics such as substance abuse; initiation schools processes and cultural norms; the role of men and women, health matters of men and the imbalance of financial status between men and women within households.
Taking into cognisance the issues raised in the commissions, there was consensus that substance abuse is a major cause of the crimes committed, as the perpetrators are predominately found to have been under the influence of alcohol and drugs based on the data drawn from the cases opened against them with the SAPS. The traditional authorities were also urged to be active in addressing criminal activities in the communities and to restore their roles in the Community Safety Forums in order to combat crime. The commissions also indicated that men don’t receive respect in terms of confidentiality of their health statuses and thus making them reluctant to go for consultations at healthcare facilities. The commissions also proposed that there should be more awareness on men’s health, focusing on educating them about the need to seek health care assistance to improve their wellbeing. Other possible solutions that will be included in the action plan include the following:
• Initiation schools to be headed by informed, qualified and capable leaders who will instil good behaviour in those enrolling initiates, especially young men;
• religious associations to offer spiritual services to broken families, and provide counselling to families in need of such services; and
• to establish substance abuse awareness campaigns in schools.
Representing the Eastern Cape National House of Traditional Leaders and Khoi San Leaders, Nkosi Gwazinamba Mathanzima, in his message of support, mentioned that they are delighted to have these kinds of initiatives in their communities and that this will also encourage all traditional leaders in the area to take the baton and lead even in the absence of the Department. Sisa Mkhalali, a learner who was amongst hundreds of future leaders who attended the session, mentioned that he learnt a lot from the session and further committed that he will share the valuable lessons learnt with his peers particularly on how they should conduct themselves, treat women and children and make them feel safe and protected.
The Department aims to continue with similar engagements in other high crime spots in the country in pursuit of creating a safer and just South Africa for all.