Friday, April 5, 2013

Enough is Enough: How We at SMMS are Fighting Violence

By Hillary Taylor

“What is wrong with us men??”

This was the question that Bishop Mike Vorster asked us at the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council meeting a few weeks ago. The meeting was about gender-based violence in South Africa. Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS) sent 8 people (including me) to represent the seminary among the other ecumenical bodies in the region. Bishop Vorster (a Methodist bishop) was the chair of KZNCC, and he called this meeting because of all the recent violent news stories (Most notably the Oscar Pistorius shooting and the Anene Booysen gang rape story).

“I’m tired of men misbehaving and the ‘cat-calls’ and saying ‘wives should be submissive because the Bible says so!’ We’re doing absolutely nothing to bring systematic change to this country! Things like the 1 Billion Rising Campaign have their place, but they’re not engendering programs of action. Violence against women has increased. Maybe it’s because it’s being reported much more, but one rape is too much! Moral outrage is nothing without systematic change. And we as the Church should be the advent guard to change!”

South Africa is the most dangerous place to be a woman. Every 17 seconds, a woman is raped in South Africa. It is the “rape capital” of the world. Some media reports claim that women in ZA are more likely to be raped than educated.

Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary Responds

But at SMMS, we are saying, “Enough is enough!” to violence.

On February 14th, 2013 (the day before Lent), the women of SMMS put on a flash mob during the Tuesday Family Worship Service. It was the kick-off to our Lenten observance of women and children living in violence. Every Thursday since Ash Wednesday, we as a seminary wear black through the Thursdays In Black Campaign to mourn with those who live in violence, bring gender-based violence to people’s attention, and say we refuse to be a part of it anymore. This is what led us to take part in the KZNCC discussion with Bishop Vorster. And still the question was asked, “Why is there so much violence against women in South Africa?”

There were a lot of answers thrown around the table. Some people brought up the lack of good male role models in the lives of children, poor education, misinterpretation of affirmative action from the government, sexual addictions, etc. But the “rape epidemic” in South Africa has a brutality to it. “Children and grandmothers are being raped in huge numbers, and there is no sexual pleasure in this type of rape,” Bishop Vorster said. Like most other countries, rape in South Africa seems to be largely premeditated. According to the 2012 South Africa Victims of Crime Survey, “The results shows that a large proportion (44,1%) of the victims (from selected individuals) of sexual offenses were attacked by a known community member(s) from the area followed by those attacked by their relative (17%), while only 15,4% stated that the perpetrators were unknown community members. Only 14,4% were victimized by known people from outside.” Historically, rape has been a weapon of war, a social protest, and a demonstration of power. Lots of these rapes are being perpetrated by young adult males. “We must assume it is a generation that has witnessed violence,” Bishop Vorster said. “What will it do to you socially if you’ve grown up with a country in a state of violence? Better yet, what are we doing as a church to say that we’re really concerned about this?”

When we got back from the KZNCC meeting, I told the SMMS president, Dr. Dandala, about the experience and how we are helping to draw up short-term and long-term plans for both prevention and rehabilitation of perpetrators. I also told him about how we would like to involve men in this conversation of how best to tackle violence in this country. Dr. Dandala paused for a moment and said, “I think we must get the men together and talk to them about these things. I think that would be beneficial.” I’m so thankful that he did, and this is why…

In Solidarity

This past Tuesday, we all came into morning chapel like normal. Then two seminarians (Diba and Mazwenkosi) got up and said to all of us, “We men are here to stand with you, ladies! This struggle against violence is not just your battle. It’s ours too. We need to address it in our own families, with our wives and our children. And as a sign of that, we have brought flowers for you, and we would like to give them to you now as a sign of our appreciation to you and all that you do.” Then, in mass exodus, all the seminary men got out of their seats, took yellow chrysanthemums from the alter, and gave them to all the women in the chapel (including staff!). There are more men at the seminary than women, so many ladies ended up with a whole bouquet of flowers! Then another seminarian (Lubabalo) got up and said, “What my elders have forgotten to say in their old-fashioned ways is that ‘We love you! Like they said, this struggle also begins with us. No mother ever gives birth to a rapist. And we will do what is in our power to fight violence against all women and children in this country and prevent it from happening any more.’” It was touching, and as he finished, one of our female seminarians got up to speak. Slowly, she began to tell the seminary her story as a victim of sexual assault. To my knowledge, she is the first female seminarian in the history of SMMS to give a personal testimony on such an unspoken subject. I deeply admire her strength and courage to tell this story to the seminary. Her story has made this cause our cause as a seminary body (and, perhaps more importantly, the body of Christ).

We live in a day and age where sex is made to look free and easy in movies and media. We live in societies that perpetuate many myths about rape (e.g., married women can’t be raped, men can’t be raped, the side effects of rape are “not that bad,” women want to be raped, etc.) But perhaps the biggest myth about rape is that men don’t want to play any part in fighting against rape and gender-based violence. In this regard, women have not done justice to men. But that is changing here at SMMS, and we are excited to see men joining women to prevent such violence from happening.

To answer the question, I don’t think there is anything wrong with men. I believe that so long as a human being (male or female) is willing to seek justice, freedom, and peace alongside the poor and the marginalized, he or she is perfectly capable of emulating God in this crazy, broken world of ours. But if a person perpetuates injustice, conflict, and disregard of others, we as a Church must rehabilitate this person back to humanity. Because if we don’t, what does that say about us?
Hillary Taylor is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.This post originally appeared in Taylor’s blog

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