Learning to be myself


Date: January 1, 1970
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I have found my passion and through this I have begun healing. Theatre and performing are what I love. My work has allowed me to teach and work with young people and I have learnt that the more you teach, the more you learn. I know that there is help for people who want to change their lives, for men who do not want to abuse women; for real men.

I have found my passion and through this I have begun healing. Theatre and performing are what I love. My work has allowed me to teach and work with young people and I have learnt that the more you teach, the more you learn. I know that there is help for people who want to change their lives, for men who do not want to abuse women; for real men.

I am 24-years-old and live in Alexandra, a township near Johannesburg. I have had a hard life, but today I am becoming a successful stage performer. I teach people through theatre.

I have moved so many times that I didn’t really have a place I could call home when I was growing up.

I was raised by a single mother. It was difficult for her to provide me with everything I needed. She worked away from home and I stayed with relatives. I shared everything I had with the families I lived with; but they did not do the same for me and treated me like an outsider.

After many years my mother was married and we moved to Limpopo where I had to attend school. Unfortunately the marriage failed so we left and I went to live with my uncle and his wife. In the beginning things were ok, but they soon fell apart as my uncle and his wife were always fighting and eventually separated.

I then moved again and went to live with my grandfather’s relatives in Pretoria. There, things got even worse as I was physically abused and through this, I became abusive myself. I learnt that you had to use violence to solve your problems and I believed it was true.

Fortunately I was still attending school and I was lucky because most of the teachers liked me, I did well at my studies and also participated in other school activities. But the kids at school resented this and I became their enemy. I think it was jealousy. That’s when my life changed – it was a turning point. It was then that I started using violence to solve my problems.

After school I would go to drama and dance classes and functions. Keeping busy was my way of hiding my bad experiences – I wanted to forget that I did not really have a home, that I was not with my mother and that things in my life seemed so bad. I think that this made the other kids like me even less. At first I told myself that I didn’t care; that no-one was going to stop me from enjoying my youth.

But it was much harder than that. In my community boys and girls were all in cliques – they would spend their time smoking and drinking. When passed by them I would hear the saying O ke mosadi – “this is a woman” – because of my dance activities. That was the biggest insult they could have thrown at me. I felt like there was something wrong with me, that I was less of a man. That horrible insult strips you of your manhood. It made me want to say to them “I’ll show you who’s a woman!” and them beat them up, showing them how little like a woman I was.

I then added Kung-Fu to my after school activities and ended up in many fights. My violent behaviour increased to an extent where even if I just saw my girlfriend with another guy I would beat her up. I wanted to prove to the guys that I was one of them. I didn’t want to be in their clique, but I did want to show them that I was a man. I was as a man as they were. And for them, being a man was about being violent.

Whenever there was a problem in my relationships I would solve things with violence. I thought this was the only way that a man could be a man. When I felt guilty, I would ask for forgiveness and believed that I was forgiven. Now I know that it wasn’t real forgiveness, the women I’d beat up would say they forgave me because they were scared of me.

My life was like this for a long time, but in my heart I knew that I wanted things to be different. My heart said that to be a man meant that I could be anything I wanted to be; that there were many ways of being a man, not all of them violent. I was worried about the monster that was inside of me that came out when I was violent. So I told myself that I had to change.

What this meant was changing the way I responded and how I dealt with conflict. It meant trying to live more honestly. It meant being a man defined by my own’ standards. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

My path to becoming a better man is a difficult one. But I am learning and growing every day. I am learning that being myself is more important than being what I think others expect of me. I have learnt that being a real man means showing that you care through loving and considerate behaviour.

This article is part of a special series of articles produced for the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events.

janine@genderlinks.org.za for more information. 


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