Remembering Reuben Mokae on Father’s Day

Date: January 1, 1970
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There is considerable pessimism about our collective ability as men and women to establish a more gender equitable society. The media often carries stories characterising men as defenders of patriarchal privileges. Yet many men are standing up, as husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles, to say no to violence and yes to gender equality.


Our lives different from our father’s
By Patrick Godana
Gone are the days when we used to say, “The place of a woman is in the kitchen.” Sometimes when I sweep the floor at my house, I think of my neighbours from way back. They were a young couple, living in Port Elizabeth, New Brighton area. It was in 1989, and I had just got out of prison. I had ended up on jail for furthering the aims of a banned movement. I still carry the scars on my body from being tortured.
He was not just a neighbour but also a brother. His wife was working night duties as a nursing sister. In the early mornings, my neighbour would call me through the fence, to look after their baby boy whilst he went to pick up his wife from work. I was in school, and they would give me some money to buy lunch. He was always expressing love to his wife – they called one another “Sweetheart.” People made fun of him for this and accused the woman of making her husband a lesser man.
I admired their relationship, but it confused me, too. I grew up believing that as a man, I should always show my macho tendencies and treat women as not equal to me. I never saw my father kissing my mother, but I constantly saw him beating her up. Even at church, they would seldom sit together in the same pew. So those conversations with my neighbour about respecting women showed me how to love and respect the woman I later married.
It was the beginning of the second phase of my struggle. For the past ten years, I’ve been working tirelessly on issues of gender equality. We have attained political freedom, but now we have to make sure that everyone can enjoy those freedoms.

Reuben Mokae was a Soweto based gender activist with the Men as Partners Network. The father of three young boys, the son of a priest and active in the anti-apartheid struggle, Reuben’s first exposure  to Men as Partners was through the support group he and his wife attended after testing HIV positive in 1998.

Joining the MAP Network was a turning point for Reuben. He worked as a peer educator for Hope Worldwide’s MAP Programme doing outreach and running workshops across Soweto encouraging men to take a stand against gender based violence and challenging notions of manhood that increase men’s HIV risk.
At community meetings and forums he spoke often and always with pain about his use of violence against his wife and how deeply he regretted it. He talked proudly about how he had cared for her as she struggled with opportunistic infections and finally died in 2003 before anti-retrovirals became widely available.
At a community event held in Diepkloof on Father’s Day in 2004, he addressed a crowd of about 500 people including his father and other clergy from his church and said, “Last October my wife passed on due to AIDS. It has been one of the most difficult times for my three boys and me. Now, though, life is starting to get back to normal. We often talk about her with the boys as a healing process. Sometimes we cry together holding hands when we do this.”
At a MAP event in Moletsane, visibly weakened from a long struggle with pneumonia and tuberculosis, Reuben participated in a community event to encourage men to get tested and to support their partners to enrol in prevention of mother to child transmission programmes. Shortly after, despite his involvement with MAP, he became confused by exaggerated stories about ARV toxicity and did not use his HIV medication consistently. His health slowly deteriorated until he died in June 2005. On 4 June, his MAP colleagues marched through Soweto from Meadowlands to bury him at the Avalon Cemetery.
Two weeks later nearly a thousand men from the MAP Network marched in Soweto from Thokoza Park to the Moroka police station to demand the criminal justice system respond to the spate of domestic violence homicides that had rocked Soweto. Our placards read “Not in my name.” Had Reuben been able to, he would have marched with us.
The last decade has seen many men step forward to express their concern about the damage done to women and men by rigid gender roles. Some of these men fill the ranks of structures like the Men as Partners Network, Men for Change, Positive Men United, the South African Men’s Forum and the Treatment Action Campaign. Others quietly attempt to live more gender equitable lives – supporting their partners, playing an active role in the lives of their children and enjoying more satisfying relationships based on respect rather than fear.
Like Reuben, as men we recognise that it is not in men’s interests to live in a society where our daughters, sisters, mothers and female colleagues, friends and fellow congregants face the constant threat of sexual and domestic violence. As men, we do not want to live in a society where some men’s violence casts all men as potential perpetrators and infuses distrust into our relationships with women. As men, we want the criminal justice system to act swiftly and decisively to hold men accountable for gender based violence.
Faced with reactionary appeals to reassert outdated and oppressive models of masculinity, we say, “Not in our Name.” The most fitting tribute we can offer to Reuben Mokae and others like him on Father’s Day is to make sure that his three sons grow up in the sort of world he sought to achieve-a world where men and women can enjoy rewarding relationships that contribute to a just and democratic society.
Dean Peacock and Nyanda Khanyile are with the Sonke Gender Justice Project, an NGO that works to promote gender equality and address the gendered dimensions of HIV and AIDS. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

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