“The plain fact is, there are some Americans who in the aggregate are consistently doing worse in our society. Groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique way that require unique solutions, groups who have seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations. And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century, in this country, are boys and young men of color.”
These were the words of President Barrack Obama at the unveiling of his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in February 2014.
Mr Tshokolo Nchocho, CEO of the IDC, the leadership of IDC, Master of Ceremonies and all men gathered today for this auspicious event. I greet you all and thank you for the opportunity to address you. We meet a day after the International Men’s Day.
You may replace a few words in President Obama’s speech and you may very well be talking about South Africa. “The plain fact is, there are some South Africans who in the aggregate are consistently doing worse in our society. Groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions, groups who have seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations. And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century, in this country, are boys and young men who are black.”
I do not know all the reasons this is so. But there are a few other obvious pointers to the problems we are facing. For instance, the general household survey of Statistics SA shows that 57% of South African fathers to children aged 15 years or younger are absent from their lives.
The figure was calculated from the share of children whose fathers were dead (11.2%) and those whose biological fathers were alive, but absent from the household (45.7%).
The 2017 survey found the biological father of 61.8% of children younger than 18 were absent from the household. This is similar to 2016’s figure of 62.2%. 10.1% father dead. 51.7% father alive but not living with their child.
The fact that a biological father does not live with a child does not mean that the father is not involved in the child’s life. I am a divorced father, and I am involved in my children’s life. On the flip side, living with a child doesn’t mean involvement either. I hope none of you are in this category.
This is one story.
The other story is about school dropout rates. We have drop-out figures of between 37% and 42% from Grade 1 to Matric. Most of the drop out are boys. 30% of kids that drop out of school are unable to perform at school or they feel that education is useless or uninteresting.
What is the truth about kids who are unable to perform if they are not mentally unable to learn? It is that they have so many obstacles to allow for conducive learning, chief among them being poverty. There are still children who have no proper school uniform, who cannot afford books and stationary, who spend the whole day in class without a meal and then head to a home where they share a small room with a large family. No space to learn, let alone space for privacy.
In my view, this is the same group that will find that education is useless or uninteresting. This is a cry about their circumstances, not about the importance of education. They know that education is important. You know how? They see you. They see how you have moved on in life. Today driving a car. Having uplifted your parents’ township home. They see your children when they visit their grandchildren. They watch TV. They see successful people and they know most of them are so because they got an education. Yes, they have seen the types of Mr Ndzeku, Sodi and others on TV who are equally successful for wrong reasons, but these young people know that most success comes from education and hard work.
In spite of their despondency, they actually hunger for success not so much for a big car, but to break the chain of poverty. They hunger for success to move their mother from a one-room shack to even an RDP house. They hunger for success so that they can help their younger siblings to also make it through school and hopefully into university. But they have given up hope. They do not see how they can achieve that under the circumstances.
I was born and raised in Dobsonville, Soweto. And although I did not see too many people with big cars and none of my role models lived in formerly whites-only suburbia, I also looked up to people who resembled success. They were teachers in society. Nurses. Clerks. Even policemen, who actually worked for the apartheid government. But I also got my motivation from just ordinary older men – amagrootman – who, even though they held menial and underpaying jobs, they had self value. I used to watch them get off the taxi or bus in the early evening after work, a copy of the daily newspaper tucked under their armpit and head held up high as they walked into their homes.
The young men who drop out of school and find it not interesting are sadly surrounded by different circumstances. The people who in their eyes represent success have left the townships. Amagrootman are now mostly unemployed and idle. Nurses and teachers are no longer idolised. It is no wonder these boys will drop out from school because they have nothing that motivates them.
What’s to be done then? How can you and I make sure that the next International Men’s Day is also marked by these men I describe above. We need a new reality than the one we have today. Because this reality is unsustainable. It is worrisome. It is destructive.
As Frantz Fanon once said: “If you want a different reality, a different world, you have to change the one you have. What matters is not to know the world but to change it.”
We cannot change the world only because we understand it. We can only change it when we have a deep aspiration and desire to do so. And I ask? Do you have that desire? Does the IDC man have a desire and an aspiration to change the future for some of the young men I describe above? Or is all we are doing a gimmick that happens every International Men’s Day where the likes of me are invited to preach on your pulpit and leave you with understanding and even with inspiration and then we are back to square one on the very next day?
I should hope not. I should hope that we are gathered here because we want – as the theme goes – to make a positive difference. Let us for a second look at the dictionary definition of these two words;
• constructive, optimistic, or confident:
• a point or way in which people or things are not the same:
Based on these definitions, our theme should mean, in simple and clearer terms: making a constructive and optimistic way in which things are not the same. Making a constructive and optimistic way in which things are not the same. At the risk of biting the hands that feeds, or pissing in the well, I think sitting here is not enough to create an environment of making a constructive and optimistic way in which things are not the same. We need to do more.
How I wish we were in the same room right now. Because right now I would have asked that all of us should raise our hands if we are intent on making a constructive and optimistic way in which things are not the same. I would have wanted to see the number of raised hands. I would have wanted to look everyone in the eye and see the enthusiasm on your face. But I would also ask: are you sure? Do you really want to do that?
Let me share with you the negative effects of what we are dealing with.
According to The Father Code, a US-based blog: Interestingly it has been shown that the affects of emotionally unavailable fathers were almost identical to those where the father was physically absent.
The affects covered everything from physical differences (i.e. the quickened development into and through puberty of children raised with no father present) through to many and varied social and physiological issues.
The summary of issues listed below, in no way covers every aspect of father absence however it is still a powerful indictment to the current social epidemic.
In reference to the general population individuals raised in a father absent environment demonstrate;
1. 5 times the average suicide rate:
2. Dramatically increased rates of depression and anxiety:
3. 32 time the average rate of incarceration:
4. Decreased education levels and increased drop-out rates:
5. Consistently lower average income levels:
6. Lower job security:
7. Increased rates of divorce and relationship issues:
8. Substantially increased rates of substance abuse: and
9. Increases in social and mental behavioural issues:
How do we bridge the gap? How do we give the young men growing up without their fathers – dead or alive – boys who have given up on education a reason to live a positive life? We all know such a young man. He lives next door to our mother’s house back in Kagiso, Mitchell’s Plein, Kuruman, Chesterville, Boipatong and Noordgesig. Some of them are still in school but not exerting themselves much. Others are out of school and still hoping for a miracle. There is another one who is at university but has no hope to complete their degree. You know the one who has come knocking at your office door with an incomplete degree and a badly written CV.
It is time to make a positive difference. We have been given an opportunity of making a constructive and optimistic way in which things are not the same. Things will not change if we continue to do the same things we have been doing over the years: rolling up our windows when we see these lost young men; giving them yet another R10 note to buy a drink or cigarettes; allow them to wash our cars for a few rands; invite them to our events for a three-course meal and then forget about them.
That is not enough. That is cosmetic. That is unsustainable.
In this room, together, we have so much power to make a constructive and optimistic way in which things are not the same. We can change the world, even if it is just for one boy. We can create a new way in which next year’s International Men’s Day brings into our ranks, a new man who will make us proud.
Let me quote Barrack Obama again, in the same speech of February 2014: “So we all have a job to do. And we can do it together — black and white, urban and rural, Democrat and Republican. So often, the issues facing boys and young men of color get caught up in long-running ideological arguments about race and class, and crime and poverty, the role of government, partisan politics. We’ve all heard those arguments before. But the urgency of the situation requires us to move past some of those old arguments and focus on getting something done and focusing on what works. It doesn’t mean the arguments are unimportant; it just means that they can’t paralyze us. And there’s enough goodwill and enough overlap and agreement that we should be able to go ahead and get some things done, without resolved everything about our history or our future.”
Start small. Choose to pay school fees for a boy who needs it. Pay for someone’s books and stationary. Bring a young man to work to shadow you, so that he can dream different dreams. Take a young man to men’s camp and allow him to learn new narratives. Adopt a boy who needs a father figure. Spend more time in the disadvantaged communities and allow young men to have real contact with you where they can ask questions and get advice. Mentor someone. Start a crowd funding campaign to fund a young man’s hustle. Hey, for crying out loud, change the policies of IDC to include incubation or mentorship of young men.
Make a constructive and optimistic way in which things are not the same. Because if things stay the same this is what is going to happen. Your wife will never get the joy of jogging the streets of your leafy suburb because she is scared of the boy you ignored. Your daughter will be locked in her university dormitory because she does not want to be another Uyinini Mrwetyana. Your car will never be safe. Your mother’s house will not be the safe haven you know it to be. And worse still, this boy will sneak into local politics as a local councillor, before we know it he makes it into provincial or national politics and they become leader of society stealing, looting and setting an example you do not want for your grandchildren.
I do not want to sound negative. A lot of good is being done by many organisations including the IDC. My challenge is to you as an individual.
It cannot be that as we approach the middle of the 21st century, that by almost every measure, the group that will be facing some of the most severe challenges, in this country, will be black boys and young men. It cannot be that next year or in the next decade, another boy drops out when you could have paid their fees, another boy falls into the trap of alcohol and drugs when you can have driven them to theatre and entrepreneurship, another boy rapes and kills when you could have mentored him to be a responsible man.
Get out of your comfort zone. Make a positive difference. Be involved. Be committed. Be the change you want to see. Be That Guy.
Thank you very much.