11 am on Tuesday and in the brightly painted purple and green Monwabisi hall in
Langa, Cape Town over 20 young men dressed in their Sunday best have gathered to
discuss the finer details of the vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes,
“cherries”, hugging and kissing, sex and romance.
on a chair in the centre of this circle is a young man, not that much older than
those who have gathered. As the animated conversation veers from intense
discussion to raucous laughter it is his job to steer it back to the key point
– what it means to be a South African man.
Nkontso (29), is a man with a mission, or rather as he likes to define it, “a
co-ordinator of the PPASA’s Men as Partners programme (MAP), Khaya’s job is
to help men debate, understand and clarify the link between masculinity and the
construction of male identity and the impact this has on their own lives as well
as the rest of society.
have identified the gender stereotypes that men use to construct their identity
as a key factor in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, domestic violence and rape
is aware of the enormity of the task and the fact that attitudes and perceptions
around what it means to be a man are not easily changed or tweaked in a matter
of a week.
is difficult, especially with Xhosa-speaking people where people interpret
culture wrongly. Many men think the fact that they are the man gives them the
right to be superior to their partners. Many men think that in a relationship
they have the right to do anything,” he says.
agrees that gender inequality contributes significantly to the spread of
men think women have no right to question them about their partners or that it
is okay to have unprotected sex and multiple partners,” he opines.
are values that are instilled from an early age when young boys are told they
cannot cry and “need to act like men”.
most cultures it is expected that men do not show emotion. This, says Khaya,
contributes to a machismo where men believe they have a right to show their
authority over women who are perceived as weaker.
of the complications Khaya has encountered presenting his workshop in and around
women have complained that their sons or boyfriends return from “the bush”
and are rude or bossy expecting to be deferred to.
don’t think it (radically) changes any of the boys. If he was bossy before
initiation he will become more bossy,” Khaya said, adding that he didn’t
believe the initiation process changed the men’s perception of relationships
with the opposite sex.
judging from the conversation and debate among the group of about 25, it was
evident that parents are not talking to them about sex.
diagram of a woman’s reproductive system becomes the subject of heated
discussion as the youngsters argue over the position of the fallopian tubes,
cervix, vagina, uterus or ovaries.
a slightly-built man, is clearly comfortable with the topic and watches and
listens to the men patiently before explaining in great detail how the various
times he has to raise his voice to give everyone an opportunity to speak.
in his “post-initiation uniform” – formal pants, a blazer, woolen cap and
patent leather shoes – one of the youngsters is at great pains to try and
convince the others why he believes his partner loves him if she shows signs of
the discussion soon turned to matters of the heart when the group was asked to
define “a romantic relationship”.
were giggles all round as the men began to compile their list which included
crooning a love song, writing or reciting poems, calling your partner “nice
names” such as honey or sweetheart or simply telling her you love her.
men and women participate in joint workshops at a later stage Khaya found that
many of the women complained that men were only interested in the physical
aspects of the relationship and that they had no feeling for romance. Men, on
the other hand, grumbled that it was they who “always have to run after the
it is Khaya’s aim to focus attention not just on gender but how this
specifically contributes to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Khaya is at pains to point out that not all men are “bad”.
you have six men, five will be understanding, but they need to be educated on
the finer details,” Khaya said
is astounding that twenty years after the HI virus was first named and
identified and despite years of HIV/AIDS education, there are people who are
still unaware of it.
find that many people are not aware of HIV/AIDS or sexually transmitted
infections and it is encouraging to be able to educate them and know you are
having an impact,”said Khaya.
Geeta Rao Gupta, president of the
expectations pressure men into flaunting a kind of sexual athleticism: to be
experienced and always interested in sex, to have many partners and to be
heterosexual,” she said.
feels that we need to re-examine notions of masculinity and femininity.
traditional norms are causing a cycle of death and disease of our young, and in
fact are destroying families, households and communities, then these norms must
change,” Gupta says.
says the time will come when people will perceive these norms as dysfunctional,
and when something is recognized as dysfunctional social change occurs because
societies want to survive.
tragedy is that most societies wait too long, so that destruction occurs on a
large scale before change begins to happen.”
Nkontso has decided not to wait