The Ethics of Self-Rule: Violence and Masculinity in Contemporary South Africa
A Context of South African Male Violence
In the context of a near national panic concerning violence in South Africa, the question being posed is, what does it take to be a modern South African man? Aernout Zevenbergen (2008, xxvi), writing about violence and masculinity in Africa, asks, “What does it mean to be a man today?” Can the South African man, as Slavoj Žižek (2008: 216) inquires about men in general, “wholly repudiate violence when struggle and aggression are part of life?”
At first glance, the answer would appear to be negative. Violence, it seems, is for the typical South African man intrinsic to growing up. More than a hundred years of industrialization and urbanization, on the one hand, and colonization and apartheid, on the other, appear to have created for him a world characterized by high levels of violence in his private life and in the communities in which he lives. Describing the world inhabited by young people, Karin Ensink, Brian Robertson, Chrisostomos Zissis, and Paul Leger (1997) in a study of a township reported that all sixty respondents surveyed had been exposed to violence: 56 percent had been victims of violence, and 45 percent had personally witnessed the killing of another person. Rosana Norman, Richard Matzopoulos, Pam Groenewald, and Debbie Bradshaw (2007: 696), reported, furthermore, that the homicide rate for South African males was 184 per 100,000, double the rate of low-and middle-income countries in the Americas. Lezanne Leoschut and Patrick Burton (2006: 45), on the basis of a nationwide survey conducted in 333 areas among five thousand participants between the ages of twelve and twenty-two ( Yutar 2006), showed that young people experienced significant rates of victim-ization, with more than two-fifths (41.4 percent) having experienced some form of victimization in the year preceding the survey. These rates were almost double those of adult South Africans ( Leoschut and Burton 2006: 45). The nature of this victimization reflects intense experiences of personal danger among the subjects, with up to 16.5 percent the victims of assault, 9.4 percent of robbery, and 4.2 percent of sexual assault. Young colored (a racial classification of the colonial and apartheid era for people deemed to be neither white nor black) males were more likely to be assaulted than other young people, with up to 19.6 percent reporting having been the victim of assault.
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