Is there a case for the neglected emotional state of black men?


The tragic death of the renowned South African cardiologist, Professor Bongani Mawethu Mayosi has ignited an important yet disregarded debate of the emotional state of black men. According to Dr Marcus Bright “There is a secret depression that is rooted in economics that many Black men battle with. It is hidden underneath an assortment of layers including an exaggerated bravado, drug and alcohol abuse, misdirected anger, and other forms of destructive behaviour.

Society continues to fail men in a belief that men are just able to get by; that “Men don’t cry”, African males, in particular, find themselves in a society which has not allocated them a status of emotional beings. There is a silent if not a biased view which seeks to devalue the reality and factors that directly and indirectly affect African males, their situation and behaviour.

A male in Switzerland, Norway or a typical White or Indian male in South Africa does not refer to the same male problems in Africa, a (black) male in the African context generally faces worst conditions and treatment and this can be explained by the unfortunate situations that befell Black males: for example, it was only Black miners who killed each other in Marikana or the “Xenophobic attacks” in Alexandra which saw Black men hacking another Black man to death, or Black trapped Lily miners. These are but a few examples which made headlines as “news” but the everyday reality of a Black male is one who has surrendered body and soul to poverty, squalor, alcohol, drugs, violence and depression.

Certainly, history and patriarchy favours African men and there are serious societal challenges of African males abusing woman and failing to support and acknowledge their children but assuming that we all agree there are “absent fathers” and the violence that black males unleash in society are real and problematic, why do we think and behave as if this challenge affects and impact woman and girl children only?

Centuries of abuse, the deliberate destruction of the African family unit, dispossession, and economic exclusion are finally taking their toll on black men, For example In communities where male circumcision is prevalent, boys are prepared to be “men” but society and its realities have changed a lot to accommodate this man, the “man” leaves the rural side to the urban area to search for a better life and to become a “man” and provide for his family, what shocks him is that he is at the bottom of the South African social class without education or employment, he becomes conflicted, desperate, violent and a menace to society.

Motseki Mabuya is one of the many men who has called out for help by stating the following “Most of us we are broken, empty, angry and sad but we have managed all these years to mask everything. Black men are equally hurting, Men too need a shoulder, Men too are weak”.

Ayabulela Ngcelwane also reached out to his peers on social media by opined the following, “I’m Truly and Deeply Sorry Brothers, I Can’t Be A Man but Human This Season. Allow Me to Cry Out Like A Child”.

South Africa is also confronted with a new kind of crisis, as we seek to redress the historical and patriarchal gender imbalances, black boys are being left behind, they are falling behind and are not developing and progressing at the same rate as their female counterparts. The 2013 research from the South African department of basic education on the national annual assessment reflects that boys are lagging far behind girls in; reading, writing and mathematics.

The Higher Education South Africa report on the 2016 state of higher education reflects how females increasingly continue to make up the total body of students registered in higher education as well as those who graduate. It is black males in the majority who are illiterate, who are high school and university dropouts, committing violence against each other, abusing their partners, alcohol and drugs and continue to fill the prison numbers.

It is argued that the manner in which black boys have been raised (Indoda a Yikali, Monna ha a lle) and continue to be raised creates men out of boys, boys are expected to transcend into manhood way before they have even reached a level of maturity. To take over as Breadwinners in the absence of fathers, to work at a very young age, boys in the main are not given an opportunity to embrace their childhood or their emotions. Whilst the poor black male also suffers under the barrage of feminists/ neoliberal’s ideas imposed by the new global order without also recognising his unique and dehumanising condition.

It is out of this concrete objective reality that Anti-Poverty Forum was born, to create awareness about the structural and institutional “Crisis” facing African males with an approach that goes beyond the ‘Fatherhood deficit discourse’ which reproduces the image of African men as ‘Trash’ or ‘absent’ but rather as social beings who also need social, emotional and economic intervention from a very young age thus, artificial separations exacerbate the problem that we seek to address. We need to balance the liberal views (patriarchy/ matriarchy) and traditional expectations (provider/ leader) to locate the role of boys and men in a society that opts to neutralize male dominance in favour of women empowerment.

As Professor Vivienne Bozalek opined” The level of unemployment and wage inequalities experienced by Black males is the least appreciated and acknowledged phenomenon in South Africa. The expectation from society is such that it expects a male individual to play a particular, well-defined role, for example, “providers”, “caregivers and or “leaders” Bozalek (2010).

It is, therefore, our call that Government and key relevant stakeholders join the fight and put practical mechanisms in place to save our young boys and men, the depressing and violent state that has come to characterize black communities and black males can no longer be left unattended.

Phapano Phasha

Founder and Director at Anti-Poverty Forum