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UKZN hosts 'One Man Can' discussion on gender-based violence

"One Man Can" was the theme of a dialogue held recently at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's (UKZN's) Howard College Theatre. The aim was to raise awareness about the effect that gender-based violence (GBV) has on society and to encourage a zero-tolerance attitude towards abuse.

The dialogue also aimed to highlight the role men have to play in eliminating GBV by encouraging them to become actively involved in advocating for gender equality, for the prevention of GBV and, by extension, for halting the spread of HIV/Aids.

The dialogue was attended mainly by students. Various audience members shared their experiences of GBV and spoke of their dissatisfaction with the key agencies that are supposed to assist victims of abuse.

Keynote speaker, Janine Hicks, who is a lecturer at UKZN's School of Law, told the audience about the university's GBV policy, which was adopted in October 2017. A committee was established in September 2018 to monitor compliance with the policy.

Hicks said the committee's current focus was on improving the reporting and response mechanisms that are in place. To this end, a panic button would be made available to staff and students, she said.

The committee will also be rolling out awareness and education campaigns.

Hicks encouraged students to report abuse, saying disciplinary mechanisms were in place to deal with perpetrators. "You are here to study and it is our job to keep you safe," she said. She also urged victims of abuse not to blame themselves, adding: "One man can make a difference."

Two UKZN students who have survived GBV, Zama Ngwazi and Andile Zindela, shared their experiences with the audience.

Ngwazi, a two-time survivor, spoke of her disappointment in the police, saying she was "turned away when I tried to report my case". But, she added, she was proud of herself for choosing courage over victimhood. To her attackers, she said: "Nothing you can do to me will break me!"

Zindela, who tried to commit suicide more than once, said he was angry when he survived, but then realised that it was not yet his time to die. It was thanks firstly to God, and to his passion for music, that he was still alive, he said. He is currently writing a book on his story.

Sergeant Beverly Manqele from Umbilo Police Station outlined the measures adopted by the South African Police Service (SAPS) to encourage victims of GBV to report abuse. These include installing victim-friendly rooms at police stations, where victims are assisted by police officials who are trained to handle abuse cases.

Ntsika Mlamla, a lecturer in criminology and forensic studies, said no human being deserves to be a victim of crime.

"It is worse when it is GBV, perpetrated by men against women and children. The victims cannot be blamed for the crimes committed against them because they don't control the behaviour and the mindset of the perpetrator," he said.

Expanding on the subject of victimisation, he said: "Victimology indicates that although the victims of crime cannot control perpetrators, they can protect themselves from potential victimisation and re-victimisation by being mindful of where they are."

Campus representative council (CRC) member Nhlanhla Mazibuko encouraged students to report cases of abuse at residences and at home in order to change the status quo and not normalise these situations. He said the CRC wanted to ensure that students "graduate alive".

Words: Sithembile Shabangu