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South Africa | Patrick: beauty in equality

Patrick works for Engender Health, promoting its Men as Partners programme, which is “designed to involve men in action against all forms of gender violence and its extreme partner, HIV/AIDS”.

He tells of a background dominated by violence, growing up in a family in which “I was taught to beat my sisters, discipline them as a man to show them the way…” and living with police brutality. During five years in prison for his political activity, he was inspired by “peace-loving people” and began to reject violence and learned to live “outside of the box… not only as a man confined by culture and religious ideas.”

He reflects on the difficulty of transforming peoples’ fundamental beliefs, the dynamics of culture and the way that Xhosa traditions are changing. For him, “to walk the talk is very important. Much of the time people learn from what you do, not what you say”.

I was born in Port Elizabeth…43 years ago. The history of my childhood is full of up and downs… [Now] we are two brothers and six sisters. One sister died in 1976, in the riots in this country…

When I was doing my [school] matriculation in 1980, ’83, ’84…those were years of turmoil in Port Elizabeth, in terms of uprisings… We were young people…[fighting for] freedom in our lifetime. I participated in those activities, and landed behind bars for five years….

When I came out of prison…I went to do the initiation ceremony as is my culture…and moved to Port Elizabeth to study…

Prison: finding opportunity in hardship

[Life in the cells?] Man, you are now opening up the coffins! It is not easy for me to talk about but…it’s part of my history… In 1984…I participated in student politics…we had a series of meetings, had plans within the school…to bring about change in our country… Unfortunately our meetings and plans were intercepted by the police of the then government, which led to our arrest. I was taken to the police station and beaten very hard. My legs have scars from police brutality – white people…with no mercy for black people.

I have scars from shamboks… scars from bullets in my left foot…. [I was] taken behind bars for 16 days – 16 days without seeing the doctor. That leg became septic, the bullet wound was worsening. When I appeared in court on the 16th day to plead against their false charge, the defence…[said] that we needed to see the doctor immediately… It was then we were given bail with strict conditions. Imagine, I have injuries on my legs…but I have to go to the police station at 7 o’clock in the morning and 7 o’clock in the evening to say I am around….

[After] eight months we were sentenced to five years. It was very painful to go behind bars as a young man, full of tricks… The world was shut off to me. In prison, as early as 6 o’clock you’re up…by 2 o’clock the day is over…the door of my cell was locked…

Fortunately, when I was behind bars I met other people, peace-loving people, like a former Premier of the Eastern Cape… He shaped me as a man…[helped] me to focus on what we wanted to achieve. So it was bad in prison, but also it was a place for me to graduate.

Family: ‘the pillar of my life’

I am happily married. You see this photo [of my family]… This is my wife, my son is now 12… my little one… he is three years old. These are the pillar of my life – my reason for living.

I am very proud of my first date [with my wife], as a younger man in this country… I took her out for a coffee at a shopping complex in Port Elizabeth. That was a point and half for me you know! It was very rare, according to her, for a younger man [to] date a woman for the first time in that style…

Upbringing: exposure to violence

I am, as you have said, a Xhosa man… I also grew up in a very violent community. The police – the ‘Pretoria Boys’ – were very violent as well…. I have smelt tear gas, [experienced] water canons, rubber bullets…the violence that was perpetrated by the government then.

There was another [type of] violence from our brothers and fathers, in the name of love…[but] the use of strength went the wrong way… My father was violent to my mother… [The idea was] that as a man you have to ensure you take full control, and I mean total control by using force…beating up your partner and sisters. I grew up in a family where I was taught to beat my sisters, discipline them as a man to show them the way

Breaking the confines of culture and religion

I am from that kind of background…. But I want to be honest with you…. When I was doing my tertiary education, I was helped by [a tutor]. She really added value to my life. Then I was outside of the box, living to the full, not only as a man confined by culture and religious ideas. I moved beyond these things…

[This] was complemented by the kind of job I undertook at the Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, where I did life skills. Then in 1996 I did the [Engender Health] programme ‘Men as Partners’.

[Now] I am working for Engender Health, South Africa. The head offices are in New York, but I am under direction from our offices in Johannesburg. We are promoting [the] ‘Men as Partners’ programme, which is designed to involve men in action against all forms of gender violence and its extreme partner, HIV/AIDS.

Communication within and between organisations

Fortunately for me the current country director [of Engender Health]…happened to be… my trainer… He respects me, I respect him… He uses me as one of the assets of the company, because of the experience of gender work I have from all these years. He knows me…at a work level and also on a personal level. We talk…beyond the boundaries of work. We sometimes interact as families…

I am [also] enjoying a very healthy relationship with TAC, especially the Provincial Office. They are my neighbour. There is not a day when I have not contacted them…talked to them…personally as individuals. That’s the kind of relationship I have had with TAC…and other organisations I am partnering…

How culture can be distorted

There is no culture which says women must be undermined, women must be beaten… My culture, the African culture, the Xhosa culture that I came from, respects women. Women are seen as co-partners… But unfortunately, somewhere along the line, this was destroyed by some men to advance their interests as men. It is time to unwind the truth of culture itself.

You must have listened to a programme yesterday about lobola (bride price)? People were complaining that lobola is part of our tradition. [But] when I paid lobola, I was not paying money to buy my wife. I was expressing thanks to her family for moulding and shaping a woman like her. The amount I paid is not her ‘worth’…it was my human endeavour to say thank you to the family. That’s how I view lobola….

‘People learn from what you do’

I am a gender activist…. You can see that from way back this has been my lifestyle. The ‘Men as Partners’ programme that we are running compels us to look at ourselves…. Every day of my life is a challenge because I must live according to what I teach and talk about… To walk the talk is very important. Much of the time people learn from what you do, not what you say. This is very important if you want to bring about change.

It’s true it’s not easy to give up your fundamental beliefs. Your beliefs make you what you are. It is not easy until you understand the journey and dynamics [of culture]. To me culture is something dynamic…. It can never be the context of 1906 [again]… There is a huge gap between [1906 and 2006]. How do we bridge the gap?

We need to start transforming the lives of our communities… In order that people do not get disturbed in the process, we assist them, so that they start seeing the beauty and the fullness of life. There is beauty in equality…. [It helps] that I am from those poor settings…from Transkei. I know the set up, the ups and downs of village life. It’s not something that is new to me…

‘Let us be realistic’

We need to remove all the pretence in people…in terms of Xhosa traditions: a woman is supposed to stay at home; as a man you are supposed to be a provider. That is the understanding. But gone are those days. These days you must take the kids to school, you must pay the bond, you must pay for the car… on daily basis you must buy basic food. And how do you do that? …Things are changing. Women are providing for us as men. Are we saying we are still the providers? No! Let us be realistic. It’s joint; together we move on same level.

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim throughout has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections. Extracts from these interviews also appear under the key topics; these extracts pull together relevant comments and in a few cases include sentences that have been re-ordered or cut from the edits.


South Africa | Patrick: beauty in equality is produced as part of the Speaking freely on HIV oral testimony project.


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Key themes

Introduction to the project

Hopes and visions

Challenging the government

Working with the media

Support through community

Why join… or start a movement?

Living with HIV

Gender dimensions

Identity, culture and context