7 March 2019

South Africa: Babes and Mampintsha, Who Wins When We Fight Words With Blows to the Head?

Photo: Babes Wodumo/Instagram
Babes Wodumo and Mampintsha

The recent evidence of a violent relationship between two well-known South African musicians should be a wake-up call to us as a society to revisit what we consider to be "healthy masculinity", says Lineo Segoete.

On 4 March 2019 an Instagram video posted by gqom musician Babes Wodumo went viral and caused a social media storm across all platforms in the southern African region. Debates ensued among friends and strangers alike about the toxicity of the young talent and her boyfriend and business partner Mampintsha and where to put the blame. The discourse generated by this incident has revealed a plethora of issues that go unattended throughout the continent. It has been interesting to read about and listen to all the different takes on the event.

"Why doesn't she just leave?"

On a very basic level, a relationship is supposed to be about mutual respect, support, open and honest communication and compassion. A certain level of dependence is born from the trust that develops between people who are involved in an intimate relationship. This dependency can be generated by feelings of safety or fear, contracts or loyalty, a shared history or a fear of having vulnerabilities exposed in public. None of us knows why Babes stayed in the relationship even though she had already called off her engagement and threatened to leave in 2018. It is also not our place to victim-shame her and place sole responsibility on her.

What is clear is that Babes posted the video as a cry for help. The clip is evidence of a long-standing cycle of abuse between the couple and how their heated interactions tend to be reduced to a war of words and, ultimately, physical assault. Since none of us are in the relationship with them, we can only make assessments based on the few facts that we have. We cannot at this point direct our judgement at Babes and berate her for going back to Mampintsha, who is 16 years her senior. There is the well-known phenomenon of Stockholm Syndrome, in which victims develop feelings of love, affection and loyalty for their captors. Babes and Mampintsha are also business associates, which muddies the waters a great deal.

"She also abused him!"

Babes can be heard slurring profanities at Mampintsha before he speeds into the frame and delivers several blows to her face and upper body. "He is defending himself" - that is the justification some have given in support of the man.

When arguments get heated, people tend to reach for their most brutal ammunition to demonstrate their hurt or passion. In this case, Babes clearly gave lip, while Mampintsha went for blows. Both of them are wrong. People in a loving relationship should not speak to each other in a derogatory manner, regardless of what they are fighting about. It is laughable that Mampintsha launched a counter suit against Babes and appeared in court wearing a moon boot after he was arrested for assaulting Babes. While he is well within his rights to do so, we must consider the power dynamics between the two. For one thing, it is well documented that Babes was afraid of Mampintsha.

Violence generates violence - this much is true. It may be that Mampintsha has been hurt by Babes's words in the course of their relationship. Unfortunately, our men and boys are socialised to react to pain with displays of physical toughness and strength. For an uncivilised man, this means that he must resort to his fists to resolve conflicts. This should be a wake-up call to us as a society to revisit what we consider healthy masculinity and the devices we use to shape the male ego.

Then, of course, there is the worrying culture-based notion that a woman must be disciplined so that she stays in line, because she is like a child whose behaviour needs to be directed. This implies that adult women are incapable of discernment and clarity of thought, and it is the man's responsibility to offer guidance. On this, I call BS.

We all have a duty to help each other become better versions of ourselves and build a safe environment for future generations. People get angry - that is perfectly normal, but we, men and women alike, must develop our emotional intelligence so that we can get along with each other better and heal old wounds. Mampintsha's resorting to violence was a symptom of much deeper issues that he has with his masculinity and the world that shaped him. Babes's resorting to verbal violence was also her defence against someone she could not go toe-to-toe with. Did she know that she would get hurt? Probably! That's why she planted her phone to record the encounter. And in the greater scheme of things, this was a much better alternative to suffering in silence any longer.

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