Delegates representing all Eastern Cape clusters welcomed the inaugural SAPS Men's Conference almost the same way farmers welcome rain showers after a spell of drought. All clad in black pants hanging on suspenders, white shirts with bow ties, hats and walking sticks in hand as they converged at Abbotsford Christian Centre today. This long awaited three-day conference under the theme,"Thetha Ndoda" is aimed to achieve the following; break the men's silence on issues of gender based violence, ignite a dialogue amongst men and empower them to be transformed masculinities.
This conference couldn't come at a better or relevant time as South Africa is engulfed in an unprecedented, unacceptable high levels of gender-based violence, femicide and attacks on the vulnerable members of society, namely the women, elderly and children.
Police have a duty to police incidents of gender based violence and domestic violence while they also suffer a similar fate in their private lives so the conference is expected to help men introspect and heal emotionally.
Eastern Cape Provincial Commissioner, Lt Gen Ntshinga accompanied by her deputies, Major General Dladla, Maj Gen Swart, Maj Gen Kunene and other senior officials like Maj Gen Phathekile, Maj Gen Rabie as well as other members of senior management were in attendance.
Rev Qwabaza officially opened the conference with a prayer, asking the men to do an introspection. "Like Michael Jackson go look at the man you see on the mirror," he said paraphrasing Michael Jackson's song.
Sergeant Siziba read the SAPS Code of Conduct and afterwards East London Acting Cluster Commander, Brig Mqotyana welcomed all the guest and delegates to East London. "We so wish that you remain safe for the rest of the conference and enjoy our hospitality."
Eastern Cape Provincial Commissioner, Lt Gen Ntshinga officially opened the Men's Conference while her Deputy Provincial Commissioner for Policing, Maj Gen Swart outlined the purpose and objective the management hopes to achieve in hosting this august gathering.
Col Eseya-representing the office of Human Resource Management shared numbers of lives lost, livelihoods destroyed and people injured and paralyzed as a result and impact of gender based violence. As a representative of employer he also touched on the impact of lost lives, the human capital, investment in training, experience and some of the interventions his office implement to curb this abhorred behaviour.
The day's highlight was a speech delivered by the guest of honour, Commissioner for Gender and Equality, Mr Mbuyiselo Botha who shared his wisdom and experience on matters of gender based violence and equality.
Mr Mbuyiselo Botha began his speech zooming in on women and their caring character, "There is something about women that makes them peculiar, it may be that they were made different. Women were not born to care but they were socialised to know its okay to care."
He thanked the Provincial Commissioner and Men for Change for organising this conference. "It is also interesting to discover that men can decide to do things differently," he quipped.
Mr Botha said if we are to stop gender-based violence (GBV) we must question power even though it's challenging and a daunting task to do.
He further posed a question on how does one challenge and question power especially 'when you are powerless, you feel low and less of a main.'
He said one of the things society teaches us is to run away from reality and true emotions. "I want to ask you to ask yourself to take care of yourself and seek help. When you are in pain partriachy says no, you are not in pain. If you die today, the world won't stop. I besiege you to take care of yourself," he pleaded to the delegates.
He said it is not true to say that men are not caring, "Men care, there is no man who is born or have a DNA of not caring. We must reject certain cultural practices and utterances like, "men don't care and men don't cry, that time is over," he emphasized. We must begin to reject power that do not help us, added Mr Botha.
He also touched on the topic of 'Patriarchy' a system he explained as a system of men by men for men. He alluded to the fact that religion and culture are sometimes culprits colluding with patriarchy. "Some pastors selectively quote bible to achieve their narrow ends," he elaborated.
Women are marginalized and disrespected because of patriarchy. I want men to be selfish and take care of themselves, "Its ok for a man to seek help, to cry or to say I am weak. Men, we must break this silence," he concluded
Deputy Provincial Commissioner-Human Resource Management, Major General Kunene gave a small present to Mr Botha as token of appreciation after honouring the conference with his presence and for the moving speech and relevant message he delivered to all the delegates' interest.
The session ended with a moving testimony from one male inmate from a local Correctional Services facility who recalled how jealousy drove him to murder his wife recalling the hurt he caused to his children by depriving them of having a mother. He said he is full of regret and wished some of the things he learnt in prison should have been taught to those who have not been affected or in prison.
"Poor anger management and lack of self-control is a reason I am in prison," he said full of emotion. He expressed his regret unequivocally he added, "It is not true that it's nice to be in prison."
The day's proceedings were punctuated with musical performance by the Provincial SAPS Band while Gospel music from some of the musically gifted musicians kept the spirits high as they peppered the day's offering with random outburst of song and dance. As a wildcard, a hilarious comedy performance by one of the best Comedians in the country, Mr Luphelo Kodwa left everyone in stitches with laughter.
Mt Road Cluster Commander, Major General Phathekile delivered words of gratitude after a successful end of day of Men's Conference 2019.
He also thanked Col Eseya for 39 years of quality, professional service, loyalty and dedication to the service he is about to retire soon.
The conference continues until 1 November 2019.