Transgenerational transmission of traumatic past applies to GBV and recent unrest
South Africa has many remarkable women to celebrate, yet it seems that dedicating the whole month of August to women illustrates how far we still have to go towards creating communities in which women are safe and can truly thrive.
From 2019-2020, 2,695 women died due to gender-based violence and 56% of those murders were at the hands of their intimate partners.
Stellenbosch University professor and historical trauma and transformation research chair Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s views on collective trauma and the transgenerational transmission of traumatic pasts refer equally to gender-based violence as they do to the recent shocking destruction in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Offering insights on ‘collective trauma’ may help us think through the recent explosion of violent events
“Offering insights on ‘collective trauma’ may help us think through the recent explosion of violent events,” she said.
“When violations are endured over an extended period in a way that renders victims powerless to protect themselves, or to interrupt the course of the violation, the trauma that they experience may be passed on and re-emerge in subsequent generations as ‘unfinished business’ that cries out for resolution.
“The concepts ‘post-conflict’, ‘postcolonial’, or ‘postapartheid’ should not be seen as designating an end and clear break with the past and a demarcation between an era of human rights abuses and the present.
“Collective memory of traumatic events lives on long after these historical events took place.
“Vamik Volkan, known as the doyen of the relatively new field of psychoanalytic political psychology, suggests that the persistence of the past, including when it manifests in violence, is an obligation imposed by earlier generations on their descendants to resolve unfinished psychological tasks to reverse the humiliation of the injustices they suffered during a lifetime of oppression.
The problem of these cycles of transgenerational repetition of the past is exacerbated by the continuity of disempowering conditions of poverty
“The problem of these cycles of transgenerational repetition of the past is exacerbated by the continuity of disempowering conditions of poverty — the intransigence of ‘structural violence’ that locks people in cycles of deprivation, with limited opportunities that might offer a path towards a better life.
“These debates about the transgenerational transmission of traumatic pasts and about the problems that tie people to the persistence of social structures that become breeding grounds for violence are important for us in SA.”
If this can help us understand what might have moved people to violence in the recent weeks, then what is the potential to understand how these conditions might also produce gender-based violence?
Gender-based violence permeates all structures of society — political, economic and social — and is driven by entrenched patriarchy and complex and intersectional power inequalities found in race, gender, class and sexuality, says gender equality non-governmental organisation Sonke Gender Justice.
Online knowledge hub SaferSpaces says patriarchal power structures dominate in many societies, in which male leadership is seen as the norm and men hold the majority of power.
Patriarchy is a social and political system that treats men as superior to women — where women cannot protect their bodies, meet their basic needs and participate fully in society, and where men resolve conflict with women through violence, regularly believing it to be a justified measure.
My rage against gender-based violence has transformed into a deep sadness, primarily for women, yet also for men.
Gender equality is a right for both women and men.
When maleness under patriarchy tells you you’re supposed to be superior, and you’re rendered unseen through poverty, when the patriarchy says you should be the provider and there is no work, when patriarchy admonishes male vulnerability as weak rather than courageous, and when maleness views women as conquests rather than collaborators, the room to manoeuvre shrinks.
These are the problems that tie people to the persistence of social structures that become breeding grounds for violence.
For boys, exposed to their fathers or their mother’s partners beating and killing her, the trauma echoes endlessly.
And then to find themselves, unable to find healthy solutions in their own adult relationships, can have them feeling doomed.
Thus, the need for more male activism against gender-based violence is urgent.
A global movement against poverty, One, reports on a number of Cape Town organisations which seek to empower men to choose words rather than fists.
#Not in My Name was established in 2017 in Mamelodi to campaign against gender-based violence, and also in 2019, East London’s Litha Sihawu called on men to march against gender-based violence.
New Jersey storyteller Megan Gieske on One interviews Siyabonga Kusele, 24, the founder of #LangaforMen, who was 13 years old when his pregnant mother was killed by his stepfather.
“After I lost my mother, that opened my eyes that I cannot sit and do nothing while watching women and children being violated by men, my gender,” Siyabonga said.
Equality is good for us all.
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