Graca Machel has noted that violence is the breast milk we are feeding our children, thus calling for a change in our mindsets, behaviours, and value system. She made this call in an impassioned speech at the recent Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture.
“Violence is the breast milk we are feeding our young,”
“We have to change our mindsets, our behaviours, our value system. We must reinvent our relationships and re-engineer the way we relate in our families, in our schools, in our workplaces with the spirit of ubuntu that Arch taught us and exudes with every fibre of his being,” she said.
Machel, a co-founder and deputy chair of The Elders, a women’s and children’s rights advocate and the former first lady of South Africa and Mozambique, where she served as education minister, cited teenage pregnancy figures from the Gauteng Department of Health during her speech.
More than 23,000 girls under the age of 18 gave birth in the 12 months to March 2021, 934 of whom were between 10 and 14 years old. Machel said the number of teen mothers had increased by 60% during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Nearly 1,000 children have given birth to other children in the past year. Why is there not an outcry of what is, in essence, a statutory rape epidemic in this country?” asked Machel.
“There are precious lives between these cold numbers. These are the beautiful faces, the brilliant minds and vibrant voices of our daughters, nieces, sisters, whose childhood and innocence we have left unprotected, and these shocking statistics on teenage pregnancy do not even paint an accurate nor comprehensive picture of our shameful disregard for young people we claim to love and cherish.
“There are far too many wolves in sheep’s clothes masquerading as predators and entire families harbouring terrorists in their homes.”
Graça Machel asked a series of questions that she seeks answers while decrying the level of violence against women and girls in South Africa, describing the country as at war with itself and locked in a vicious cycle of pain.
“How can we break the vicious cycle of untold and unspeakable pain that visits women and children daily? While the brutal apartheid days are thankfully behind us, we are still a nation at war with ourselves. Deeply entrenched and festering wounds plague us and perhaps one of the most visible manifestations of this woundedness is our violent, unequal society,” said Machel.
“Why has what is so grotesquely abnormal become normalised to us in this country, the land of Tutu and Madiba’s birth, and on this continent, the home of greats such as Wangari Maathai and Gertrude Mongella? It is an insult to the nobility of our ancestors to allow our youngest generations to suffer in the ways they do.”
Machel admitted she had more questions than answers. She called for the compilation of better-quality data on sexual violence.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has labelled gender-based violence (GBV) a pandemic, and he is considering three bills — the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill, and Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill — aimed at strengthening the legal framework against GBV. The government has also allocated extra resources to fighting the scourge under the National Strategic Plan on GBV.