Remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Presidential Young Men and Boys Indaba, Maponya Mall, Soweto

 It is truly an honour to be among you, our next generation of leaders, professionals, businessmen, entrepreneurs, tech gurus, you name it. Some of you also hope someday to be husbands, fathers and sons-in-law. You all carry hopes to make something of your lives and to follow your chosen career paths. 

If you decide to have families someday, you may take on the role of a co-provider, a carer and nurturer of your children and support to your partner. Some people ask why is there a focus on women: Women’s Day, women’s march, women empowerment, girls’ programmes, girls’ spaces? The answer is a straightforward one. 

There is a crisis in our society. A terrible crisis that will destroy us if we do not overcome it. That crisis is violence against women and girls; violence that men perpetrate. Because it is men who are responsible for this scourge, men need to be part of bringing it to an end.We are encouraged that we have with us today young men from different parts of our country who have stood up and said yes, we want to be part of bringing about change.

Yes, we want to be better men. Yes, we want to show by our words and deeds that we respect women and girls and treat them as equals. I want to thank you all for taking this important step towards making our country a better place for all its people. This young men’s dialogue is very important. 

To end gender-based violence, we must focus on prevention. We must stop this violence before it even happens. There must be an open and honest conversation about what contributes to violence against women and girls.

We need to talk about patriarchal attitudes and practices. We need to challenge toxic masculinity, which is the idea that being a man means one must dominate and demean women. We must talk about the influence of culture and media depictions of men and women.“What about the Boys?” brings together government, the private sector, academia, civil society, the media and other stakeholders in a collaboration towards raising a nation of good men. We have just seen the video and listened to the voices of participants, and it is clear that this programme continues to be well-received and has had a positive impact.We are correct to ask the question, “What about the Boys?”, because young men and boys must not be left behind.

 They must be part of our journey towards a South Africa free of gender-based violence. They must be encouraged and supported to be change-makers in society. Participants, Zinsizwa, Akulula ukuba yinsizwa kulenzinsuku. You face a lot of pressure in the family, in relationships, with your friends, at school and places of higher learning, in your peer groups, and in society as a whole. In South Africa today, young black men are most vulnerable to violence. 

Young men and boys are vulnerable to recruitment by gangs and pressure to take part in criminal activities. The young men of this country are being made into men before their time. You may face pressure from your friends to become sexually active even when you are not ready to, because this is seen as being a real man. Worse yet, engaging in unsafe sex practices is also seen as more manly. This is leading to teenage pregnancies, the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted infections and other problems. We must talk about this. For some of you there may be pressure, especially once you have gone through ritual initiation, to so-called “prove” your manhood in various ways. 

Far too often this is having a destructive effect on women and girls. We must talk about these things and not whisper them in dark corners. Kumele sikhulume about sexuality in general; about stigma, bullying and even violence against gay or gender non-conforming young men. This is a problem in many of our communities.Many young men may not have positive role models.

Absentee fathers are one of the greatest tragedies of our nation. Only a third of South Africa’s children live with both parents. Most children either live with their mother only or with neither parents. We must talk about what it means for young men and boys not to have a father at home to support, encourage and guide them.We must talk about the pressure on young men and boys to drop out of school to earn a living because they have family members relying on them financially, or because they want to be independent.

As young men, you are vulnerable too. You also experience depression, loneliness, and frustration. These can sometimes manifest in aggressive behaviour, especially towards women and girls, problematic relationships, and violence. We must talk. As young men, you may be tired of being told you are a problem. You want your dignity respected and upheld. You want your good qualities to be recognised. We are here to tell you that we see you as not the problem, but as the solution. 

It is in your hands to bring about a new generation of South African men. This new generation of men are respectful, masculine in a positive way and sensitive. They would never think of a woman as less than a man. They would never think about raising their hand against a woman. We have convened this dialogue because we recognise that we must engage men and boys separately from women and girls. 

We want to create more safe and open spaces where you can talk about your feelings, share with each other and collaborate on strategies that help you advance through different stages of your lives. The focus of the programme is to reimagine and reinvent masculinities in sensitive, kind, respectful, accountable, expressive and nurturing ways. It is about working with young men and boys through theatres of learning to influence how they view themselves and the kinds of men that they grow into. 

As government, civil society, business and social partners we are committed to supporting you in your journey to becoming better men. I would like to thank the Department of Basic Education, Primestars, SterKinekor and all the partners of the programme. Thank you for taking the initiative to design such a positive and uplifting programme, and for your commitment to being part of change.

Thank you to all the participants who have been involved in this engagement.Your views, thoughts and ideas have enriched our understanding of the challenges young men face and how you are taking responsibility for yourselves and your society. From what I have heard today, I am more confident than ever that the boys and men of this country are an essential part of our struggle to end all forms of violence against women in our society. 

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