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Respect, responsibility and role models: Teaming up to mobilise SA's men

 The Big Issue South Africa 11 October 2019

The Brothers for Life campaign is a grand venture, aimed at creating a new
breed of South African men. It’s already attracted big names in cricket and soccer, and now rugby heavyweights are throwing their girth behind the women’s rights campaign. Melany Bendix met up with a couple of the rugby brothers. (1426 Words) - By Melany Bendix

The BI South Africa_brothers-for-life2

Brothers for life: Fabian Juries (left) and Bandise Maku. Photo: Gerhard Muller

"There is a new man in South Africa - a man who is responsible; a man whose self-worth is not determined by the number of women he sleeps with; a man who takes care of his family; a man who makes no excuses for unprotected sex, even after drinking. I am that man and I am that brother."

In a patriarchal society like ours, led by the world's most famous polygamist, and where 80% of rural women are still subject to some form of domestic abuse, this message headlining the Brothers for Life campaign is nothing short of ambitious.

The campaign, launched late last year, is a means to mobilise the men of South Africa in the fight against HIV/Aids and, more broadly, to respect women and become better men, fathers and role models.

While the campaign's slogans border on lofty, and its promotion is very flash - dominating massive billboards, glossy magazine pages and filling prime time TV advertisement slots - the heavy-hitters behind the campaign give it the weight needed to take its message seriously.

They include big international players such as South Africa's National Aids Council, the US President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, the US Agency for International Development and the United Nations. John Hopkins Health and Education and the Sonke Gender Justice - the NGO that took ANC Youth League President Julius Malema to the Equality Court for hate speech against women, and won - are driving the campaign on the ground.

Mandla Ndlovu, project co-ordinator from John Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa, says the idea behind the campaign is to dispel the myth that all men are bad. "Research has proven that seven out of 10 men actually do the right thing. Our aim with the Brothers for Life campaign is to show that this actually happens."

And who better to demonstrate this than the goal-driven sportsmen of South Africa?

There are a couple of non-sportsmen fronting the campaign, like actor John Kani and comedian Trevor Noah (yip, the Cell C CEO seems to get on to every billboard these days), but in a sports-mad country like ours, it makes sense for our top players to lead this important campaign.

Protea's captain Graeme Smith, Springbok captain John Smith and Bafana Bafana team players Matthew Booth and Teko Modise are just some of the big names in sport who were among the first Brothers for Life. Lately, more of the big burly rugby blokes have been lining up to back the campaign and show South Africa their softer side.

But are the flashy billboards nothing more than good PR for South Africa's top sportsmen? Definitely not, say the rugby brothers new to the campaign. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, The Big Issue managed to squeeze in a couple of interviews in-between practices to find out what being Brothers for Life means to them.

- Blue Bulls hooker

"Being a Brother for Life is important to me because it means I stand for something. It's a big commitment, so people know there are certain morals I want to stand by and that I want to be a role model to young guys in South Africa.

I grew up in a very steady family, so I know what's right and what's wrong. I'm lucky that way; not all youngsters in South Africa have that blessing.

Everyone sometimes messes up and does things they regret, but what's important is that you come out and acknowledge what you've done wrong and apologise for it.

It's very easy to be caught up in things that won't take you far in life. So it's important for young people to know what they want to achieve in life, find the right role model who has achieved that and stick to the right path in front of them.

I believe that sports players have a duty to be role models for South Africa's youth; a lot of kids look up to sportsmen and women.

The problem in South Africa, as I see it, is that many kids grow up without a father, or without a good male role model. As a young man, your father's the first man you look up to, so if you don't have that contact or if your father is always beating up your mother, you grow up to believe that's what a man is supposed to do. So if young sports players come out and say 'No, this is not how things should be done', maybe these kids will start thinking that what dad did to mom maybe wasn't the right thing, and changes can be made.

South Africa still has a long way to go in terms of changing perceptions of women and how a real man should be, but the more people who are part of this campaign - not just sports players, but men from all walks of life - the more impact it will have.

South Africans also need to be more open-minded, especially about culture or things that are 'culturally sensitive'. Some aspects of certain cultures should really not be promoted any more. By hanging on to these things, or being sensitive about discussing them, we are living like we were still in the 19th century. People have moved on, and these things need to change now.

Even if the most powerful people are still hanging on to these old ways, if the majority of people come out and show that things should be done differently, then change will take place.

It will take time. It always takes time to change bad habits, but with enough people, it's possible. "

FABIAN JURIES - Western Province wing

"Being a Brother for Life means being a role model. For me, it's important to be responsible and do the right thing.

A lot of young boys look up to professional rugby players and many of them aspire to be just like us, so it's only right that we set an example.

The campaign's about being responsible in every aspect of your life. It's about not having too many drinks when you go out and not just having sex with anyone you pick up along the way; it's about being mature.

I want to get across the message that doing these things - getting drunk, sleeping around - is not macho. I think it's more macho to act responsibly and respect women.

Even if two or three boys out there take the right path because of us, then the campaign's worth it.

I would like to extend my work in this campaign to going out there, visiting communities and just speaking to young people and telling them what it's all about.

My personal message for this campaign is simply to think before you do."

Other Rugby Brothers

PAUL DELPORT - Springbok Sevens captain

"Being a Brother for Life is an opportunity; we are the future leaders of South Africa and we need to make a difference. Being a Brother for Life is a chance to lead SA, to educate and better people's lives. Through our actions as young men we can cultivate a culture of respect.

It is a campaign to dispel the notion that women are not equal. We have grown up in a male-dominated society where women have been portrayed as subservient. As young men we can lead this change through our actions.

It comes down to respect. Misogyny has been something women have had to face for years and it has to be eradicated. In this day and age everyone should be treated equally."

TIGER MANGWENI - Eastern Province fullback

"Being a Brother for Life means being an example and role model to the youth. It means doing the right things through my actions and not just my words.

The problem with many South African men's views is that they believe women have to do a 'woman's job', and that women don't have dreams of their own.

Guys must be responsible, respect women and what they represent and have the courage to use protection and have safe sex. Be a real man."

Originally published by The Big Issue South Africa. ©

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