A memoir by Bhikisisa Mncube
A few months ago I was part of a social gathering in which the Master of Ceremonies suggested we play a game to break the ice. The game consisted of passing the bottle to each other around a circle to the beat of the music, and when the music stops whoever has the bottle in their hands will have to answer a very personal question from the MC.
As the game progressed around a circle which was 99 per cent male, the MC then asked a question to one of the bottle holders and it went something like this:
“When did you have your first sexual encounter and who was it with?” The respondent dilly-dallied around trying to recall the exact moment in question to roaring laughter and cajoling from his friends around the circle.
He then proceeded to describe the event and then ended with a statement which surprised everyone around the circle, “In fact, I think she raped me, it felt like I was raped” he said.
After a moment of silence, everyone began to roar with laughter. Seeing a gap created by the jovial atmosphere an elderly member of the group saw an opportunity for a quick disclosure of his own. He went and stood in the middle of the circle and pronounced his secret.
“In fact,” he said raising his hand in the air “I also think I was raped by the girl I had sex with for the first time.” At the point at which his voice began to break preparing, as it were, to explain in greater detail the events which unfolded on the day he lost his virginity the group silenced him in unison, “sit down” they said, “It’s not your turn now” the old man was forced back to his seat under the tree and forever remained silent.
I am reminded of this story on reading Bhekisisa Mncube’s memoir, The Love Diary of A Zulu Boy in which he recounts his first sexual experience which was, incidentally, forced upon him by his elder brother in the very first chapter of his book about his philandering past which is littered with “ love spells, toxic masculinity, infidelity, sexually transmitted diseases, a phantom pregnancy, sexless relationships, threesomes and prostitution to name but a few.”
In the retelling of this dark secret of his sexual molestation as a small boy, a fact he kept to himself until adulthood, Mcube keeps emphasising that he is, in fact, a bona fide heterosexual man who is “pre-programmed” and who had already developed a “crush on a (female) classmate Zodwa”
This reader can sense from the onset the writer’s discomfort in disclosing such an event by the way he races through it in just two pages in which he confesses that he will never forgive his elder brother whom he hates with a passion. He concludes this sad chapter with a quote from psychologist Dr Susan Forward which says “ If I forgive you, we can pretend that what happened wasn’t so terrible”
Boys Do Cry
I feel such compassion and empathy for Mncube ( who is my former “classmate”). As demonstrated in my earlier anecdote it is not easy for men to share stories of sexual abuse at the hands of trusted family members, girlfriends and or partners and any attempt at a revelation is met with stonewalled eyes. If the disclosure is acknowledged at all they are told to shut up with the erroneous belief that “a man can’t be raped by a woman.”
For this reason, I commend him for breaking the silence as a “pre-programmed, delinquent Zulu Boy” to speak about this violation which sadly led to him violating other women’s sexual rights throughout puberty and adulthood. He did not consider mutual consent as an important factor in sexual relationships when “the only thing on his mind was having sex” because his elder brother never considered him when he used him for sexual pleasure, events which laid the only foundation for sexual education Mcube received as a child.
As we mark the proverbial end of women’s month this August and as we reflect upon the #metoo testimonies of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence primarily against women, we will be remiss and do ourselves no favours if we to block, silence or overlook the voices of men who seek to atone for crimes they committed against women as a result of violations they also suffered as boys. Because it is, in some cases, the silencing of such experiences which propagates and normalises sexual and gender violence in our communities
It may not be comforting to hear that the person who violated you – was also once a victim just like you. But it’s important, lest we all arrive at the same conclusion Mncube reached that “to forgive is to pretend that what happened wasn’t so terrible”
When we all know that it is not. Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a “conscious deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness …. forgiveness does not mean forgetting nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences”
There are numerous controversial issues Mcube touches in “ The Love Diary of A Zulu Boy” about love, relationships, identity and racial politics which I will not delve into because I think the first chapter provides the premise for Mcube’s subsequent sexual and relational delinquency in adult life where he remains, despite his vociferous statements to the contrary throughout the book mitigated by therapy and personal reform, a victim of sexual and gender-based violence.
This book highlights the vital need to introduce sexual education for young children of all genders (boys, girls and gender non-conforming people) about what is acceptable behaviour in intimate and or sexual relationships.
If we all agree that men are the primary and main propagators of sexual and gender-based violence against women, then we must acknowledge that they are also part of the solution.
I commend Mncube for his courageous stand in the circle and pronouncing #metoo. I hope that this book will contribute towards helping men and boys including women and girls to understand that love does not equal violent force. Because what is not rectified will be repeated.
Bhekisisa Mcube is a South African writer, columnist and the current director of speechwriting in the ministry of basic education.