A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Violence in the Diaspora--Why do we Hit?
By Ngozi Nwabineli
 “We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace” (William Gladstone)

I read one of the most disturbing things when I was researching this area.  I found that the country that has the most gender-based violence – that is male to female is South Africa. Most of the stories that come out of Africa cover civil wars, military coups, famine and disasters, but very little is said about one of the key issues of the twenty-first century and that is domestic violence.  In the Africa, the problems in this area of spousal abuse appear more pronounced.  Why should this be? 


The culture in Africa is based on several things – family, tradition, respect and discipline.  With a history which has seen invasions, bloody civil wars, and abuses of power, "mere" domestic abuse has gone under the radar leaving its victims without a voice and without help.  It is only in the last ten years that laws have come into place to deal with this issue – South Africa being a prime example. 


So why do Africans hit?  Why the need for violence?  I cannot pretend to know the socio-cultural elements in their entirety, but mentioning them opens the door to discuss what this area has been crying out for.

One of the main reasons is the maintenance of family honour and respect.  In African culture, as I have said, this is one of the key pillars on which family and the community operates.  If a woman or girl is perceived to be dishonouring the family, they have to be dealt with.  The punishment could be anything from beatings to disfigurement to ‘honour’ killings.  Only when the problem has been ‘solved’ is family honour again restored.

Another reason why domestic violence takes place is that in some places, women are seen as property to be dealt with as the family, especially the husband, sees fit.  Because the male in the family tends to be the breadwinner, they are automatically deemed to have an unequivocal say in how the females live their lives.  Despite technological, social even financial advances in Africa, this mindset still prevails in many areas leaving many women very vulnerable.

Physical or corporal violence is seen as the man’s way of asserting his authority –  in his family, in his household and in his community.  Many African countries have been occupied or annexed as part of an empire –  be it the British, French or even the Portuguese.  During this time, many of the people were put to work in menial jobs, whereas before they were respected. The loss of identity and loss of face was something that not even independence could fix.  Failures and limited success of restructuring programs coupled with increased globalization has been a key factor in exacerbating the problem of domestic violence.  By hitting either their wives or children, they can exert the manliness that they lost during these times.  Because this tradition is passed down, the sad cycle continues...

Violence is wrongly thought of as a way to maintain discipline in a household.  The notion of discipline is not taught to people in the correct way.  Discipline is about teaching and reinforcing desired behaviors, which paradoxically violence destroys.  The two are not the same, but in the African culture they are used interchangeably to sometimes devastating effect...

Underpinning all the reasons, is the underlying belief in African culture that men are the intellectual, financial and social superior. Thus, their authority especially in the private domains, i.e their family, is not to be questioned.  If it is threatened in any way, violence inevitably ensues.  Equality, until very recently, was not considered never mind discussed. 

So what needs to be done?  Can you change a culture or traditions? It is difficult but the journey to the ideal has to start somewhere and education and an open mind may be the key or else more lives will be destroyed by ignorance and that is the worst crime of all...