In South Africa, addressing pervasive violence in every iteration must become a collective responsibility. Youth-based, education-driven, grassroots CSI projects offer great hope and a chance to reimagine our society and its norms, writes Jenni Lee, Head of Business of Markham, member of TFG.
The pervasiveness of crime and violence in South Africa
The effects of violent conduct in all its heinous forms continue to inflict considerable trauma and suffering throughout all strata of our society, leaving a trail of destruction and despair in its wake, as the families and communities of the victims, survivors and perpetrators attempt to make sense of the tragedy and reconstruct the pieces.
South Africa’s crime statistics and numbers make for difficult reading. They highlight how great the challenge of crime and violent conduct that we are confronting is, and equally how seemingly inadequate our law enforcement agencies are at quelling it. Furthermore, the painstakingly slow rate at which the wheels of justice seem to turn adds coarse sea salt to this open wound.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is acknowledged as the most common form of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country. Statistics South Africa’s Crimes Against Women in South Africa report of 2021 estimated that incidents of IPV affect one in every five women. SaferSpaces research reveals that as many as 40% of South African women have experienced sexual and or physical IPV in their lifetime. Of the murders committed in the 2020-21 year, only 15% have been solved, and less than 7% of the rape cases reported to the police in 2012, a decade ago, have resulted in a guilty verdict.
More recently, the 2021 July unrest, the worst manifestation of violence in democratic South Africa, which claimed the lives of more than 350 people and cost R50 billion in damages, proved the fragile nature of the measures, checks and balances intended to maintain law and order in our society. If populist and vigilante movements such as Operation Dudula, that stoke inflammatory anti-migrant sentiments continue to be left unabated, the likelihood that the country could experience another wave of explosive violence remains high, as warned by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the high commissioner.
Corporate social investment as a catalyst for societal change
The Trialogue Knowledge Hub defines, corporate social investment (CSI) as, “the provision of cash, services, products, staff time and more. It is external to the core function of a business, and is therefore not undertaken to pursue revenue, although there are other benefits to the business”. Owing to the country’s history of unjust and racialised discrimination and the present day triple challenge of inequality, poverty and unemployment, CSI projects that promote development, address inequality and empower marginalised individuals and communities are commonplace and among the most popular.
As corporates continue to prioritise ‘triple bottom line’ considerations, which is valuing people, the planet and profits equally, CSI projects have become increasingly interwoven and multifaceted. The rise of private-public partnerships, multi stakeholder and cross sector initiatives are underpinned by the appreciation that systemic change, such as curbing the high levels of violence in society, require collaboration from influential structures, business, the government and civil society.
Sadly, Trialogue’s Business in Society Handbook, which tracks CSI spend, revealed that half of the companies they track decreased CSI expenditure during 2021, citing the effects of the pandemic and lower corporate profits. While this diminished support can be rationalised, corrective action must be taken. The wellbeing and livelihoods of countless South Africans are dependent on various CSI projects. At this time, given the socio-economic turmoil, ecological crisis and tattered social fabric, greater support is needed.
What About The Boys initiative
TFG, a Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) listed retail clothing group, has since 2019 made concerted efforts to address the pervasiveness of violence in the country through various campaigns, initiatives and CSI projects, informed by the group’s drive to create a better world. Markham, as a member of TFG developed a three pillar strategy of creating better men for the future, protection and educate to empower to guide its CSI.
The What About The Boys (WATB) initiative aims to bring an end to all forms of violence, with the focus on GBV. The programme, which is run by Primestars, a youth development driven organisation, was launched at the JSE this year on 30 June. WATB plans to reach as many as 10,000 boy children and through open dialogue, educational theatre and support services deconstruct and reconstruct the ideas around masculinity, violent behaviours, patriarchy, discrimination and tolerance.
The intention is for the programme to have a butterfly effect and snowball into a greater societal movement with buy-in from multiple stakeholders. Indifference or ambivalence to unacceptable levels of violence in the country can no longer be tolerated, individuals, communities, business, and government alike must take a stand and begin to mould righteous citizens capable of reimagining our society and its norms.
For this vision to truly take effect, greater buy-in is needed. This Women’s month, Markham urges other corporations, and broader society to join, collaborate or partner with the WATB initiatives, because curbing violence is a collective responsibility and investment to the future prosperity of the nation.