25 November 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Igno van Niekerk
Rees Mann
Two days before International Men’s Day Rees Mann addressed Kovsies about their responsibility to fight against abuse and rape.

“Half-a-million men commit suicide every year across the world. Men in South Africa are four times more likely to commit suicide than women but we are not talking about it. We try to forget that it exists because we want to assume the role of what society says masculinity should be.” 

Rees Mann, ambassador at the South African Male Survivor of Sexual Abuse (SAMSOSA), made this shocking yet true statement at the first-ever Men’s Breakfast hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) on 17 November 2019. Mann shared his story of surviving rape and abuse with 140 other men on the Bloemfontein Campus.

The Breakfast took place just days before the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, a time when the nation will be on a drive to further awareness efforts around the issue.

Redefining masculinity and defying toxic masculinity

As a sexual assault survivor, Mann demonstrated what it looks like to lead by example in breaking the silence. “I still suffer from the consequences of being abused and raped. I have semi-facial dystonia, posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar and Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder but I manage each one of these issues. I am stronger than any other male who suffers in silence instead of seeing a psychologist.”

 “The sad reality is that when a male commits suicide everybody around him says ‘I didn’t know he was so depressed’ because mental health issues for us males are considered a weakness,” said Mann. 

Having walked the walk, Mann believes that seeking help is a sign of strength. “It is time for us men to take a stand and define our own masculinity,” he added.

Ending a vicious cycle

Mann pleaded with Kovsie men to join in the fight against the cycle of violence in South Africa. His fear is that if men do not heal themselves and introspect, the cycle of violence and gender-based violence will continue in this country. “Hurt people hurt people. Toxic masculinity kills not only me but women and children too.”

While debunking the myth surrounding rape victims always transforming into rapists, he acknowledged there is a percentage of males who were raped and abused who go on to become rapists and abusers. However, there are also perpetrators who were never sexually assaulted. The onus, according to Mann, is on all males to fight against these crimes to prevent history from repeating itself, in turn making South Africa a safer space for all who live in it.

Why these conversations are critical

Lemena Thebe, a senior officer at Student Academic Services who attended the Men’s Breakfast, was of the view that dialogue is an essential part of the process in the fight against rape, abuse and violence.

“I realised that we as men need to speak out about our challenges. Whether we were victims as boys or suffered any type of abuse as adults, we don’t have to be ashamed,” said Thebe.

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