You Can't Just Fold Your Arms
Can’t Just Fold Your Arms - a year in the life of Sonke Gender Justice Network’s quest to transform men in post-Apartheid South Africa
A 52-minute documentary film
Across the world, men are joining with women to prevent domestic and sexual violence, reduce the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS and promote less restrictive, more flexible gender roles. This new and growing movement is an untold story of HIV and AIDS and gender activism in the 21st century, part of a broader human rights and social change agenda for the coming decades.
Founded in 2006 by veterans of the anti-apartheid movement and AIDS activism, Sonke Gender Justice Network has pioneered a powerful mix of trainings and workshops, policy work at the highest levels of government and advocacy work to address HIV and AIDS, and gender-based violence.
Can’t Just Fold Your Arms follows three high-profile senior Sonke and a small team of Sonke’s younger men as they train, discuss, debate, listen, lecture, laugh, march, sing, inspire, explain, worry, plan, pray, toyi-toyi, criticize, distribute men’s and women’s condoms, coax, question, organize, and wrestle with South Africa’s post-Apartheid realities. A hate speech lawsuit that Sonke brings against a prominent ANC leader provides the main narrative.
With the world’s highest levels of HIV, of intimate partner violence, and of rape, South Africa is a gender war zone. Despite decades of liberation struggle and a legacy that includes the world's most progressive constitution and women’s prominence at every level of government, women largely remain a battered and HIV-infected underclass in post-Apartheid South Africa.
Using the language of the anti-apartheid struggle, the country’s constitution and the health and human rights discourse popularized by the global AIDS advocacy movement, Sonke carefully navigates its way forward: working with government while also confronting it; mobilizing men to publicly support women’s rights while challenging them to change their behaviour in their daily lives.
Can’t Just Fold Your Arms is an inspiring story of moral commitment, a striking portrait of South Africa, and a necessary warts-and-all how-to look at the reality of ‘ engaging’ men against HIV and for women’s rights and gender transformation. There are also lots of laughs and great
Detailed Narrative of film
Shot in the head during an anti-apartheid protest in 1986, Mbuyiselo Botha remains paralyzed on his left side. Irreverent, energetic and predictably unpredictable, Botha uses his disability to ‘ engage’ – charm and disarm – the young men he speaks to. He is Sonke’s premier showman. Botha also leads the headline-making ‘David vs.Goliath’ fight to bring Julius Malema, the belligerent ANC Youth League president, to the Equality Court for hate speech against women.
Patrick Godana, a veteran of the ANC guerrilla force and of Apartheid’s prison and torture, is also deeply shaped by his past. Godana’s nightmares still wake him in a cold sweat. Working to change other men has helped heal Godana. After the success of the Anti-Apartheid struggle, he tells fellow protestors, you had to be concerned about the plight of women: “We can’t just fold arms and leave that unchallenged.”
Godana, head of Sonke’s flagship One Man Can campaign, supervises a team of young Black township-based trainers, including Leo Mbobi. As Mbobi and his colleagues distribute condoms in the poorest parts of the township, they tell with bittersweet laughter tales of local ANC corruption. In the taverns that are the townships social centers, the team gets men, young and old, to speak about and question dominant notions of manhood, which contribute to violence and the spread of HIV.
Godana and other senior Black staff remain steadfastly ANC. But they are increasingly critical. The country’s future president, ANC leader Jacob Zuma, had been on trial for allegedly ‘date-raping’ the daughter of a close ANC colleague. Government corruption is also on the rise.
Sonke’s co-founder and director, Dean Peacock, is another principal character. Peacock, who sits on the UN Secretary General’s 20-person global Network of Men Leaders, is white. The End Conscription Campaign poster in Peacock's office indicates a long-term activism that started in the mid-1980s under Apartheid.
During a disagreement with Godana about voting for the ANC, Peacock tells him that he had gone to work in Nicaragua because he believed in the Sandinistas’ revolutionary project. But then he was disappointed by the massive corruption, just as he is now of the ANC. Peacock also lambastes a former South African Minister of Health who as a senior advisor to the country’s president continues to rail against anti-retroviral treatment and instead propose ineffective vitamins and traditional remedies against HIV.
With Botha and others, Peacock urges increased advocacy against government and ANC misdeeds. Peacock is determined to find the right target and right tactic for advocacy and the right several-word message to focus Sonke’s work.
On a radio talk show, Peacock explains that Sonke is optimistic about changing men. He and others even take heart from the frightening statistic that a quarter of men in one South African province admitted to raping – that means three-quarters of men in a community are potential spokespersons against rape.
Can’t Just Fold Your Armsis a nuanced, candid and impassioned story of the struggle to ‘ engage men’ against HIV and for gender justice in a South Africa struggling with high levels of violence and HIV and AIDS.