“The significance (of housing the exhibition in the Slave Lodge) becomes pronounced when one realises that the San and Khoi, considered the first people/nation of South Africa were, together with their descendants, classified by the colonial and apartheid system as ‘coloured’ people. The men in this exhibition are descendants of people who were enslaved, including the indigenous Khoi/San. They have survived the relentless abuse of ‘coloured’ identity by systems such as colonialism and apartheid and social engineering designed to ensure that ‘coloured’ males do not progress beyond a certain level of civilization in South Africa.”- MAD Patron, Dr Ruben R. Richards
THE QUEST FOR HUMAN DIGNITY IN THE FACE OF OPPRESSION
What does it take for an African man to live his humanity in a way that affirms life and respects the dignity of others, especially women? In the stories of the 14 ‘coloured’ African men from *the Cape Flats who participated in the Men Affirming Dignity (MAD) exhibition, the African philosophy of Ubuntu offers some insight into the nature of their humanity. Ubuntu states that a human being is only human through other human beings. “Ubuntu is the very essence of being human. It means that my humanity is inextricably bound up in your humanity.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu). The men in the exhibition upend the dominant profiling of black men as essentially violent and immoral – hence the acronym MAD. They do not see themselves as “heroes”, “good” or “real” men – they live ordinary lives whilst navigating histories of oppression and often radical dehumanisation.
ORIGINS OF MAD
The African continent, and South Africa in particular, is reeling from centuries of oppression in the forms of slavery, colonialism, and apartheid. Rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy, these systems normalised a belief that God created black people and women to be subordinate to white people and men — and institutionalised the denial of black people’s humanity and agency. These beliefs continue to erode the soul of oppressor and oppressed alike. Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the most tragic outcomes in South Africa. However, while the GBV pandemic continues to dominate national and international discourses, little is told about African men who do not oppress women in intimate relationships and family life. This MAD initiative was inspired by SAFFI Founder – Elizabeth Hoorn Petersen’s – desire to acknowledge the humanity of African men like her father, Daniel Hoorn. Growing up, she witnessed that Daniel never used abuse, shaming or violence at home with her mother and eight siblings. These qualities not only affirmed the dignity of his family but enriched the lives of countless people in the community. Elizabeth believed that contrary to popular portrayals of black men as violent, much was not being said about non-violent black men. Daniel’s ways of being human served as the catalyst for MAD.
“The MAD initiative does not romanticise black men, but serves as a catalyst to amplify the humanity not only of ‘coloured’ African men on the Cape Flats but black men in South Africa, on the African continent and in the diaspora. Our quest is to heal relations between women and men; whilst asserting the often muted, life-affirming narratives and social histories of African people.”– SAFFI Founder & Executive Director, Elizabeth Hoorn Petersen
GET MAD – GET INVOLVED!
The MAD exhibition was launched on Freedom Day, 27 April 2021 at the Iziko Slave Lodge. Schools and communities are encouraged to visit the exhibition and/or to invite SAFFI to explore ways in which they can participate in the MAD initiative. The exhibition is a catalyst to acknowledge the humanity of African men and to contribute to indigenous knowledge about what it means to be human in oppressive and dehumanising contexts. This can be expressed through art, music and dance.
RECLAIMING MEMORIES, AMPLIFYING HISTORY The Iziko Museums of South Africa in partnership with SAFFI, is committed to reclaiming the memory and histories of the many lives that were forever changed by the slave trade as conveyed in the museum’s overarching theme: ‘From human wrongs to human rights’.