Zweli Dlambili signed up to be a mentor in the Primestars ‘What About the Boys?’ programme and has found the work being done, healing for himself too.
Nelspruit, South Africa (08 December 2023) – A Nelspruit man working with schoolboys to help them address issues of toxic masculinity and gender-based violence says that although he’s helping impart important life lessons, he’s receiving the real gift – that of being able to heal himself.
Zweli Dlambili, 38, is employed as an auditor but works extensively with young men via his church. This led to him joining the ground-breaking What About the Boys? programme as a mentor and working in local schools to help deliver the content to the learners.
As the country marks another 16 Days of Activism against Woman and Children, What About the Boys? sets its sights on creating change by working with those who grow up to be responsible for much of the violence – young men.
“We believe in their ability to be better men, and because I also come from a township it helps me to build a relationship with them,” says Dlambili.
Created by youth development expert Primestars, What About the Boys? has been run across South African schools for the last two years and reached more than 30,000 male learners with the aim of fostering a deeper understanding of toxic masculinity and harmful stereotypes that perpetuate violence against women. It also aims to challenge traditional expectations of manhood that contribute to the problem by introducing positive male role models to promote respectful relationships.
The programme encompasses multi-media content – including an educational booklet and online resources, as well as ongoing mentorship sessions – to deeply engage boys in discussions about their identity, new norms of masculinity as well as gender-based violence and its impact.
The first session in the programme involves the learners watching the What About the Boys? movie, which introduces themes of bullying, gender-based violence and LGBT rights. This is a useful way of starting the discussion, says Dlambili, as they then move on to self-development and a deeper engagement in the following three sessions.
Many of the boys he works with live in an environment where interpersonal violence is normalised.
“It is not an unusual response for them to believe that at some point you may have to raise your hand to another, or to ignore violence between others because it’s none of your business and that’s the way people deal with their issues. But once you really start engaging and internalising the lessons of how you wouldn’t let it happen to your sister or your mother, it’s easier for them to understand that it shouldn’t happen to anyone else,” says Dlambili.
The programme’s insistence that the lessons be imparted by positive male role models, with the intention of building long-term, meaningful relationships, is what sets it apart from quick-fix interventions.
“It’s quite saddening when you engage with the boys and ask around about their background, you find a large number of them stay with either their grannies or mothers, but they don’t have a father figure at home. These boys don’t have people that they look up to. They don’t have mentors around the area. The thing they look up to is the quick fix, the easy money – they’ll see men who are driving BMWs, into spinning cars, and will find that appealing.”
The impact report from the 2022 What About the Boys? rollout shows that the programme is creating a measurable change in attitudes and behaviour – and it has received a variety of accolades. They include hosting an official Presidential Dialogue with high school boys with President Cyril Ramaphosa and being invited to contribute to African Union’s Impact paper on Positive Masculinity and GBV prevention.
But for Dlambili the rewards are much more personal.
“Even though we are mentors, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are perfect. We’ve also experienced challenges and difficulties in life. We didn’t have it all at some point. We would also go to bed hungry, wake up and have to go to school,” he says.
“But throughout all those circumstances, we managed to get where we are. It has actually allowed me to heal, because as I relate my story, I am able to witness the journey of where I came from and where I am now.”