“The only stories we can truly transform are the ones we are willing to own. ​Gender based violence is our story.”

“#JustMen is the last project I worked on in my path as a theatre maker working under the name Heinrich Reisenhofer, it was a very impactful three year project of activism that was about trying to take a look at what sustainable and meaningful transformation could look like in this arena of wounded masculinity. The issue of GBV is of course deeply systemic so this project was really leading my journey towards  the need for a spiritual rebirthing of the sacred masculine in our contemporary world.
At the time it was a very personal project for me about bringing healing and transformation into the theatre space and engaging a brave and vulnerable conversation about men taking responsibility, not just for the men we want to be, but the kind of world we want to be part of.  It is inspired by remarkable programmes I had participated in such as the Mankind Project that asks the question: what do we as men need to address about ourselves to transform these issues? With the worldwide outbreak of the #MeToo disclosures, which had seen countless women breaking the silence on sexual harassment and assault, it had been a long time coming for men to take collective ownership of what is, at its core, a man’s issue. Moreover, the frequent cases of abuse, rape and murder perpetrated against children and women in South Africa and other countries, had reached explosive and unacceptable proportions.

#JustMen is an attempt to heed the critical need for action and change this frightening reality as it tackles the problem head-on. This brand new project, made possible through funding from the City of Cape Town, is a clarion call to address the issue.”  Hymnj


These were some of the thoughts percolating in my head after watching #JustMen, the courageous initiative created by director Heinrich Reisenhofer and his cast at the Baxter. It’s hard to put into a category – part documentary, part dramatisation, featuring four award-winning actors who share their own, deeply personal stories on a theatre stage. It’s catharsis as theatre, disclosure as activism, with a deeply felt call-to-action as a conclusion.

#JustMen was conceived in response to the ever-growing reality of gender violence in South Africa. Yes, there have been prior productions which have highlighted a range of connected issues, from rape to domestic abuse and more. But the majority of these are about women (and children) as victims and survivors. I can’t actually recall a work that actively placed men at the centre of accountability. That made a link between an individual act and a general scourge. And that tasked audiences – male audiences – with a specific responsibility to stand up, be counted, and try to make a difference.

All of which #JustMen encompasses.

The format is simple – four men on stage, who acknowledge their complicit role in the continued abuse of women in South Africa. Who, through honestly and painfully recounting aspects of their past (and present), recognise and draw the links between laughing at a sexist joke, whistling at a passing woman, thoughtlessly moving from bed to bed, raising a hand in annoyance, expecting sex as a service – and rape. It’s hard stuff, this, made all the more so knowing it is from the heart.

Strenuous personal unpacking

All four actors plus Reisenhofer, chose to take part in this process, undergoing a strenuous personal unpacking for weeks before the production was put together, built on the parts that had been taken out and laid bare. Loukman Adams, Thando Doni, Sherman Pharo and Johan Baird are all seriously talented stage people – household names, some of them – and to see their emotional acknowledgement of where they had gone wrong, been complicit, or repeated patterns they had sworn to reject, was raw. And strangely although not unexpectedly, poetic – taken their combined acting experience.

The result is a show that needs to be seen – but most importantly, needs to be seen by men. This is essential. For many women, it’s a road already experienced and understood. It is not our job, as victims, survivors and activists, to continually educate men on how badly they have fucked up. Just as I honestly believe it is not the role of black people to spend their time helping white people to understand privilege. Or to be expected to sympathise with white tears.

Big audience to reach

The team has already taken a step in terms of inviting (just) men to stay behind after each performance to talk. The challenge is going to be to get men to come in the first place. Schools, colleges, corporate, businesses need to get with this programme. And perhaps, once it has finished its run at the Baxter, #JustMen needs to be travel more broadly. 49.5% of the South African population is male, so there’s a big audience to reach.

It’s a beginning. And not a bad one.