Clean sweep

2013-03-13 00:00

THE picture of the premier and MEC for Health visiting hospitals on Christmas Day to congratulate mothers who had given birth is still vivid in my elephantine memory. These were visits that left a bitter taste in my mouth and I’m sure some of the leaders I accompanied are also still reeling in disbelief and embarrassment by what they saw. They thought they had gone to the hospitals to congratulate mothers who had given birth to bouncing babies, but alas, and, to their amazement, the mothers were teenage children. This was a moral dilemma at its worst. When these young mothers were being given gifts by our leaders, I said a small prayer, praying that other girls who were watching would not be left with the impression that there is nothing wrong with falling pregnant as a teenager.

Research indicates that the number of teenage pregnancies, especially among school-going girls, is increasing at an alarming rate. It is reported that in the Western Cape about 2 000 pupils fall pregnant a year. In 2010 and 2011, 12 971 KZN schoolgirls fell pregnant. What boggles the mind is the idea of schools allowing pregnant schoolchildren to continue with their schooling until they give birth. What kind of message are we sending to other girls — that it is acceptable to get pregnant while attending school? As a lesson to other girls and a punishment to those falling pregnant, a strong message needs to be communicated that any child who is found pregnant will immediately leave school and come back after she has given birth.

Why has teenage pregnancy become so rampant? The sad truth is that there is a complete breakdown of family values and this, to a large extent, is largely attributed to parents. In fact, a sizeable number of parents have abdicated their responsibilities. Many parents are responsible for encouraging, albeit, unwittingly, the proliferation of teenage pregnancy. If, for example, by midnight a child, a girl for that matter, is not home, what does that say about parenting?

It is time for churches and families to sit down with our children and talk openly about sex. Parents are afraid of their children. You find parents berating their children for being inebriated when they have never sat down and warned their children about the dangers of imbibing liquor. Parents need to create a platform where they can engage one another actively and positively in matters of public concern, like teenage pregnancy and abuse of women in general. They need to create an environment where they can exchange ideas on how best to raise their children. The church could also play a role in helping to restore family values.

Liquor plays a big role in perpetuating unprotected sex which leads to unwanted pregnancies. Another contributory factor is TV with its programmes full of vulgar sex scenes. Some TV programmes require parental guidance, but parents sometimes turn a blind eye and allow their children to watch movies that they should not be watching.

Another factor contributing to teenage pregnancy is the government’s child grant. It is an open secret that some families are being sustained by these grants. Some girls are even encouraged to get pregnant to augment the family finances. Teenage pregnancy can also be caused by absence of recreational activities which would keep the children busy. And schools are found wanting in disseminating information on how children should lead their lives. And it is sad to see the proliferation of incidents where elderly women are being raped. What kind of man would rape a 91-year-old granny? We are indeed living in a tremendously depressing time.

Perhaps the moral quandary in which South African society finds itself is similar to what Myron H. Wahls, judge of the Michigan Appellate Court, observed about the United States in an address titled “The moral decay of America”. According to Wahls, the U.S. needs “... a rebirth of morality, for clearly we have managed to become a society morally confused, morally ambivalent and morally bankrupt. We have no clear and decisive sense of what is fundamentally wrong and what is fundamentally right. The nation’s conscience has become muted, or at best, ambivalent.”

This seems equally true about South African society.

I want to believe that it is not too late for the idea mooted in December last year by King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu. He organised a cleansing ceremony at Enyokeni Palace to counteract the effect of intelezi, which many used during the political violence that engulfed the province in the eighties and nineties, believing that it would either instill bravery in them or make them invincible. This is the very same intelezi that is being spoken about at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. What is sad is that after the end of the political violence, no effort was made to cleanse people, especially men, of whatever they had taken to protect themselves. We do not know what those substances have done to the mind-set of those who took them, but perhaps the king’s call for a national cleansing ceremony is apt, given the dastardly deeds that are being committed by men.

Is it not worth considering a mass roll-out of these cleansing ceremonies through all districts, with Amakhosi playing a pivotal role and psychologists and psychiatrists also involved?

• Dr Vusi Shongwe works in the Office of the KZN Premier. This article is written in his personal capacity.

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