Values-driven campaign

2007-11-27 00:00

In light of the wave of crime terrorising our society, I applaud Premier S’bu Ndebele’s initiative to “help create a new order in which men and women are equal members of society” through the KwaZulu-Natal Men’s Forum (The Witness, November 10). This forum was launched at a prayer meeting for the families who have lost loved ones in Umzinto at the hands of a serial killer and his accomplice.

The KwaZulu-Natal director-general Dr Kwazi Mbanjwa spoke at the prayer meeting and said that the killing of women in Umzinto “reflects a sickness”. This sickness often begins with an emotionally impoverished childhood. I believe that strong moral leaders need to impart positive values about parenting at community level to help our society combat crime in the long term.

Sociology tells us that the structure of African families has changed dramatically due to migrant labour, influx control, forced removals and cultural and religious influences. The concept that women and children are subordinate seems to be the only remnant of patriarchy, leaving the single mother, or matriarchal household with none of the previous structural benefits, like better protection, of an extended family.

With this context in mind, it is evident that the value of women and children and the importance of fathering should be emphasised in African culture today, taught through community events and the media and initiated and propagated by strong leadership.

It is time for a regenerated African culture to emerge — one where women and children are given more status and protection. I will focus on children today.

Theorists generally argue that the core of an individual’s personality is formed before the age of six years. Behaviourists agree. The nation’s concept of childhood needs to be reformed, based on psychological theories, that show how critical childhood development is in moulding adult personalities.

A child who is born to a 15-year-old rape victim and thrown down a latrine is not likely to grow up as a positive member of our society if his or her dire circumstances continue along a similar trajectory. A child needs love and emotional support and a positive role model to emulate. As good behaviour is learned, violence is learned. Perhaps the KwaZulu-Natal Men’s Forum could also educate fathers and potential fathers on the basic concepts of social learning theory, making them aware of their important role in the shaping of future adults.

I am not qualified to comment on the mental status of violent criminals, but I would be very interested to hear the diagnoses of experts. I wonder how often psychologists and psychiatrists interview criminals (once safely behind bars) to ascertain their pathology and to gain knowledge about their motives. I often feel flabbergasted at the brutality of crime and wonder what sort of criminal mind is at work.

I propose that the government, in consultation with psychologists; needs to construct a values-driven campaign aimed at transforming the nation so that the children of our future do not grow up to be maladjusted. I envisage that these values could be imparted to the nation through an extensive community initiative, where political leaders work with churches and other community groups to inform and educate.

The KZN Men’s Forum launch is a positive example of the role the government could play in values-driven education through community gatherings.

A values-driven campaign should go hand in hand with a campaign encouraging teenage contraception and strongly discouraging teen pregnancies. It seems necessary to state the obvious, that we would begin to break the cycle of poverty and crime if only wanted children came into the world, or children that parents could afford to nurture. The government needs a focused, sincere campaign discouraging teen pregnancies, backed up by continued subsidisation of Depo- Provera injections.

The country is reeling with collective shock about the increasing prevalence of violent crime. The reality is that crime will continue to spiral out of control, regardless of increases in the size of the police force and improvements to the criminal justice system if the root of the problem is not addressed.

One way to break this cycle would be through community education that focuses on the importance of childhood development. I would like to add that child neglect is not only an African cultural problem or a South African problem.

It is a worldwide problem, but my focus is obviously local.

• Kate Richards is a full-time mother, freelance copywriter and aspiring writer.

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