It takes a village

2013-02-22 00:00

ONE positive thing that we can deduce from all the depressing news of gender-based violence, rape and killings of women and children is that finally South Africans are getting vocal about it. This is one of the necessary steps needed to spark the dialogue for collective action. Thanks to our media houses for prioritising this subject. But associated with this sad reality of gender-based violence are many other sensitive and contradicting realities that we as a society need to talk about, so that we can make informed decisions for the benefit of our children. At the end of the day, all efforts to instil societal values, love and respect for life are compromised by the very decisions we make. Children are good at normalising and rationalising our behaviours and reproducing them later in life.

First is the single-parenting saga. Many parents abdicate their parenting responsibilities when relationships fail. Take divorce for instance. It is common knowledge that men are by and large culprits of this malpractice. In the same equation, we should acknowledge the many surrogate mothers out there.

Why do some of us choose to run away from paying maintenance? Why do some parents think that education and shelter are free?

I want to point out to you the devastating emotional pain this inflicts on single parents. Besides rationalising and normalising the practice for the children, single parents have to put up with many tricks orchestrated by the less responsible partners. When a relationship fails, the less responsible partner often literally “buys” the love and vulnerable souls of the children by providing them with lifestyle gadgets like classy cellular phones, fashion, and going to the extent of making meagre deposits into children’s bank accounts. This is emotionally destructive for the partner who stays with the children, the partner who pays for school fees and sees to the everyday welfare of the children.

We know that these mega provisions (the basic needs) are hardly recognised and appreciated by the children. The little gadgets and R10 airtime bank transfers, however, make a huge impact on them. In some cases, cunning teenagers may start playing parents off against each other by using the conflict to maximise their freedom. Many single parents have to deal with this every day.

Second is the destructive nature of technology. Development and technological advancement are good for any nation. The challenge comes when parents ignore the destructive side of technology. Many negative effects of technology are known to us and much has been said about cellular phones and social networks. Teachers are screaming on the periphery and we as parents are not listening. We prioritise expensive cellular phones over education needs. We let our children eat junk food and spend their time playing on the PlayStation. By letting them do this, we are in a way denying them time to play, time to exercise, time to explore, time to discover and time to build their cognitive capacities. At the same time, we know that obesity is a health hazard, made worse when we choose to stay in a block of flats or a packed residence.

Third, we are unable to substitute the role that our grandmothers used to play in nurturing our humanity and wellbeing. Sadly, many young grandmothers of today are paralysed by late adolescence and are still in the fast lane. This is the reality we have to face. We no longer have grandmothers who sit at home and bond with their grandchildren. I may sound nostalgic. Back in the day, grannies used to spend time with their grandchildren, loving them and teaching them good societal values and those many little things that craft good citizens.

Pressures to achieve good things in life tend to push us to throw our children into boarding schools and boarding houses, and wait for a miracle to happen. We leave it to poor boarding masters to make those critical decisions in life. Some families leave their young ones in the hands of transport operators. You will be amazed to see young children packed like sardines in a van and dropped at school as early as 6 am. Sadly, some of them return home just before dusk. When do these children bond with their parents? The results may be devastating and could only show up later in life. They bond with their peers, they create their own culture and they live their reality. We may be failing our children.

Feeling that this is too much to handle? Not all is lost. We have friends, relatives and neighbours. These are societal institutions. Why are we not using them? You may be surprised that a work colleague or somebody you know has survived worse. This is a free source of support and we should be strengthening it by speaking out. We should be making these networks informal platforms of dialogue and engagement. The more we talk openly about these abuses at work, at play, in church and in any other community settings, the more chances we create to win supporters and make such a societal priority.

The bottom line is that we want our children to be and get civil, loving, responsible and caring partners in the future. That starts with us.

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant.

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