Keep our children safe

By Drum Digital
14 August 2014

THERE’S an African maxim that teaches us that “It takes a village to raise a child”. This was far more profound when communities and families cared for one another, when neighbourhoods were safe for their children.

Today, those safe villages are history. It’s evident in cases such as last year’s double murder of Diepsloot toddlers and cousins Yonelisa and Zandile Mali. Following the gruesome discovery of the Mali cousins in a communal toilet, the shell-shocked Diepsloot community was furious and feared for their children’s safety.

But where are the people  when innocent children are kidnapped, raped and murdered?

While bereaved families try to piece together these tragic jigsaw puzzles, the incidents become feeding troughs for the probing media and insensitive politicking.

Closer to home the Mali incident opened old wounds – exactly 23 years ago my baby sister’s life was cut short just like the Mali children’s.

Seeing Yonelisa and Zandile’s distraught mothers weeping during TV news bulletins brought back memories of my own mother’s ordeal. In stark contrast to the tumultuous situation in Diepsloot, the mood in our home village of Matseke in the Botlokwa area of Limpopo was sombre. The world did not come to a standstill, only we did . . .

Although media reports suggest that at least two children are killed in South Africa daily, this could be misleading as some incidents are never recorded. While you read this, somewhere an innocent child is probably being murdered. What’s so frightening is that these children are murdered by people they know, people who are supposed to protect them.

My baby sister, Mahlodi (which ironically means tears), was six years old when a blood cousin - someone she expected to keep her out of harm’s way - murdered her.

Mahlodi was born a few days after our mother had just lost another daughter, Mphalone (2), after battling with severe complications for long, painful months. By then, our distraught mom had already mysteriously lost three babies, making Mphalone and Mahlodi’s deaths the fourth and fifth respectively.

“Where is God when this is happening to us, what have we done to deserve this?” we asked among ourselves.

Meanwhile, the murderer was the son of our paternal aunt, who was cut from the same umbilical cord as our father. Imagine the tension among our family members as we failed to come to terms with one blood relative killing another.

It was a painful experience thought to have been left behind, but the recurring child murders have now raked ashes from the past.

The Mali killings incident not only reminds me of how a young, innocent life was curtailed, but of a host of travesties in the wake of the grisly murder case.

Dealing with issues ranging from limited resources at our disposal during the manhunt that followed my sister’s disappearance, to gross police ineptitude and the fiasco in the courtroom, it’s difficult to find closure. The police, notorious for their gross incompetence, would only gather information from our other younger sister, who was not even 10 years old at the time.

The media were non-existent (not that we wanted to become instant celebrity victims) and there were no public protests (of course we didn’t want to see violence) in this close-knit rural village, still renowned for its serenity.

It was business as usual, sparing us unnecessary questions about the whereabouts of our parents at the time of Mahlodi’s disappearance. They were, for the record, both at work, thinking that Mahlodi was in safe hands.

The pain inflicted by the incident was only limited to our family and after the emotionally-charged funeral, everyone retired to their comfort zones.  With no social worker to offer

us, the grief-stricken family, counselling, the words “every man for himself” became an excruciating reality.

Then the trials and tribulations began anew with a low-key court case. Only a handful of sympathisers crammed into a Toyota Hiace panel van to get to the local magistrate’s court. The court proceedings were nothing but a charade, with the culprit receiving a lame sentence.

Since then we have come to accept that violence affects all South Africans, with the trauma thereof having enduring physical, emotional and often financial consequences.

Unfortunately South Africa does not have a comprehensive strategy that guides government departments, civil society organisations and the public, and encourages practical ways to reduce interpersonal violence. This means that the police, who are largely ill-trained, are encumbered with the problem – a mammoth task for one institution to confront.

Child safety in this country is a major concern, with incidents of parental negligence well-documented in the media. Even reports suggest that parents are so negligent that they have no idea where their children are half of the day. It’s quite mind-boggling and haunting to see children wander the streets, walk to the shops and frolic in parks without parental supervision.

Adult supervision might not always be possible, due to work commitments, but we’ve also seen cases where children are raised on the streets because their often unemployed parents binge drink. This makes me ask: why are these parents not looking after their children? And also, why aren’t you? After all, it takes a village to raise a child.

By Moyahabo Mabeba

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