Their deaths were preventable. We are failing our children – Ramaphosa

Many of the recent tragedies involving children could have been prevented if measures had been taken to keep these children out of harm’s way, says President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
Many of the recent tragedies involving children could have been prevented if measures had been taken to keep these children out of harm’s way, says President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

South Africa needs a culture of responsibility. This was the word from President Cyril Ramaphosa who, in a strongly worded message to the nation on Monday morning, said that “we are failing our children”.

“There is a proverb common to many African cultures which says that it takes a village to raise a child. This idea – that the broader community has a responsibility for the development, well-being and safety of each child – comes to mind when I think about the tragic and deeply upsetting death of 13-year-old Enock Mpianzi on a school camp just over a week ago,” Ramaphosa said.

He acknowledged that Mpianzi was not the only child in recent weeks to lose his life for reasons that were entirely preventable, if only adults had exercised due care and responsibility.

“One thinks of another 13-year-old, Keamohetswe Shaun Seboko, who recently drowned in the swimming pool of a Magaliesburg primary school, and the two children who died at the Lekgolo Primary School in Limpopo when a truck crashed into a wall that collapsed on them.

“One thinks also about the many children, like 6-year-old Nathlia Pienaar, who are killed in the crossfire of gang wars on the Cape Flats. We remember also the tragic deaths of Michael Komape and Lumka Mkethwa, both of whom died after falling into pit latrines.

Michael Komape, two months before he died

“All of those young lives, and the lives of many others, need never have been lost. All these tragedies could have been prevented if measures had been taken to keep these children out of harm’s way.

It seems to me that, as a society, we are failing our children,” he said.

Ramaphosa added that too many children find themselves in dangerous situations, whether it is on a makeshift raft on a river or being left alone in a shack with a paraffin lamp. When contractors leave excavations unprotected or school infrastructure is not maintained or school transport is overcrowded, the lives of children are put at risk.

Gates are locked at Nyathi Bush and River Break Lodge where Enock Mpianzi drowned while on a school camp. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

“But there is more than negligence and neglect at work. Many children are targeted by sexual predators, criminal gangs and drug sellers precisely because they are vulnerable. As a society, we need to be more diligent and more active in protecting our children from these and other dangers.

“As a society, we need to build a culture of responsibility.”

Ramaphosa said that, just as adults need to ensure that children are able to grow up in a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment, so too must South Africans feel a duty to protect and care for all those who we know and interact with.

This duty of care needed to extend to when South Africans are on the road.

He welcomed the drop in road fatalities over this festive season, but said that the grim reality was that more than 1600 people died on our roads in just a month and a half.

“It is disturbing that over 9000 motorists were arrested for offences including drunk driving, speeding, and reckless and negligent driving. A culture of responsibility means that we should all drive safely and respect the rights of pedestrians and other road users.”

And uninvolved fathers were also addressed. Ramaphosa said that: “A culture of responsibility means that fathers need to be present in the lives of their children”.

“Too many women have to raise children on their own, which often limits their prospects and those of their children.”

He also touched on the culture of sex, drugs and booze, and urged people to practice safe sex and not expose themselves or others to HIV.

“We should not abuse alcohol or use drugs. We should seek to live healthy lives so that we avoid diseases that are largely preventable and live longer lives.”

And added that elected officials and public servants, who are entrusted with the responsibility, need to ensure the safety and well-being of citizens.

“They must ensure that there is adequate and safe infrastructure in schools. They must act quickly when there is an interruption to water supply in a communities or when faulty streetlights are reported. They must ensure that health and safety regulations are enforced and that the rule of law is maintained.”

Ramaphosa said that to give effect to this responsibility, government sometimes had to take extraordinary measures.

“In response to the deaths and injury caused by children falling into pit latrines, we launched the SAFE initiative to accelerate the provision of appropriate toilets to all schools in the country. We deployed the South African National Defence Force to parts of Cape Town to support the police in their efforts to reduce gang violence. More recently, we have, together with civil society, embarked on an emergency response plan to end violence against women and children,” he said.

“Yet, there is clearly much more that we need to do, as government and as a society.”

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