I’m OK only if you’re OK

If I were a parent, I’d be pretty upset with the Education Department: it’s taking them weeks to deal properly with five teachers accused of paying their pupils for sexual favours in the science labs.

Health24 columnist Joanne Hart summed up the many levels of outrage: statutory rape, shattered professional ethics, abuse of community and school trust, unprotected sex (one pupil allegedly became pregnant) in an HIV/Aids hotbed...

It gets worse. Since a group of 20 pupils gathered themselves to report the abuse to the department’s district director (note that they didn’t go to the school authorities, surely an easier move), they themselves have come under attack. A couple of them have been transferred to other schools to get away from threats and intimidation from their fellow pupils, and from the teachers themselves.

Umlazi, south of Durban, seems like a hard place to live. The last time we heard news from that part of the world was last year when HIV/Aids patients were robbed of their antiretroviral medication by merchants who crush and mix the drugs with marijuana. Oh, and there was the time, also last year, when the good citizens in a part of that city instituted a ban on women wearing pants, and stripped one woman of her pants in public in order to make their point.

Empathy and human rights don’t get much air in an environment like that, and one must applaud the pupils who had the courage to insist on their human rights. In a normal society, children go to their parents (or, if not, their parents are paying enough attention to spot abuse as wide-ranging and long-term as this reportedly has been). In a normal society, patients who’re beating the non-compliancy issues so common with long-term medication, don’t get hijacked for their life-saving drugs. In a normal society, women don’t go through public humiliation, especially over some archaic prejudice.

Umlazi is, sadly, hardly unique. Youth Day is coming up. Let’s remember its origins, in the Soweto uprisings, and the reason for those uprisings. They were (rightly) expressed in political terms, but in essence they boiled down to the quality of life, and the quality of life denied. We’ve come a long way, but we’re still stuck with a society that misunderstands ubuntu. So let’s make that the challenge: live the philosophy that I am OK only if you are OK. And may the ripples spread through our friends, family and colleagues, into the wider society. And may the children, ultimately, be safe.

If you’re taking a long weekend, drive safely.
(Heather Parker, Health24, June 2009)

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