Mamphela Ramphele: Celebrating and leveraging Gogos in our society

Gogos are the bedrock of South African society and as such more should be done to ensure that their positive influence over, especially young men, be supported and encouraged, says the writer
Gogos are the bedrock of South African society and as such more should be done to ensure that their positive influence over, especially young men, be supported and encouraged, says the writer
Lefty Shivambu, Gallo Images

Supporting Gogos to support young parents - single or married - would be the most cost-effective way of repairing our broken social fabric and reducing, and ultimately eliminating violence, writes Mamphela Ramphele

Gogos are invaluable and rarely acknowledged assets in our society.  

Most high achievers from the poorest households in our deeply divided and iniquitous society attribute their success to the love and support of their Gogos.

Siyabulela Kolisi, the World Cup winning Springbok captain, is the most recent example.  

He speaks with passion about his grandmother who raised him.  

As an offspring of a teenage mother and a young man still in high school, he was provided with a loving, predictable and orderly home.  

He was insulated from the humiliation of material poverty by love.

Human love is regarded by neuroscientists as the most important ingredient of healthy early childhood development enabling both cognitive and emotional skills development.

Siya's Gogo paved his way to the captaincy by enabling him to develop self-knowledge, regulation and self confidence to develop mastery long before he could touch a rugby ball.

Empathy is the most essential emotional skill enabling social relationships.  

It underlies virtually everything that makes society work - trust, altruism, collaboration, love, charity.  Failure to empathise is at the heart of most social problems - crime, violence, war, racism, sexism, child abuse, and inequity.  

As we wind down another brutally violent 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, during which almost everyday one or more women died the most unspeakably brutal violent deaths, we need to recognise that we have to approach this differently.  

We need to note the extent to which the attackers pour out their rage in the brutality of the rapes and the multiplicity of stab wounds on their victims.  Burning the bodies of the victims seems to also becoming an additional avenue to violate the victim. 

It is against the intensity of the brutality of this violence that we need to recognise and celebrate the increasing role of civil society organisations in reaching out to boys and young men through interventions to address gender-based violence.  

Engaging boys and young men is essential to provide them with the essential therapeutic loving embrace that is vital to the development of cognitive and emotional skills so they can grow into loving empathetic citizens. 

Embracing boys and young people is urgently needed given that almost seven in every 10 boy children grow up without a father, and that those who do live with their fathers are often exposed to regular, brutal violence in the home.  

Their chaotic domestic and community environments predispose them to respond to stress with extreme fight or flight actions.  Only long-term interventions have a chance of turning them into resilient self-confident people.

We should be particularly grateful to people like Teko Modise and his colleagues in the soccer community who have taken on the role of big brothers to many young people growing up in townships starting this December holiday.  

Introducing sports, promotes healthier inter-personal engagement, team skills building and collaboration opportunities that are critical to the development of a sense of self-worth and mastery.  

Sports also provides an outlet for energy that stimulates positive hormones and enzymes.  

Chaotic threatening environments in which more than 80% of our young people grow up in, unleash debilitatingly high levels of cortisol associated with stress.  

Without deliberate long-term interventions, these high levels of cortisol lead to flight or fight state of mind that easily degenerate into violence.  

In addition, affected young people have poor learning outcomes.   

They are unable to settle into predictable orderly environments and open their minds to learning. 

The question for us as we enter the reflective space of the festive season is why are we not investing in sports in all our school districts to ensure that young people have a chance to develop essential physical, emotional and cognitive skills essential for well functioning citizens?  

These facilities if developed in collaboration with communities to promote ownership, would also be available for all residents to facilitate exercise and healthier lifestyles. 

Imagine if all children were given the opportunity to learn in loving, predictable and supportive environments with proper school facilities, including sports and recreation!  

Imagine the benefits of being taught by teachers who would also be supported to catch up with their own childhoods.  Many of our teachers need to heal the pains of humiliation and neglect so they can be more effective educators and role models for our children.    

The under-performance of our human development system (World Bank Human Capital Index on a scale of 0-1 comes out at .5 compared to .88 for Singapore).  Our poor performance defies the high level of public expenditure on education being 6.1%, health 8% and social welfare 5% of GDP in 2017. 

We need to do more with the huge public investments we make in education, health and social welfare.  The missing link is creating loving, stimulating and supportive environments.   

Homes are critical environments especially during the critical first year to ensure optimal cognitive and emotional skills.  

Supporting Gogos to support young parents - single or married - would be the most cost-effective way of repairing our broken social fabric and reducing, and ultimately eliminating violence. 

Gogos' wisdom comes from their ability to tap into the ancient brain that transcended the flight or fight mindset to embrace the ultimate in empathy: Ubuntu, the I am Because you are! What stops us from following their example?  

Gogos would create the loving predictable and reassuring domestic environments.  Support for Gogos needs to include regular health checks, local men providing positive role models, and the private sector complementing low levels of social grants with additional basic needs such as food and household essentials.

The schools, with the support of civil and private sector, would then provide the lifelong learning leveraging Life Orientation as a healing platform for children to learn about who they are, develop pride in their language and cultures, and the capacity to learn how to learn.  

Sports, arts and culture facilities are essential enrichments to our school system.  They should be supported by local sports and artistic stars and other older generation caregivers to enhance positive impact on our children. 

We can turn our society from the chaotic disorderly high violent crime environment into a huge village filled with loving, empathetic and caring children and citizens.  

Let's follow the example of Gogos and support them in their nation building endeavours - one child at a time! 

There is a beautiful iSiXhosa saying that "Inyathi ibuzwa kwa'ba phambili".

As we prepare to close the door on 2019, we have much to celebrate.

- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA and co-president of the Club of Rome. 

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