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Fort Desperation: Troubled Voices and Phantoms in Selibe-Phikwe

Teedzani Thapelo

Institute of International Education Fellowship Award Winner and runner up poet to the 2016 Share Botswana Tourism Fiction Award, Teedzani Thapelo* arrives in Selibe-Phikwe mining town following the catastrophe at BCL mine where 5000 workers lost their jobs to find the township prostrate, the local economy somnolent, and residents comatose in their bewildered anguish. BDP is talking about impromptu and senseless rescue plans, many residents are bolting to start up again in their villages-even the rats are scuttling out, fast; it is a perfect nightmare, not the town he knew as a student when he first prophesied this impending disaster in his PhD thesis, and dramatized it in his controversial polyphonic novel, Seasons of Thunder, under the lead character Batjibilibili Madandume.


We are sitting round some caricature of a table, a most rickety contraption. Its unsteady posture seems ordered for the illustration of life in this dying township, something that, even within the tumult of events here, might stand as a symbol of existence. The men are talking incessantly, and I listen. No subject is taboo here; fights, work, sex, suicides, murders, theft, divorces, betrayals-even matters of sexual infertility, and infidelity.

Politicians in this country, it seems, lead very sordid lives, and the voters are not at all impressed by this charlatan libertinism. They associate it with moral sickness, and political decay. The root of our national problems, it would appear, stem from sexual pervasion, promiscuity and moral darkness on the one hand, and political profligacy and wanton greed, on the other. The argument is Freudian to the core, but not one of the people I am listening to knows anything about psychology. I am puzzled but decide to keep my counsel.

Studies about politics and psychology are nothing new to me. Not one person has a good word to say about the BDP. Ruling party politicians are derided, ridiculed, and yes, insulted as well. These people seem to even know a great deal about the private lives of these politicians, right from chequered public and political careers to their sexual habits and preferences. It’s like I am being introduced, for the first time here, to some obscure, but extremely tantalising, Botswana encyclopaedia; a macabre world of exotic knowledge and rituals, and all these because of the recent catastrophe in Selibe-Phikwe.


Writers are rarely shocked by public utterances. If anything it is our works that often shock and scandalise public sensibilities. But I must admit I find some of these utterances shocking though I am really, I think, beginning to get used to this sort of thing. Everywhere I go in Botswana I come across similar disclosures. How Batswana know these horrifying things is something I still have to fathom. I just wonder what our foreign visitors say when they hear these salacious stories being thrown about with such reckless abandon.

Four police constables walk by, and they are shooed away like some unruly chickens. There is plenty of beer around. It is as if beer is the food of life here, and gossip, the soul of the nation. Such public utterances are, however, more than just amusements of life. They are life itself. Public anxiety, I begin to recall, is a terrible thing. Talk like this has been known even to originate bloody revolutions in some countries.

 

In their fight against authority, people often start by belittling it. Talk like this is no different from undressing public figures, and exposing their nakedness to brutal violence. That rare thing, the internal gift of simplicity of heart and rectitude of the soul, the very thing that has defined a Motswana public persona for so many years, I note with sadness, is beginning to disappear.


No, Batswana are not becoming sophisticated. Far from it. Sophistication is a mark of civilized conduct. We are just becoming bitter, and vulgar, and unless something is done to trunk this moral decline, from here we can only slide into violence. This I find frightening. I look at these people, and one thing, I discover to my troubled conscience, is that if a government official, a ruling party politician, fell under a bus, right here in the awed presence of this bitter small community, these people would not hesitate to finish the poor fellow off.

Not one of them would call an ambulance. First, they would laugh, and then, in a most casual manner imaginable, finish the person off before quietly disappearing into the gathering darkness. Around the wobbly huge table I notice a lot of rust, dust, grime-soot aloft, and a lot of dirt. But the gathered crowd are mostly well dressed, articulate young folk, and full of so much gossip, I begin to wonder, if they have always lived like this.

But they tell me that is not so. Since the collapse of the mine, and the loss of jobs, people feel a strong affinity to come together, and talk. What about? Anything and everything. Do they intend sticking around? No, what is the point. I venture to murmur something about government help…and a few chaps move away from me. Mentioning such things in Selibe-Phikwe is like farting in public. People just move away from you, especially the youth.


One young lady tells me even the rats are scuttling out! Rats? I am not telling a lie, she vows. Rats are indeed scuttling out. Where to? Simple. Many people are returning to their villages. Do the politicians know this? Oh, yes, she says…and they don’t care. Truth of the matter is madokrag want the land of Selibe-Phikwe for themselves, their children, and their foreign friends. So, re ba tohelela lefatshe la bone. They don’t want us here. Ah, I see. I had not prepared myself for conspiracy theories in this wretched town.

A ba sale ka lefatshe la bone. Oh, I see. But what really happened here? Who knows a chorus of unconcealed indignation shoots back, followed by a peel of brittle laughter, disturbing and frightening. I soon meet something even more strange in this small crowd; an amateur philosopher. The people of Selibe-Phikwe, he says garrulously and impatiently, have always lived with trouble. We have always lived with trouble, or expected to be in trouble. It seems people here can never be happy unless something goes wrong.

Trouble is our name. Now this is deep stuff, profound. Something that some busybody like Freud might want to investigate. So I asked why. He smiles at me uneasily. He looks dismal, but naughty. A real philosopher, perhaps? Then he says something most unexpected, a small whisper just above his breath; I know you, he says. You are Teedzani. As a writer you must be able to figure such things out. I was staggered. But then I noticed something else.

He had delivered this shocking revelation clandestinely, almost above a whisper, smiling knowingly and mischievously. The revelation was just a secret between us two; he didn’t want to endanger my life, he just wanted me to know that he knew me, he knew what I was up to, but that was not his business. This touched me a great deal. I have written about Selibe-Phikwe before, in both my PhD thesis, and the novel Seasons of Thunder. Yet I had forgotten there were such people in Selibe-Phikwe, smart, considerate, hardworking people. I felt sick.


But I had set myself an assignment and I wanted to see it through. So I thanked him, with a smile and conspiratorial eye. There is always a touch of romance in writing. Once you get your teeth into something, it is never easy to let go. We sat rather silent for a while. Till someone bought some more beer. Then we returned to philosophy again. I was reminded that everything dies; youth, wealth, achievements, human strength, genius…le madomkrag tota, and that in Botswana nothing really ever endures.

So the mess at the mine was expected? No, says the philosopher; we never thought they could go this far, the bloody wretched bastards! This outburst draws a lot of snorting and sniggering. I should admit it was quite an experience to hear a philosopher swear. I was beginning to absorb this new intellectual novelty when all of a sudden everybody started talking excitedly; all at once. Mapolotiki kill everything willy-nilly every day, without mercy, without rest.

It is not an easy thing to live with a politician. Ga e le madomi bone…phooo! Ga ba lapisewe ke go senya. Madomkrag mistrust other Batswana, they mistrust the youth, they mistrust common sense…and they make a point of showing all these things in a thousand little ways. Like closing the mine? Oh, that was a trick. There is more to it than sees the eye. They like to create confusion. They love moments of great confusion…a useful smokescreen for stealing public assets.

Did I notice lately a lot of BDP granddads and grandmamas were retiring? Ba ya go ja eng? Ke batho ba dijo…mo dijong o ka ba bolaa.  Ah. Of course. That rotten habit of colossal greed again. I hear about it everywhere I go.  I was not about to engage this noisy but amicable enough crowd in technical economic arguments. Nobody wants to make an enemy in Selibe-Phikwe right now, and I am not a fool. So I agreed with them that the mouths and bodies of madomi are designed for eating only.


Shit happened in this beastly hole, says a skinny boy inhaling cigarette smoke with such desperate effort I feared he would overdo the whole thing and faint. Miraculously he survives. I notice his fingers, which tremble a little, are dark like a smoked ceiling. He could not have been more than fifteen. I looked at the weary and serious faces of these unlucky people. Selibe-Phikwe is going away from them piecemeal. This has been happening for more than twenty years.

I wonder how many of them noticed. It is not an easy thing to live in a town that is being gutted bit by bit every year, being stupid with fatigue and thinking of nothing but empty existence and survival…without spirit enough to even wish yourself dead. For most of these people there is no longer any real life here, only angry crowds and benumbed political authority, indifferent and reckless. They are exposed to extinction like some sailors on a raft at sea.

They grope in ruins, surrounded by wreckage, jabbering cheerfully to themselves, clinging on to their berth, hoping for miracles, and meantime inexorably drifting to the fag-end of their endurance. Crowded in that carcass of a township, the hungry crowd has to contend with endless official tinkering and mock rescue plans that never come to anything. Is it any wonder even the rats are scuttling out? The young lady confides to me that magodu a fodogetse ko Palapye…go maswe rra.


The smoking kid says mining is a foolish business. He always knew it would end badly. It is not even possible now to buy anything on credit in the town. Every shopkeeper knows us, he says laughing. You just cannot lie to anyone. Ba re itse sentle!  I ask about the miners. What happened to them? O se ka wa bua ka matagwa a le, says the young lady furiously; ba ile…ka bontse…ba re togeletse bana ba ba senang maina …ba ile.

I see I have touched a raw nerve. So I retreat. It is a terrible thing to live the life of youth in ignorance and hope. The youth of that young girl is right where she is and so long as she lives in that wretched town it will always throw her years and her weariness in her face.  She was born in that city, reared in it, has lived all her life in it, and most probably she will never know another town again. And yet people still want to see her only home die. Things like this break my heart. Of course, there is still her youth to make her patient.

But really how many youth in Botswana have any hope about their future lives and happiness? Absurd delusions, like absurd dreams, have long ceased to sit well with the placid ignorance and agitation of our youth. The loneliness and emptiness surrounding their stolid souls are things so deep our officials no longer bother to look too much into them. Sadly even most parents are giving up on them. Generally, our youth are no more than just children of the streets and birds of the night.

They are like people who have been blown up in some miserable ship at sea, and government, it is obvious, is already done with their ridiculous troubles. In fact nobody cares about them at all. They are regarded as profane scallywags with no redeeming points.
Yet in reality these are really frightened children, and this unconcern, is hurting them deeply.

The real people to blame are parents, public professionals, and politicians, all of whom now are very expert at how to shirk, and laze, and dodge when it comes to looking after young people in times of crisis. Selibe-Phikwe is no exception. I never bothered to go into government offices and talk to BDP officers about these things.

I have always found their stupid arrogance and ignorance too annoying to help such situations. I also happen to know our youth have neither time nor respect for government officials, and I know why. It will take more than the racket in that town to unite our youth to the bosom of parents and the care of bureaucrats. The real tragedy is that on the surface of things one is inclined to think these children are actually capable of making merry in the midst of all this violence and disasters.

But truth be told, these children are suffering, terribly; and it won’t be long before the weary ghost of their wholesome miserableness bursts into public life like a maddening grace, like a gift of sorrow, to this unfortunate country, further obliterating hope and public security. Feeling frustrated, and already tired, I rise to leave. I take infinite precautions about my movements. People are known to die in the night in this country. We have become a land of incorrigible vultures. My host is a homeboy who styles himself a small businessman. What do you do, I want to know. But he only laughs.


I dare not live in any public place. Bakalanga are generally very upright people. So I really don’t expect my host to be some rotten cannibal. After ten he announces he is going to church. Don’t worry cousin; he says, cheerfully, I will see you in the morning. I am reassured when he brings in the landlady and tells her, I am a trusted relative, and that I won’t cause any trouble. She looks at my luggage, and writing gear, and nods her approval. She is a huge woman, rather sullen.

Left to my devices, I start pondering events of the day, and the preceding few months. I am a little ashamed to see my room is sparkling clean. Obviously my young host went to a lot of trouble to make me feel at home…in this town where nothing can be bought on credit anymore. I feel guilty as hell. A faint breeze through the boarded-up window feels me with breathless delight…till I remember where I am. I pity these people for the unlucky choices they have made.

The town is plainly not much of a home but they have lived here all their lives, and it is now evident the prop they chose to sustain their lives is a rather poor walking stick. There is trouble everywhere, every time. Do they really apprehend the fatal signs? After the present stage of stupor, of incredulity, and of indignation, there must at some point appear the poignant finger of fatal encounters. I doubt even BDP is prepared for this, if they really anticipate this eventuality. All signs, though, are that it will come.

These people must open their eyes to the fundamental changes of the modern world. It is not only the known things and good men of our time who have departed. Departed too are the opportunities which we used to know how to seize. It is no use mincing matters. Words like progress, prospects…are now things we can only murmur with caution. A black night has descended on the fortunes of man and his prized possession; society.


I sat thinking for a very long time. Batswana, I considered, had long thought, and felt, they could depend upon the country to make her courses through any troubled waters. But now her compasses are out, and there is no telling what might happen to you before the week is out. We had always assumed her great age had given her wisdom, knowledge, and steadiness. But we had never really reckoned with those bumbling misfits at Government Enclave. I felt great anger mounting in my breast.

I once thought I knew well the order, the sights, and even the people of this country. Now I am no longer so sure, and this I always find terribly irritating. Even when one is going round many parts of this country, it is becoming well-nigh impossible to hear the same voices in the same places. Certainty and consistency, the hallmarks of all civilizations, are things we still need to nurture.

Unpredictability and personal endangerment are still marks of daily human experience-not a very enterprising life for a small country that once held so much promise for so many. The downfall of Selibe-Phikwe, which has shaken thousands of people like an earthquake, is just one instance of incessant human vulnerability in this country. We should expect more, and if you doubt me, start counting.


Many people are ashamed about the ruin of that town. The really surprising thing, I discovered to my shock, is that many had even believed in the stability of BCL groups of companies and their mining ventures; the result of misinformation by BDP officials. It is natural, I suppose, that people should take genuine pleasure in their possessions, in the dignity of their reputations and their wealth.

But to live a lie; that is worse than a sin. To mistake a town like Selibe-Phikwe for a garlanded perpetual festival with an unfading wreath is nothing more than self-delusion. Don’t even ever feel the same way about Botswana; not unless you wilfully want to set yourself for a horrible disappointment. BDP’s punctuality in failure is a matter of recorded history. It doesn’t really matter where you live. Always expect national failure to visit you there. The people of Selibe-Phikwe must now brace themselves to the derogatory nature of failed human experience.


Unfortunately, many are defenceless before this insidious work of adversity. That much I saw with my own eyes. The more rigorous the open assaults on their fate and fortunes, the poorer the firm front they can present. The more open the battering of the sea of endless problems and troubles, the weaker the cliff gets, and far too many people are tumbling over, astounded and miserable.

Men and women once substantial and dignified now find themselves confronted with the unenviable task of reassessing their fortitude. What to the nation was merely a rushed closure of the mine is to them a momentous event involving a radically new view of life, and many do not like this at all, not a bit of it. The hopes of their youth, the exercise of their abilities, every feeling and achievement that gratified their great expectations, had all been indissolubly connected with that wretched mine. Now they are asking themselves, what next?

The propositions by BDP to do something about the situation are treated with scorn. They are used to this kind of empty talk, it is a creed traced in obsolete words-in a half-forgotten language. To accept this phony political pity is like stripping naked so they can be kicked again to the ground. They are not going to give themselves away for less than nothing. They have no use for anyone’s pity. I sat thinking these things for half a night while the township slept, its sorrows heaving uneasily in the hearts of thousands of disappointed souls, and then, as usual, around three, I started writing.


I wrote for a long time. At daybreak my young friend returned. How was church, I asked. He laughed. He was already dressed for work…another phantom of the dark night. He noted I hadn’t slept and proposed breakfast. I kindly declined. An hour later I was on my way to Gaborone. I figured I had stayed long enough in this heart of darkness. Only five days, and I had gathered enough material for a book. A good writer does not need details. They tend to muffle and stymie the perception of things. Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe is now with a publisher.


Teedzani Thapelo* is former Distinguished Africa Guest Researcher at Nordic Africa Institute, Research Associate at the Centre for Economic Policy in Southern Africa, Economic History Lecturer at the University of Botswana, and author of Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe: abandonment and revolt, forthcoming in 2018.

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Technology saves Lions from angry Okavango villagers

22nd November 2022

Villagers in the eastern Okavango region are now using an alert system which warns them when collared lions approach livestock areas. The new technology is now regarded as a panacea to the human/wildlife conflict in the area as it has reduced mass poisoning and killing of lions by farmers.

The technology is being implemented by an NGO, Community Living Among Wildlife Sustainably (CLAWS) within the five villages of Seronga, Gunutsoga, Eretsha, Beetsha and Gudigwa in the eastern part of the Okavango delta.

A Carnivore Ecologist from CLAWS, Dr Andrew Stein explained that around 2013, villagers in the eastern Okavango were having significant problems with losses of their cattle to predators specifically lions, so the villagers resorted to using poison and shooting the lions in order to reduce their numbers.

He highlighted that as a form of progressive intervention, they designed a programme to reduce the conflicts and promote coexistence. Another component of the programme is communal herding, introduced in 2018 to reduce the conflict by increasing efficiency whereby certified herders monitor livestock health and protect them from predators, allowing community members to engage in other livelihood activities knowing that their livestock are safe.

They are now two herds with 600 and 230 cattle respectively with plan to expand the programme to other neighbouring villages. Currently the programme is being piloted in Eretsha, one of the areas with most conflict incidences per year.

Dr Stein explained that they have developed the first of its kind alert system whereby when the lions get within three or five kilometers of a cattllepost or a homestead upon the five villages, then it will release an alert system going directly to the cellphones of individuals living within the affected area or community.

‘So, if a colored lion gets to about five kilometers of Eretsha village or any villagers in the Eretsha that has signed up for, the system will receive an SMS of the name of the lion and its distance to or from the village”, he stated. He added that this enables villagers to take preventative action to reduce conflicts before its starts.

Dr Stein noted that some respond by gathering their cattle and put them in a kraal or put them in an enclosure making sure that the enclosure is secure while some people will gather firewood and light small fires around edges of the kraal to prevent lions from coming closer and some when they receive the SMS they send their livestock to the neighbours alerting them about the presence of lions.

He noted that 125 people have signed to receive the alert system within Seronga, Eretsha, Beetsha, Gunutsoga and Gudigwa. He added that each homestead is about five people and this means more than 600 people immediately receive the messages about lions when they approach their villages. He also noted that last year they dispersed over 12 000 alerts, adding that this year is a bit higher as about 20 000 alerts have been sent so far across these villages.

Stein further noted that they have been significant changes in the behavior of the villagers as they are now tolerant to lions. “85 percent were happy with the SMS and people are becoming more tolerant with living with lions because they have more information to reduce the conflicts,” he stressed.

Stein noted that since the start of the programme in 2014 they have seen lion populations rebounds almost completely to a level before and they have not recorded cases of lion poisoning in the last three years which is commendable effort.

Monnaleso Sanga from Eretsha village applauded the programme by CLAWS noting that farmers in the area are benefiting through the alert system and take preventative measures to reduce human/lion conflict which has been persistent in the area. He added that numbers of cattle killed by lions have reduced immensely. He also admitted that they are now tolerant to lions and they no longer kill nor poison them.

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THE IDEAL QUALITY OF A MUSLIM

8th September 2022

A Muslim is supposed to be and should be a living example of the teachings of the Quran and the ‘Sunnah’ (the teachings and living examples of Prophet Muhammed (SAW – Peace be upon Him). We should follow these in all affairs, relations, and situations – starting with our relationship with our Lord, our own self, our family and the people around us. One of the distinguishing features of the (ideal) Muslim is his faith in Allah, and his conviction that whatever happens in the universe and whatever befalls him, only happens through the will and the decree of the Almighty Allah.

A Muslim should know and feel that he is in constant need of the help and support of Allah, no matter how much he may think he can do for himself. He has no choice in his life but to submit to the will of his Creator, worship Him, strive towards the Right Path and do good deeds. This will guide him to be righteous and upright in all his deeds, both in public and in private.

His attitude towards his body, mind and soul

The Muslim pays attention to his body’s physical, intellectual and spiritual needs. He takes good care of his body, promoting its good health and strength. He shouldn’t eat in excess; but he should eat enough to maintain his health and energy. Allah, The Exalted, Says “…Eat and drink; but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” [Quran 7: 31]

The Muslim should keep away from alcohol and drugs. He should also try to exercise regularly to maintain his physical fitness. The Muslim also keeps his body and clothes clean, he bathes frequently. The Prophet placed a great emphasis on cleanliness and bathing. A Muslim is also concerned with his clothing and appearance but in accordance with the Islamic ideal of moderation, avoiding the extremes.

As for his intellectual care, the Muslim should take care of his mind by pursuing beneficial knowledge. It is his responsibility to seek knowledge whether it is religious or secular, so he may understand the nature and the essence of things. Allah Says: “…and say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” [Quran 20: 114

The Muslim should not forget that man is not only composed of a body and a mind, but that he also possesses a soul and a spirit. Therefore, the Muslim pays as much attention to his spiritual development as to his physical and intellectual development, in a balanced manner which ideally does not concentrate on one aspect to the detriment of others.

His attitude towards people

The Muslim must treat his parents with kindness and respect, compassion, politeness and deep gratitude. He recognizes their status and knows his duties towards them. Allah Says “And serve Allah. Ascribe nothing as partner unto Him. (Show) kindness unto parents…” [Quran 4: 36]

With his wife, the Muslim should exemplify good and kind treatment, intelligent handling, deep understanding of the nature and psychology of women, and proper fulfilment of his responsibilities and duties.

With his children, the Muslim is a parent who should understand his responsibility towards their good upbringing, showing them love and compassion, influence their Islamic development and giving them proper education, so that they become active and constructive elements in society, and a source of goodness for their parents, community, and society as a whole.

With his relatives, the Muslim maintains the ties of kinship and knows his duties towards them. He understands the high status given to relatives in Islam, which makes him keep in touch with them, no matter what the circumstances.

 

With his neighbours, the Muslim illustrates good treatment, kindness and consideration of others’ feelings and sensitivities. He turns a blind eye to his neighbour’s faults while taking care not to commit any such errors himself. The Muslim relationship with his wider circle of friends is based on love for the sake of Allah. He is loyal and does not betray them; he is sincere and does not cheat them; he is gentle, tolerant and forgiving; he is generous and he supplicates for them.

In his social relationships with all people, the Muslim should be well-mannered, modest and not arrogant. He should not envy others, fulfils his promises and is cheerful. He is patient and avoids slandering and uttering obscenities. He should not unjustly accuse others nor should he interfere in that which does not concern him. He refrains from gossiping, spreading slander and stirring up trouble – avoids false speech and suspicion. When he is entrusted with a secret, he keeps it. He respects his elders. He mixes with the best of people. He strives to reconcile between the Muslims. He visits the sick and attends funerals. He returns favours and is grateful for them. He calls others to Islam with wisdom, example and beautiful preaching. He should guide people to do good and always make things easy and not difficult.

The Muslim should be fair in his judgments, not a hypocrite, a sycophant or a show-off. He should not boast about his deeds and achievements. He should be straightforward and never devious or twisted, no matter the circumstances. He should be generous and not remind others of his gifts or favours. Wherever possible he relieves the burden of the debtor. He should be proud and not think of begging.

These are the standards by which the (ideal) Muslim is expected to structure his life on. Now how do I measure up and fit into all this? Can I honestly say that I really try to live by these ideals and principles; if not can I really call myself a true Muslim?

For the ease of writing this article I have made use of for want of a better word, the generic term ‘he’, ‘his’, ‘him’ and the ‘male’ gender, but it goes without saying that these standards apply equally to every female and male Muslim.

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OUR BELOVED CHILDREN

29th August 2022

“Homicide and suicide kill almost 7000 children every year; one in four of all children are born to unmarried mothers, many of whom are children themselves…..children’s potential lost to spirit crushing poverty….children’s hearts lost in divorce and custody battles….children’s lives lost to abuse and violence, our society lost to itself, as we fail our children.” “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” (Quotation taken from a book written by Hillary Clinton).

These words may well apply to us here in Botswana; We are also experiencing a series of challenges in many spheres of development and endeavour but none as challenging as the long term effects of what is going to happen to our youth of today. One of the greatest challenges facing us as parents today is how to guide our youth to become the responsible adults that we wish them to be, tomorrow.

In Islam Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has enjoined upon the parents to take care of the moral and religious instruction of their children from the very beginning, otherwise they will be called to account for negligence on the Day of Judgement. Parents must inculcate God-consciousness in their children from an early age, whereby the children will gain an understanding of duty to The Creator.

 

The Holy Qur’an says: ‘O you who believe! Save yourself and your families from the Fire of Hell’. (Ch. 66: V6). This verse places the responsibility on the shoulders of the parents to ensure that training and guidance begin at home. The goal is to mould the child into a solid Islamic personality, with good morals, strong Islamic principles, knowledge and behavior so as to be equipped to face the demands of life in a responsible and mature manner. This should begin with the proper environment at home that inculcates the best moral and behavioral standards.

But what do we have instead? Believers of all Religious persuasions will agree that we have children growing up without parental guidance, a stable home environment, without role models, being brought up in surroundings that are not conducive to proper upbringing and moulding of well-adjusted children. These children are being brought up devoid of any parental guidance and increasingly the desperate situation of orphaned children having to raise their siblings (children raising children) because their parents have succumbed to the scourge of AIDS.

It is becoming common that more and more girls still in their schooling years are now falling pregnant, most of them unwanted, with the attendant responsibilities and difficulties.

Observe the many young ladies who are with children barely in their teens having illegitimate children. In the recent past there was a campaign focused on the ‘girl-child’; this campaign targeted this group of young females who had fallen pregnant and were now mothers. The situation is that the mother still being just a ‘child’ and not even having tasted adulthood, now has the onerous responsibility of raising her own child most of the time on her own because either the father has simply disappeared, refuses to takes responsibility, or in some cases not even known.

We cannot place the entire blame on these young mothers; as parents and society as a whole stand accused because we have shirked our responsibilities and worse still we ourselves are poor role models. The virtual breakdown of the extended family system and of the family unit in many homes means that there are no longer those safe havens of peace and tranquility that we once knew. How then do we expect to raise well-adjusted children in this poisoned atmosphere?

Alcohol has become socially acceptable and is consumed by many of our youth and alarmingly they are now turning to drugs. Alcohol is becoming so acceptable that it is easily accessible even at home where some parents share drinks with their children or buying it for them. This is not confined only to low income families it is becoming prevalent amongst our youth across the board.

 

It is frightening to witness how our youth are being influenced by blatantly suggestive pop culture messages over television, music videos and other social media. Children who are not properly grounded in being able to make rational and informed decisions between what is right and what is wrong are easily swayed by this very powerful medium.

 

So what do we do as parents? We first have to lead by example; it is no longer the parental privilege to tell the child ‘do as I say not as I do’- that no longer works. The ball is in the court of every religious leader (not some of the charlatans who masquerade as religious leaders), true adherents and responsible parents. We cannot ignore the situation we have to take an active lead in guiding and moulding our youth for a better tomorrow.

In Islam Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “No father gives a better gift to his children than good manners and good character.”  Children should be treated not as a burden, but a blessing and trust of Allah, and brought up with care and affection and taught proper responsibilities etiquettes and behaviour.

Even the Bible says; ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein’. (Mark 10:14-15)

The message is clear and needs to be taken by all of us: Parents let us rise to the occasion – we owe it to our children and their future.

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