While some parents like taking their children to exclusive children's entertainment arenas, others are taking them to social joints that cater for both adults and children. Here, the children play on the swings and bouncing castles while, not far away, the parents enjoy their drinks (Kgalagadi Breweries' waters).
As darkness sets in, the children are taken home. Or are they? It has become common - even worrying - to find that, as dusk descends and even winter starts to gather, the children gradually walk away from the swings and bouncing castles to join their parents at the drinking area, as they wait for them to finish their drinks, before going home.
On a recent Sunday at one entertainment spot in Gaborone's G-West area, the youngsters, tired of playing all day and with darkness fast approaching, make their exit from the playground to join their parents, who are imbibing on Kgalagadi Breweries' waters. At 7pm, there is still a large number of patrons at the joint. These are enjoying some entertainment from a Franco dance troupe up on the TV screen. As Franco's troupe disappeared behind the curtains, some tipsy President of the occasion invites the children to join him in "shaking a hip".
In no time, about eight children are on the floor, moving their little bodies to the rhythm of the loud music. The children, girls and boys, range in age from about four to 10 years. A few minutes later, the President of the occasion launches a freestyle dance competition for the children. In this contest, the children try to outdo each other in their dance moves, urged on by the cheering crowd, some of whom are their parents - and some of whom are already drunk and not so polite in their choice of words. Their aim of the competition is to eliminate the poor dancers so that, in the end, only winners remain on the dance floor. For a better view, other children in the audience, who are too short, stand on the tables and chairs to catch the action.
Competition on the dance floor is stiff. As the dancing continues, the president introduces a new angle of elimination. The remaining three must sing a song of their own choice and dance to its rhythm. The first girl to take the microphone is about eight. Confidently, she begins singing a tune by Matsieng, one of the highly respected music groups. The girl appears to have mastered the lyrics. What is most shocking is her dance routine. The crowd cheers. Some onlookers are evidently uncomfortable.
When the young one is done, the president orders the crowd to give a round of applause to the girl, whose "dance style even puts 'Matsieng' to shame". 'Matsieng' is a Batswana band, which is well known for its traditional - dance - and - bust - gyrations. The little girl on stage, clad in close - fitting hipsters, a large belt and a 'tank top', performs with such ease and expertise that, indeed, 'Matsieng' might feel humbled watching her in action. The little girl wins the contest, as judged by patrons, by way of their loud cheers, whistles and claps.
I eavesdrop on a conversation between four female patrons close by. One observes that the little girl will 'most likely' have had sex by 10, and would be lucky if she completes high school. Meanwhile, the first runner up, also a girl of about the same age, bursts into tears. She is unhappy about not having taken the crown. Moments later, she is comforted by a man, possibly her father. By the time the children leave the dance floor, it is about 20 hours 30 minutes.
I cast my eyes around the social joint and note that there is still a handful of children within the premises. Some are eating their chips, others sipping on cold drinks, while many others are dozing off in their chairs or snoring on the tables. Curiously undisturbed, their parents or guardians are imbibing on their Kgalagadi breweries' waters.
By the time I leave the joint at 2100 hours, there are still children at the place. On my way out, I ask one of the waitresses if children are ever chased away past a certain hour.
"We cannot chase the children because they come here with their parents," she says. "The parents drink until whatever time they feel they are satisfied and, if they have their children, no one ever asks them to leave. It is business for us."
When I ask this waitress if she should bring her children to such place, her
response is quick: "I can never bring my child to a place where beer is sold," she replies. "Too many bad things go on here and, besides; I would never want my children to see me being hugged by drunkards."
Exposing children to bar culture appears to be a trend that is fast gaining ground in urban areas. As it gets late within the entertainment joints, the music gets louder as the patrons, getting intoxicated by the hour, become noisy and animated, and expectedly, the drunken men are seen ogling women.
Underage patrons are also exposed to images of scantily clad women who sometimes make flirtatious dance moves and kiss publicly. And who drives the car when it is time to go home? Parents who have been drinking all the afternoon, of course!
One parent at the social place, who is visibly irritated by my intrusive line of questioning, says that "circumstances" force them to take their children along. "My house girl has the day off on Sunday, leaving me with the children, yet this is the only day I have to socialise with my friends and relatives," she says. Although she always means to have left by 1800 hours, she says, "I extend this time because I have not completed conversing with my friends". Does this mother of three feel anxious? She asserts: "These are my children and no one can tell me what to do with them!"
A patron who feels quite irked by the behaviour of such parents is Corinne Kgope. Kgope, a mother of two, feels that parents who expose their children to untoward behaviour are irresponsible and selfish. "These children are supposed to be asleep and their parents are actually punishing them by keeping them out late", she suggests. She wonders how a mature adult can place one's own comfort before the welfare of their children.
Another patron, 40-years-old Humphrey Mokesi, who is a father of one, says children should not stay out past 1700 hours. "That is when they should go home and shower, rest, complete their homework and have their supper," he observes.
He believes that children who are kept out late on Sunday evening are fatigued on Monday, and that they may find it difficult to concentrate in class. "Parents should take their children to recreational place such as Tsholofelo Park instead of bars," he says.
According to Dr. Benson Momanyi, children may pick some of the bad behaviours they see on display and integrate them into their characters. A sociologist cum pastor in one of the local church, Momanyi says children in their formative years tend to internalize the events around.
They, especial ape the behaviours of their parents, whom they see as role models. He explains: "A child who grows up exposed to bar culture and sees the parent drinking beer may grow up knowing that it is 'cool' to drink....It becomes difficult for such parents to warn these children against drinking in their teens".
Children, he says, observe and listen to what happens around them; they construct much of their internal world from the values they pick up along the way. According to Momanyi, there are hardly any positive values to be picked from a bar.
So where did this culture originate from? "It is a phenomenon of the urban crowd", Momanyi says. According to the sociologist, the custom has its roots in people who are eager to re - define modernity. "It is practiced by the middle class, people who are educated, who have good jobs, favourable income, good car and surplus money to spend on such luxuries."
Inasmuch as modern urban parents are culpable, the market takes its share of the blame. Momanyi says that many business owners know whom to target. "That is why there has been an observed boom in the entertainment business industry, with joints that cater to needs of their parents and children mushrooming by the day", he explains. He believes that the Botswana law continues to let the children down. The law's silence on the issue ensures that rights of the children continue to be violated.
In Botswana, there is no law prohibiting parents from taking children to places such as bars. According to Ngwenya Mosamai, a lawyer with the local law firm, it is unfortunate that the law is mum on the issue. "The law is only clear about restrictions on serving alcoholic drinks to minors", he says. "It does not address bar culture exposure to children". She adds: "The onus, therefore, lies on parents to expose their children only to activities and environments that serve the child's interests".