Years back when I was working for the Sunday Independent newspaper in South Africa, I was confronted with a blast from the past, our past as a nation.
A colleague, the then Independent newspapers’ group foreign editor, Peter Fabricious, threw a snide at me; “so your culture encourages incest…” As I turned around in shock, about to shout “racist”, he told me he sent me a story from home, Botswana, to edit, which speaks of cultural acceptance to the practice of incest. The opinion piece was written by Botswana’s former Attorney General, Ambassador Dr Athalia Molokomme, who was then the head of Southern African Development Community gender desk.
Dr Molokomme, had uncomfortably confronted our cultural practices that not only spoke to incest, but also encouraged molesting of the girl child. Amongst other practices of the past, some still present in our communities, such as the concept of di boela sakeng, when mainly amongst the Bangwato, immediate cousins married each other and bogadi is retained within the family.
But it was one that spoke directly to the abuse of the girl child, which had me uncomfortable to endorse as truth in the editing process. Molokomme referred to the well-known traditional song, setlogolo ntsha ditlhogo to lay bare the truth about incestuous and sexual abuse practices.
She described what the song means; the uncle telling the niece to give him the “heads”. The heads, the song says, is anything, including a thigh. The niece is “instructed” to have sexual intercourse with the uncle.
In fact, while at the time, I could scream and shout that the song, like many other traditional songs should not be taken literal, or that the practices of the past, are just there, in the past, I was, as I matured and studied further, began to learn these practices are happening. There are still uncles who defile, in the secret and protection of family. The abuse spreads into the extended families where orphans in particular suffer at the hands of uncles, step fathers, cousins, neighbours, family friends; in the schools; the workplace; social gatherings such as political party campaign; and the workplace. All over, there are “uncles” demanding and forcefully grabbing “heads” from under-aged children, and women.
When two years ago, we woke to the story of a ruling party councillor in Sebina, Kemmonye Amon impregnating a 16-year-old student, the nation was outraged, and a social media movement #IshallNotForget was born. It still remains active to push and help gender activists in their different causes. The movement, mainly of techno-savvy activists, has taken issues of gender and children abuse outside the confines of under-resourced organisations, to the national platform.
Outrage to any form of abuse, is taken serious unlike in the past where gender activists were isolated and even stigmatised. Now the nation has found a voice. But abuse still persists, mainly in the confines of our homes.
When this week a story circulated that a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in his 60s has
For as much as the laws, are there, the Children’s Act and many other statutes and policies, practice and implementation remain a challenge. The relevant authorities – the schools, the police and even the social welfare communities - are still less empowered, under-trained or less-resourced to tackle the problem. We have seen teachers’ efforts to rise and take the necessary steps to report the matter to the police, going in vain.
The system would throw the child back to the abuser, and the family, and the vicious circle continues unabated, and at times, worst as the perpetrator feels empowered and victim, powerless and hopeless. Where officers try to do the appropriate, the system fails them as services and private rooms in the police stations to handle sensitive cases of molestation, and even rape are limited or non-existent.
As the nation reels with another case of defilement, possible by a powerful moneyed individual, and of parents who in my humble opinion are not of the right minds and moral standing to protect the child by accepting bribery, I wonder just how much we are prepared to handle these monsters. Just how much damage are we prepared to see before we act? I say, it is simple. If the CEO or any employee of a company is found to have abused a child, or even mentioned or rumoured to have, the relevant authorities need to act, and fast. A big corporate entity should be named and shamed if it allows a senior manager, or any employee, to continue working. Just to be associated with defilement just speaks to the character of the person, and no business should accept such an individual. Indifference says and shouts of “innocent until proven guilty” by the company, speaks to the integrity of its directors. Let’s do what we demand of government and politicians. Take action. Yes, the law should and will take course. In the meantime, let’s walk the talk. In the same vein, government and all the relevant authorities have to ensure the law takes its course. The days of the police saying to parents, “go talk it out at home…” should end. And if a police officer says that, the teacher, neighbour or whoever, who had taken the steps to report the matter should be empowered to go higher.
It’s time we take the protection of our children, our future seriously. It is time to rally around the safety of our children. Time to say enough!