by Cherie-Lynn van der Merwe
Ps 82:2-5 (paraphrased)
“How long will you defend the unjust? Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless children…maintain the rights of the poor and needy child…deliver them from the wicked. Our children walk in darkness.”
It’s Wednesday, 6 July. A large tent is filled with relatives, learners, political representatives and church leaders moving through a grief-laden tsunami of frustration, sadness and warning. They see 19 coffins – a tangible reminder that these are just some of the 21 precious children that died under mysterious circumstances at Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park. The youngest was just 13! The scale of this tragedy made it newsworthy. Most often, it’s one life here, another there that simply slips under the radar of the general public eye. Underage drinking is killing our nation’s children!
But who is to blame?
As news broke of the Enyobeni tragedy, voices from radio talk show callers to high-ranking officials accused the parents of being irresponsible. How could parents recklessly allow their children to be out at a tavern at 2 am? Parents are meant to be the primary carers of children. Bishop Andile Mbete stated at the funeral, “Parents ought to cover their young children with blankets and their older children with prayers”. Yet as a nation, we cannot negate our responsibility for the care of children. Many households are tenuously held together by single parents who leave for work early and return late because our broken transport system offers no alternative. Some homes are run by ageing Gogos desperately trying to care for children with only a meagre government grant. Worse still, some homes have no adult attendance as older siblings – children themselves – keep some semblance of order. As a nation, we ought to be seriously looking at where the care of the child begins. Yes, parents are responsible for their children’s well-being, but it doesn’t end with them.
And what about the liquor industry? What should they be doing around defending the cause of the child? Lucky Ntimane from the Tavern Owners Association agrees that some tavern owners have failed and that profits have been sought at the expense of our children. There have been discussions around lifting the legal age of drinking to 21. Changing rules will not prohibit children from entering taverns. Applying the law will. There needs to be much more rigid application, such as a requirement that every person entering such place must produce some form of identification and children should not be allowed even to accompany adults into such establishments. Such a move would also assist our law enforcement officials in doing their duty without fear or favour. A nation that applies the law provides a safe and fair society for all its citizens and protects the vulnerable, including children.
As I looked at the number of church leaders present at the funeral, I wondered how engaged our faith communities are in the lives and well-being of children. Do children trust that they can safely approach the faith community for help as they seek their own identity and negotiate through a society that is, in many ways, fractured? Do our children see in us evidence of a God who loves and cherishes them?
Ps 127 (The Message)
If God doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks. If God doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might well nap. Children are God’s gift, the fruit of his generous legacy.