It takes a village

by Morongoa Selepe

Two years ago, our neighbour (in her first year of law studies), on her way to the local library to do research for a university assignment, was mugged. A man old enough to be a grandfather, who looked like he had difficulty walking, called out to her, “Mtanami (my child), please get me airtime from the spaza shop.” She wanted to ignore him, but he was old, and she could not ignore such an old man. Her mother raised her not to turn a blind eye to someone needing help, especially an old ‘helpless’ man. 

When she returned to give him the airtime, a car approached. A young man got out of the car with a knife and told her to hand over her laptop bag and cell phone. After she did, the old man stood up, got in the car, and the pair drove off. This happened in broad daylight.

Last Thursday, someone from church told us what happened to her two teenage grandsons. As they were coming back from buying bread from the local filling station, they met a man who drove a beautiful car. He told them in a calm and gentle manner, “My boys, bring your phones and the bread; let me hold them for you. Please run to the ATM and withdraw money for me. I’ll be here waiting for you.” The boys got home and told their granny that they could not find the man to tell him the card he gave them was not working. 

Granny was furious and was blaming the boys for being careless. I had to remind her that they had been taught to respect and obey their elders and help them when in need. 

We read about terrible things that happen to children at the hands of people who should be caring for them or those who are thought to be harmless and ‘good with children’. 

Children are taught about stranger danger at home and in schools.

I wonder if when we teach children not to talk to strangers, we also teach them who the stranger is. Are we telling children that the stranger could be the old man who looks like he has difficulty walking, the nice man in the fancy car who says “please,” the scary, creepy man, or the friendly, harmless-looking lady? We should.

We must also remember that the “stranger” doesn’t necessarily need to be someone we don’t know. Statistics show that in the case of maltreatment* of persons under the age of 18, “the perpetrator is always someone who has an opportunity to be in contact with the child. And so while this can be a stranger, maltreatment is, in fact, more likely to be perpetrated by those who have frequent contact with the child, including family members, neighbours, friends or peers, school staff, health professionals, and other persons in positions of authority.” (Child Maltreatment in South Africa,

The proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” means that the responsibility to raise a child not only lies with the biological parents but also with the families, community, and schools who take up roles in the upbringing of a child. It requires many people to provide a safe, healthy environment for children. All children deserve the security they need to develop and flourish to realise their full potential in the present and future.

The village can be dangerous and cruel. It should not be the children’s responsibility to find ways of preventing these horrific incidents. 

While we can benefit from the village bringing up our children, we need to be realistically aware of the happenings in our world and educate, protect and safeguard our children.

*The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines child maltreatment as: “All forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.”

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