There was a time when little children where little children and elders were elders. A time when the lines were not blurred and the roles were defined. Children were free to be children and it did take a village to raise a child. Without even taking it back to pre-colonial days of living in the beautiful green villages of uQhunu, once upon a time there really was a world where women were safe (at home and on the street) and men were proud and strong and protective of their families. But it seems those days are long gone. Children are forced (and sadly at times, choose) to grow up too soon. They are raised by All My Children, and when they have questions, instead of asking their parents or that cool antie or malume down the road, they turn to Google. All the while, the adults are chasing the rand, getting their nails done, sipping on cocktails and fighting the demons of their own insecurities, because they either got too much too soon, or gave everything and got nothing in return. The Depression began long before the freedom days, and extends far beyond the price of bread and milk.
It’s true that every generation has its own challenges. Our grandparents used to worry that their children would join the struggle (in one way or other) and they would lose them to the police or exile or taverns. Their grandparents, before that, feared they would lose their children to colonialism. That they would go to missions, wear suits and see their parents as uncivilised heathens. Funny how time passes and not much changes. Parents are still “old-fashioned”, going into exile is called brain-drain and SAB is not only one of the largest employers in the country, but it has also monopolised distribution and made us believe that their “social responsibility” programmes somewhat make up for the number of broken families, hungry households and abusive relationships it facilitates. It must be said, though (and I may be bias here), our parents have it the hardest. They worry that their babies will be raped in their diapers and their teens will be so lost that, that they will try to “find” themselves in black labels, white powders and unloving thighs. And just before they can let out a sigh of relief, they worry that they have raised young adults who will follow their dreams straight off the cliff: a little naïve; too ambitious; and not at all prepared.
There is a song by Travellin Blak, where one of the artists says something along the lines of: kwakuthwa kusind’ abakhasayo, kodwa nabo bakhasa bedunisule; direct translation being they used to say it’s the ones who crawl who are safe, but even they crawl on their knees. This, I think, is one of the most apt partial-descriptions of the world we live in – a terrifying thought considering that a society is judged by how it treats its most fragile members. So when babies are raped or discarded in black bags, and one in every two women is in some kind abusive relationship, and grandparents are battered and abandoned; it makes me shudder to think how our society will be judged. The truth is we are all scared, we are fighting our own demons and no one is safe – not even the innocent ones. Our parents have a lot to worry about. And a lot to answer for.
In Zambia, there is a saying that when the leaf falls to the ground, the tree gets the blame/ the shame goes to the tree. There were days once, when elders provided wisdom and guidance to the young, all the while protecting and moulding. A mother would reprimand any child that misbehaved because every child was her child; and a child knew better than to answer back to a grown up. There were no question marks or grey areas, children were children and adults were adults and that was that. Of course this was before the days of the scandalous musical icons, dubious politicians and rejuvenating toy boys. It’s sad to say, but a young girl becomes a woman the minute her breasts begin to protrude, and sometimes before. Cougars have left the wild and get their grooves back on high school beds, taking their lead from glorified paedophiles who pee on little girls and sleep with their HIV+ daughters (consensually or not). Children are raised by villages of perversity that have the audacity to chastise the products of their insecurities and trap them into thinking that they are the messed up ones. The young wear the sins of the old on their backs and these hand-me-downs give birth at fifteen, are divorced by twenty eight and die before thirty five.
Something went wrong somewhere, and we don’t know how to fix it. We can’t go back and we don’t know how to move forward because this depression has us trapped. It has us pointing fingers, and crying, and running, and bleeding, but never healing. It has us hungry and lonely: be it under zinc roofs, or behind white walls; this depression is us. And we can’t run away from ourselves. All we can do is believe. In something or someone. We need to believe that that moral compass is out the somewhere, in the Quaran, in the Bible or even somewhere out in the cosmos. We need to find it and when we have found it, we need to believe that it will guide us to someplace better. Because we, as people, have shown that we do not have the answers.