Children Research on African Models of Caring for Vulnerable

The Children’s Amendment Bill: Does it Protect the Children? Presentation to be Made at the Democracy Development Programme Political Forum – 30 August 2007

Dr Lucas Mogashudi Ngoetjana


The portfolio committee of Social Development handling the Children’s Amendment Bill, 2007, at the writing of document has not resolved the questions of full consultation with provinces which had no public hearing. The committee has not begun to deal with the content of the Bill yet. This paper has observed that the most haunting areas of concern regarding the Bill are around clauses that deal with age of consent, HIV/AIDS testing and access to contraceptives without parental consent. This paper further argues that if the bill claims to be concerned with vulnerable children, it must consider African models of caring and raising of children.

The following is the discussion on the Children’s Amendment Bill, 2006

The latest handling of the matter regarding the Children’s Bill, 2006, was the meeting of the Social Development Portfolio Committee, which was held on the 22 August 2007. The committee members raised concern that the public hearings did not cover the rural areas. It was raised as a concern that the public hearings did not cover all the provinces, that there were time constraints considering that the bill has been under construction for 9 years. One member of the committee said that the resources for doing the work of the bill were depleted and the only further income they may ask for to do the work is for collating the submissions, making summaries, clustering the issues and consider making suggestions for amendments in some parts of the bill. Advocate Masutha’s proposal was that the committee must now proceed with the work of the bill without further public hearings whether in rural area nor in the provinces where the public hearings were not done. He felt that consultations done so far are sufficient and no further waist of time and resources may be considered (Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) Minutes of the Social and Development Portfolio Committee, 22 August 2007: 1 – 5).

“Mr B Mkongi supported Adv Masutha, and suggested that the Committee needed to do two things. Firstly, this meeting needed to take a resolution on the way forward. Secondly, that decision must address specifically whether to complete public hearings in provinces or conduct a national and final public hearing in Cape Town. He said that he was raising this possibility to cater for shortages of resources and time. He did not think that this meeting should discuss a strategy how to organise public hearings, nor how to deal with the media. He proposed that this meeting adopt Adv Masutha’s proposal, and ask the parliamentary researchers how long they would need to collate the information from the submissions. Secondly he believed that that a final public hearing be called in Cape Town, to finalise all matters and ensure that the Bill could be finalised this year.

Everything that the Committee should do must be in the best interest of the children” (PMG 2007: 3)

At this point, the committee has not begun to look at the submissions. They are still awaiting the summary of submissions from their researchers. By the next meeting of the 29th August 2007 the researchers would not have finished their work of doing summaries and submitting to the portfolio committee. Should the final public hearing be conducted in Cape Town, means that interested bodies will have to travel there to make their final submissions. The issue of the media was raised because one of the committee members Mr B Solo felt that it is misinterpreting the facts or misreporting certain issues. So the impression is given that the portfolio committee must speed up the process before the begins to criticise them.

As such, “Adv Masutha therefore called upon the Committee to be realistic and think forward on this issue. He urged the Committee to consider the public hearings duly conducted and concluded, and said they should now move on to collation of the submissions and consideration of them. He suggested that the research unit of parliament should be given at least two weeks to process and organise the information. He suggested that the next meeting should focus on the issue of resource provision for the legislation. He reminded the Committee that before the last recess there was discussion as to whether the word “may” or “must” should be used in the Bill when referring to provision of resources. The Committee would have to get input from National Treasury in order to formulate these clauses, and this matter should be discussed next week”

“Ms Bogopane-Zulu then proposed that at the meeting on 29 August the legal opinion on visit to all provinces should be discussed from 09h00 to 09h30. The Committee could then take a resolution whether there was a need to visit the remaining provinces. The National Treasury must then address the Committee on the costing of the Bill. At the meeting on 5 September, the Committee should receive the collation of the submissions, and should also discuss the matter with the Departments of Labour and Provincial and Local Government. On 12 September, the Committee should engage with the Department of Social Development and go through the Department’s responses to the submissions”.

Having seen how far the portfolio committee is with the process, and also knowing that the members do not know even who made submissions this tine round this may be an appropriate time to discuss what the churches in the province of KwaZulu-Natal have submitted.


Children Amendment Bill, 2006 and Children’s Act, 2005


■The KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (KZNCC) is the provincial body of the South African Council of Churches (SACC).

■The KZNCC (hereafter referred to as the Council) has 17 member churches and 17 member Christian Organizations.

  • The Council speaks for approximately and conservatively 3 million people in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.
    • This submission is a product of a provincial consultation on the Children’s Act, 2005 and the Children’s Bill, 2006 which was attended by 50 representatives from member churches, Christian Organizations, Church Leaders Group, Ecumenical Organizations and civil society interest groups.
    • In general the Council acknowledges the resources and time Government has spend over the years to come thus far with the bill
    • The Council appreciates most of the sections of the bill and the effort of Government to protect the child and prevent offences against such.
    • Nevertheless, we want to present our proposal for reconsideration of some sections and clauses of the bill.


The Churches Provincial Advocacy Office (CPAO) presents the views of the participants of the consultation on the Children’s Act, 2005 and the Children’s Bill, 2006, which was held on the 15th August 2007, to the National Parliament Social Development Portfolio Committee Secretariat

Children’s Amendment Bill, 2006

Clause: Children’s Amendment Bill, 2006 Amendment Discussion Proposed Amendment
Title of Act 38 of 2005: On Amendment of long title “… and to create certain new offences relating to children …” The phrase, “creation of new offences” gives an impression that the bill is deliberately made to offend where there was no offence before “… to promote the general welfare of children …”
135(1)(a): On Application to terminate or suspend parental responsibilities “suspending for a period, terminating or transferring any or all of the parental responsibilities and rights .” The possibility of the interpretation of the permanent ‘termination’ of all parental responsibilities and rights’ is gruesome and excessive. Adjust the succeeding and affected “suspending for a period or

transferring any of the parental responsibilities and rights which that person has in respect of a child.”


clauses considering our proposed amendment.
136 (3)(c): On administration of money ” . for administration of any money received on behalf of the household” Use an inclusive term such as resources instead of ‘money’. Children need more than money can always offer or afford. According, replace the word ‘money’ with the word ‘resources’ ” … for

administration of resources received on behalf of the household”

136 (5): On



“The child heading a child-headed household may take all day-to-day decisions relating to the household and the children as if that child is an adult” Clause 136 (5) Completely, undermines the place,

responsibilities and parental powers of the care-giver.

“The caregiver of the children in a ‘child-headed household may take all day-to-day decisions relating to the household and the children as an adult”
139 (1): On reference to the


Clause 139 (1) refers to the Constitution’s section 12(1)(c – d) and is good except that we would also include (a) – (b) and specify that in the case of children (b) does not apply Add, “Section 12(1)(b) does not apply to children”. We suggest that we enter a process of discussing what can be done with offending children – i.e., revise the criminal justice system in regard to children.
170(2)(3): On warrant of arrest ” . without a warrant, enter and search the premises for the purpose of apprehending the child … including braking of any door or window of such premises .” If the authority has any reasonable ground to enter premises to search or apprehend a child we suggest the person must have a warrant of arrest. ” … with a warrant, enter and search the premises for the purpose of apprehending the child . including breaking of any door or window of such premises …”
191(1)(g): On



“the reception, development and secure care of ‘children awaiting trial or sentence” If children are what they should be – dependence – the law of South Africa should not be contemplating that such Delete the clause and correct succeeding clauses such as (i).


can be housed for awaiting trial or sentencing in jail. Children must be corrected and not jailed. This clause is out of order.


Children’s Act, 2005

Clause: Children’s Act 2005 Amendment Discussion Proposed Amendment
129(1)ff: On consent to medical treatment In all the sections such as clause 129(3)(c) the child we propose must always be assisted by her parent, guardian or foster parent and have consent of such an adult or the state should provide the assistance of an adult such as a social worker, a magistrate, or a doctor etc. Even if a child of 12 years has a child, the 12 year old must be duly assisted by and adult. We propose the consenting age of a child be 18 years. Review the whole of section 129. Reopen section 129 for public debate to reach consensus.
130(2)(a): HIV- testing consenting from the age of 12 A child of 12 years must not be allowed to give consent and take responsibilities of an adult or what the state should provide. We propose the consenting age of a child be 18 years. Review the whole of section 30. Reopen section 130 for public debate to reach consensus.
130(2)(a)(ii): HIV- Please, a child under We propose the


testing consenting under the age of 12 the age of 12 despite what the legislation says should not be given the

responsibility of an adult or what the state should provide

consenting age of a child be 18 years. Review the whole of section 130. Reopen section 130 for public debate to reach consensus.
133: On

confidentiality of information on NHIV/AIDS status of children

Consider comments and suggestion made in regard to clauses 129 and 130. Apply the same with clause 133. We propose the consenting age of a child be 18 years. Review the whole of section 133. Reopen section 133 for public debate to reach consensus.
134: On access to contraceptives Consider comments and suggestion made in regard to clauses 129, 130 and 133. Apply the same with clause 134. We propose the consenting age of a child be 18 years. Review the whole of section 134. Reopen section 134 for public debate to reach consensus.



16 August 2007

This task has given me an opportunity of presenting some little work I have done two years ago on African Models of Caring for Vulnerable Children. Here is what I have to say about it. The Children Amendment Bill, I suggest should be further informed by such models as well.

Research on African Models of Caring for Vulnerable[1] Children in Traditional Communities: Towards a Proposal for Caring for Vulnerable Children in Modern Communities

Introduction: The denunciation and denigration of African traditional wisdom and caring lifestyle through modernisation and departmentalisation of life is continually denying modern humanity of the wealth of models of caring especially for vulnerable children. Digging back into traditional African wisdom, in search of the relics of manners and customs of caring, is the task given for this continuing research. This document is a perpetual investigation for African model of care for vulnerable children. It is discovered that some reminiscent tokens of caring for vulnerable children in African communities have been insulated African proverbs and philosophy of life concerning children. The one difficult aspect of this exercise is the application and the implementation of such remains of traditional communities on caring in our modern society. And yet modern society is searching for caring models to vulnerable children. “Recalling that, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance”[2]

The African Family and Care of Vulnerable Children

The Model 1: The Notion of the Entire Community as Family

Hardly a century ago, before the emergence of the city states of Kimberly (Diamond) Johannesburg (Gold), African society was not yet reduced to the social anthropological understanding which popularised the notion that it was composed of just extended families and polygamy. That the African family comprised of the entire village or community has been underplayed and undermined, and this has diminished the efficacy of the entire community as a caring community especially for vulnerable children and people. A person who had some form of vulnerability was called: Motho wa Modimo (a person of God). This person would also be called: Motho wa Kgobe (a person of God). At times not in a misunderstood diminutive sense, this person would be politely called: Segole (a cripple), a person to be cared for even when that person was not paraplegic (cripple) the word segole applied in a caring manner. This was one attitude that was practiced to a person from childhood up to adulthood.

“Such a family comprised an entire village; the husband, his wife or wives (six or seven of them for those who could afford them) and his children. According to Laydevant (mentioned in Chihota 2003: 31), sometimes the children continued to live with their parents even after they got married, each having their own huts cattle and fields.

However, they allowed people from other villages to join them and share their work, their feasts and funerals” (2003: 31)[3]

“Communal responsibility in raising children is seen in Sukuma proverb, One knee does not bring up a child, and the Swahili proverb, One hand does not nurse a child. Everyone in the extended family participates, especially the older children, aunts and grandparents and even cousins. Children are considered a communal blessing from God” (Healey and Sybertz 1996: 114). One more Sukuma proverb: It takes the whole village to raise a child

“The family, nuclear or extended, provides shelter and a sense of belonging for members; gives legal rights and responsibilities; allows money and property to pass to next generation; teaches patterns of behaviour and traditions of culture; provides loving environment for children; provides loving environment for elderly; provides care for the sick people; controls sexual behaviour” (Windsor and Hughes 1991: 20)[4]

Caring for Children in African Proverbs and Philosophy of Life

Vulnerable children, in physic, psychologically, parentally, because of illness and so on, had a special place in the heart of the African communities, traditional political and social institutions, in the family and among individuals, parents, relatives and friends. For ages this caring for vulnerable children has been expressed in African wisdom texts (proverbs, customs, traditions, culture, philosophy, sayings, religion and law). Each of these wisdom expressions provided the African community and person with a model of caring especially for vulnerable children up to their adulthood.

Proverbial Models:

The Model 2: The Mother Model

Intandane enhle ngu makhothwa ngunina

No African children must have no mother. No African child must have no family. No African child must have no food and shelter. And no African child must lack respect and discipline or someone to guide in the norms and values of respect and discipline. The following proverb from IsiZulu has the potential to riddle and transpose those who have no socialisation touch of the inner idiom and codification of African linguistics. Some European employers in the modern capitalist city states such as Johannesburg have asked their African employees with amazement – how many mothers do you have; because some African people perhaps to the detriment of business have been away from work to

bury their mothers. In an African setting, ideally everyone of the age of your parents, uncles, aunts, brothers or sisters is your parent and so on. This is even more so and strictly so within the family. When it comes to the caring and protection of vulnerable children it is said: Intandane enhle ngu makhothwa ngunina (lit. it might riddle more – A cute orphan is licked by its mother – better interpreted that an orphan has a special place of care and protection in the family). The African mother is extended to the entire community. An orphan may have no biological mother. But that orphan has aunts, grandmothers – people in and out of the family who have a responsibility to play a mother role especially to those who are vulnerable.

“An inspiring Sukuma proverb on sacrifice and self denial is: The hen with chicks doesn’t swallow the worm. Its main theme is “Parental Care”. The mother hen thinks of her children’s needs first. The proverb portrays a mother’s self-sacrificing love (see Is 49: 15 – 16[5]). The proverb is used of parents who take very good care of their children – providing them with food, clothing, and other needs” (Healey and Sybertz 1996: 113).[6]The Lord God of Israel uses a metaphor of a woman to explain, love caring and protection.

Following is some more enlightening African wisdom on caring for children. “When a woman is hungry she says: “Roast something for children that they may eat” (Akan, Ghana) (Ibid. 113)

“No matter how skinny, the son always belongs to his father (Galla, Ethiopia)(Ibid. 113) The Model 3: Unity and Sharing

Caring and sharing, and the recognition of the humanity of special people such as vulnerable children cannot escape a traditional African setting which values, humanity, nature, children, the elderly, respect, unity, sharing and divinity. The African traditional community is characterised by the sanctity of humanity, unity and sharing. African cosmology[7] is anthropocentric[8] (Kamalu 1990: 14; Ngoetjana 2002: 169). Humans[9] are dynamically engaged in the world. Humans are completely absorbed and embedded within the world. Humans and nature are one and are in harmony (Bediako 1995: 212). Nature cares for humans and humans mutually care for it (Setiloane 1976). African cosmology is monistic[10] and this monistic experience and human survival depends on the maintenance of an equilibrium or harmony in relationship with other life-forms.

One other saying about vulnerable children and adults goes: Ke motho (Is human – according to the inner nuances of African linguistics this phrase carries a special meaning
when applied to vulnerable children/ people) and Ke motho wa badimo (He or she belongs to the ancestors). In application to vulnerable children, as: ‘they are humans’ – remember how much African communities value humanity. Humanity is respected to an extent that humans are said to be divine. In a monistic and holistic cosmology there is no divide between the divine and the mundane. All humans are by nature divine. The whole of creation is by nature also divine. The human community is also extended to the ancestors. Remember ancestors were held with awe and respect in traditional communities and so will be people such as some vulnerable children who were believed that they are people of ancestors and to some it was also believed that they were possessed of ancestors.

“In Sotho-Tswana experience, society consists not only of men, women and children organised in hierarchical groupings. It consists of badimo, the living dead, whose intimate involvement in the details of daily life is taken as much for granted as that of an all-pervasive central government in a contemporary welfare state (Setiloane 1976: 20).

Following is some more proverbs on unity, cooperation, sharing: Unity is strength, division is weakness, sharing is wealth: (A Swahili proverb). I wonder how much of this proverbs could have been influenced by modern philological[11] expressions. It is very common in modern societies to hear about unity and strength in political circles especially of the liberationist type.

One finger does not kill a louse(Common in East and Central Africa) or One finger nail does not crush a louse (Ganda). Or One finder does not kill a flea (Maasai, Kenya/ Tanzania) (Ibid. 114).

The Model 4: Inclusion of Vulnerable Children in African Initiation Institution

“The ancient Basotho, initiation rites were among the most complicated rituals and ceremonies. They marked the transition from childhood to adulthood with formal course of instruction. Separate institutions existed for both boys and girls. However, it is not easy to take up a study about them because of the secrecy that surrounds their celebration. … Basotho believed that people who had not undergone rites of initiation were not capable of performing rational acts in life. … The Basotho, like the Xhosa people,

believe that the initiation school makes men out of boys and women out of girls” (Casalis 1993: 326 – 327 paraphrased by Chihota 2003: 32).

Vulnerable children would not be exempted nor excluded from participation in African institutions of passage. Besides the semblance of the romantisisation of African traditional communities, though there was a level of marginalisation and negligence of vulnerable children on the part of some, it was not the norm. Vulnerable children in African stories are portrayed as saviours and heroes of their people[12].

“Those who evaded initiation school lacked knowledge of the mysteries of life, human production and the implication of conjugal life. .those who evaded Lebollo/initiation School were forbidden from getting married. The mystery of the sacred was one of the motives for initiation because it introduced the candidates of initiation into the zone of the holy. Therefore, boys and girls who evaded initiation school, received psychological persecution and were looked down upon until they joined the school” (Manyeli 1966: 68, paraphrased by Chihota 2003: 32).

What is a Family For

It is intended that the family provides a stable background. It helps people cope with problems. It prepares children for adult life. In the family children are taught the ways in which society expects them to behave. This is called ‘socialization’. A family should cater for all its members. This includes bringing up children and looking after their spiritual and emotional needs as well as physical needs. A strong relationship between the married adults results in a more loving environment for children. This means that everyone is able to develop their talents and interests and to find their place both in the family and in society” (Windsor and Hughes 1991: 21).

When Things Go Wrong

“Ideally a family provides support for all its members. Sadly, things can go badly wrong. When this happens it is often the children who suffer most. Family frustrations are sometimes taken out on the children. This can result in child abuse, especially when the adults involved were abused as children themselves. The abuse may take the form of physical violence, physical and emotional neglect, or sometimes emotional and sexual abuse” (Windsor and Hughes 1991: 21).

“When marriages break down the children are likely to suffer. However carefully the parents explain what is happening, children can be confused. Many of them feel it is their fault that things have gone wrong. Sometimes they are very good at hiding their feelings. They seem to cope well and people fail to give them the support they need during the crisis. For example, they may be torn by loyalty to one parent or another, and need a great deal of understanding. Sometimes the problems are to do with money. Courts do their best to ensure the financial support of the children, but sometimes the parent who takes on the care of children is left with little more than state benefit. Sometimes the other partner may have to pay so much to support the children that he or she is left hardly able to cope” (Windsor and Hughes 1991: 24 – 25).

Upbringing of Children

I also had an opportunity of documenting the work of Mama Grace Masuku, of Lefatlheng at the North West Province. This is what she had to say about the upbringing of an African child. Though the children’s Bill is not about the African child per se it has a concern for vulnerable children the majority of whom by far happen to be Affrican in South Africa. Therefore, I thinlk this input is relevant in terms of saying portfolio
committees making laws in Africa for whom the majority is African must consider Afrcan ideas and wisdom. Here is what she has to say:

In the olden days, newly born babies and little children were loved and cared for. “Re ne re tshasiwa Letshoso (mafura a mafsi) gore re sole renne le letlalo le lentle le le redimogang, le phatsimang ke gore ‘to have a nice soft skin'”. The young’s bodies and skins were treated with Letshoso [processed milk cream] so that their outer skin should fall off and allow a new inner skin to emerge and make one look soft and beautiful. During winter times, we were smeared with ‘Waskerese’ (borrowed from Afrikaans, meaning ‘processed candle-wax’). We used Mosidi (ash) for washing out teeth and used Letlatswa (some granules made from a white soft rock) so that our teeth may not decay.

In those days, we used to oil our ears with the fat which was dropped from a hung Setlhong (Mafura a Setlhong a logetsa ditsebe – the fat of Setlhong (ground squirrel) is ointment and heals the ailments of the ear as well. For the healing of our eyes we used a certain plant which produced white flowers. This plant grows during the rainy seasons. For the healing of headaches, we used a plant called Mopipi (shepherd bushtree) which was burned so that we could inhale its smoke.

When we grew older and were able to wash ourselves, we used to smear ourselves with Ratsuku (Lemon). Ratsuku was special for anointing the legs. O bonagale gore o ngwana wa mang (it must be evident whose child you are or – O tlare o ngwana wa mang?) If not, how will it be known whose child you are?

At the age of nine, boys are separated from the girls. If possible, they would be placed in different huts. If this was not possible, they were not allowed to share the same blankets when sleeping. This is the time when the girls and boys could be clearly distinguished from each other. At this time, girls developed breasts. Usually one small breast will develop first. The elderly women would direct the girls to face east. The small breast would be ‘swept away’ with a broom (leswielo). The following morning, that breast would not show. The girls would be as plain as the boys. The kind of small breasts, which grow on girls at this time, are called (diolamolora). These are not fully developed breast but are of childhood (Diolamelora ke matswele a ntlha).

Some of the young girls would emulate in the manners and traditions of our ancestors to a stage where they would, for instance, go to schools and colleges far away from home. Whenever they come back during school holidays their parents would send them to go and see or greet or stay with the grannies. The reason for that is that parents knew that grannies had been tutoring the children and that they had more experience of detecting whether any thing has gone wrong with the children when they were away at school. One of the things grannies and parents would notice among many others is that the breasts of young girls are not in their usual shape. Matswele a seke a dira meriti (Breasts must not make a shadow). A tswanetse go emella (They must protrude upright).

It is at this time where girls would be encouraged to eat boreku (some whitish yellowish gum that protrudes on the tree bulks usually a tree called Mongana). The consistent eating of boreku at this time of girlhood delays the menstrual stage. The delay of the
menstrual stage would prospone interest in sexual interest and engagement. Thus, the girls would only begin to have interest and of sexual engagement at a reasonably late stage of their lifetime. Thus, the girls would customarily have some sexual awareness and interest at a fairly mature age.

In terms of the upbringing of the girls, they learned by observation. It is at this stage of the age of nine that the young girls were introduced to some of the homestead chores they could manage. However, firstly, they must just be very close to their mothers but especially their grandmothers who will kindle their interest in doing as they do – observe and practice. Why the grannies? Most probably in traditional communities their mothers would be entangled and preoccupied with family, matrimonial and community chores, keeping them slightly away from the homestead where granny would always available to guide the young girls properly as they would soon enter the teenage stage. Girls could begin to accompany the young adults and learn how and when to fetch water for cooking and washing and hew wood for making fire.

Some of the chores the young girls would be learning is threshing and winnowing (gophotha). In addition, learn how to produce or get pure grain (goolosa). Winnowing was done through leselo pictured below.

By the time, the young girls entered into the early teenage stage they would have learned to wash mogopo (wooden plate) very well. Mama Masuku gives the impression that girls took pride in this to an extent that they would compete about whose was the cleanest.

racteristic of the manner in which the young girls mogopo, as to demonstrate from which family a young girl comes from and this was indicated by the way her mogopo (a wooden bowl) is clean. The significant that was attached to the cleanliness of the mogopo was that it was also a reflection of the family from which the young girl came.

The principle taught through the inculcation of the pride of young girls in the way they wash mogopo is an exemplification of the Tswana people hold hygiene, sanitation, purity, wholesome-ness and cleanliness in very high regard.

This mogopo is washed by spinning. The outsider has to learn how to handle mogopo in order to wash it in a manner that befits a girl who comes from such and such an honourable family.

The Batswana young girls were taught responsibility. From a young age, the children had to learn to be responsible in terms of homestead chores and looking after their own belongings and the things they use such as their bedding and clothes. The girls were taught to use Leshaba (a form of Tswana cleaning agent) to wash traditional kitchen utensils. “. We were taught to harvest morogo (traditional spinach growing widely in the veldt and which could be cultivated at home as well. We were also taught to wash morogo at least thrice to ensure that it is clean, that it is without soil and it is ready for cooking.

At thirteen years of age, we were taught to faga pitsa (to cook porridge). We were trained at the beginning to cook from a small pot. The key lesson we were to learn was to use our hands to cook this porridge so that all the ingredients were well mixed and mashed. We would also be shown and practice how to cook Mothlodi (soft porridge). In our cooking, we were not allowed to have dibise/ potsa (lumpy or underdone porridge).

It was at this stage of thirteen years where we are taught go alola dikobo (make our bed). Even then, when a young teenager had made her bed it was expected to be so proper that the supervising adult cannot fault her and make the girl to redo it or do it herself. Should that happen, it would indicate that you are taking too long to learn and that is not good to hear or to know. Young teenage girls, in principle in Tswana culture, were inculcated with the value of doing their outmost best in whatever they do in life. The Tswana young people were taught that what they do must be pleasing, aesthetically appealing, commendable, upright, accurate, and immaculately clean.

It was at this young teenage stage when we were taught go fiyela (to sweep). The initial lesson or beginning part of it would be go fiyela lebala (to sweep homestead yard/outer court). “When you graduate you could fiyela lapa (sweep the inner homestead court). When that is done, you would then be introduced into beginning go kgopa lapa (to smear the inner court with, usually cow dung). As has been mentioned earlier, cleanliness is supreme in Tswana life” (Masuku 2006: November the 8th, Interview).

“After that you were qualified to dig letsopa (clay) and goleduba (to mash it or make it elastic” (Masuku 2006: November the 8th , Interview). Letsopa was used to make utensils for kitchen use such as the calabashes (dinkgo) to store milk for instance; for outer homestead use such as to store water, for ceremonies such as to bury the dead; for artefacts of arts and creativity and for toys to play with such as making cattle and play homesteads.” (Ibid.) Some of the utensils mentioned in this paragraph are pictured below.

The fact that the Batswana are conscious of cleanliness and purity cannot be overemphasised, and that their worldview, as shall be documented later, is monistic and holistic presupposes that consciousness of virginity permeates all facets and phases of the upbringing of girl children in all of life. Inclusively, concern about virginity should be
central or key to the upbringing of nubile girls and boys as Mrs Masuku would also concede.

In relation to the time when teenagers shall have been allowed to work with clay, creating all sort of traditional artefacts, Mama Masuku says that a tell-tale sign that a young girl has broken her virginity would be reported by when her clay pot cracks instead of becoming dry and strong.

If that was the case the necessary social, cultural, manners, customs and traditions shall be followed to mend the situation – meaning the young girls had to reveal what happened so that her relatives, sent by he parents, would notify the family of the male partner and find out whether there was any intention to marry her or not. If not, they would be obligated to pay for ‘damages’, i.e. paying for impregnating a nubile.

In those days re ne re thlatlhobiwa (in the past we underwent virginity testing). Gone go se ope a batlang go tlhabisa motsadi wa gagwe kgala (no one wanted to put his or her parents to shame). Gonna legama (to be a virgin) was very important. Ga one o fumanega ole lethari ( when if was found that you lost your virginity) we would ostracise or marginalise you. Our age group would really make you feel unwelcome. It was as if to be in lethari’s company is to approve her deeds and behaviour.

So, all of us would be careful not to be ostracised. Moreover, in that manner, society was coherent and organised in circuits and circles which respected wholeness and wellbeing. In those days by your way of standing, sitting and walking, we would realise whether you were sexually active or not. By the time one entered the teen stage, and as soon as they began to speak, understand and follow instructions, girl children were taught how to stand, t o sit and to walk.

The teenagers were admonished by the elderly and warned that soon, o tla bona moeng (lit. you will see a visitor – meaning you might begin to menstruate. The elderly warn – oya bosading o kanna wa tshola ngwana mosimane a seke a go kgoma (you will soon be a woman – you will have the capacity to have children – a boy (male person) must not
touch you (figuratively). In those days of old, the estimate and average age of menstruation was at eighteen to nineteen (18 – 19) years.

Today the estimate and average age of menstruation has gone down to 12, laments Mama Masuku. In the olden days, young people were not pressured by mannerisms and expectations, which burden them with adult life prematurely. The young people were very conscious to do good and well like their peers as befits their parents and families. The young feared the question that: Batho ba tla reng? (What will people say?). The young and the old treasured the value of respect for parents, the elderly, society, traditional leaders, people in leadership positions and the expectations of what people in heir age group are expected to behave like in society.

In the yester days, it was common to know that: Ngwana wa mosetsana ga a arabe motho o mogolo (a girl child does not answer back to an elderly person). The principle was that society was ruled by the virtue of respect for one another, young and old together mutually and reciprocally.

During our time, a woman was not allowed to drink liquor. It was a shame to see a drunken woman and no woman would have liked to be such a person. Yet, in some cases with old women, here and there sporadically and infrequently, you might have some of them having had some liquor and would have no social nor peer problem. However, the rule was no woman was allowed to drink liquor.

Mama Masuku describes her own old age life as a ‘pleasant surprise’. “I find fulfilment in all what I do everyday. I am passionate about educating children, telling them of the old villages, sacred places, human sexuality from an African perspective and this taking me again and again down memory lane cherishes my heart. I am thinking about children all the time. I feel they deserve the heritage due to them. I am ready and prepared to sacrifice my time and energy to go out there to be with them and connect with nature as we always have done. Before the Pilanesberg National Park was fenced we had pleasant times living freely with a variety of wild animals also living freely alongside communities.


As said in the abstract and content of this paper, it was a discussion on the Children’s Amendment Bill, 2007. We conclude that since the drafters of the law are far from finished, they may want to consider the African wisdom on caring and raising Children.

[1] The definition of vulnerability in this research seeks to include the physical, the psychological, the spiritual and sociological aspects. Should there be other relevant aspects of vulnerability, this research will endeavour to include them, more so as they relate to vulnerable children.

[2] 157.html, 1989, Convention of the Rights of the Children.

[3] Chihota, D. T. 2003. Funeral Rituals Among the Basuto: A Study of the Encounter Between Christianity and Basotho Traditional Religion. Unpublished Masters Thesis: University of Natal.

[4] Windsor, G and J. Hughes. 1991. Exploring Christianity: Christian Life, Personal and Social Issues. Oxford: Heinemann Education.

[5] Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for her child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See I have inscribed you in the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

[6] Healey, J (MM) and D. Sybertz (MM). 1996. Towards an African Narrative Theology. Faith and culture Series. New York: Orbis Books.

[7] Worldview

[8] Human centred

[9] Humans include vulnerable children as well.

[10] As opposed to dualism – the division between this world and the other.

[11] Philology is the science and study of the source or origin of languages or words.

[12] Conversation with Dr. D. Dziva, Programmes Director of the KwaZulu Natal Christian Council on the 01st March 2005. The researcher is looking out for such African stories on vulnerable children.