In many parts of the world, when you become a parent your first serious concerns are about whether your baby will develop colic or take to the formula and when they’re older, whether they’ll make friends at school and like their teachers. Once they become teenagers, it’s about peer pressure, drugs, drinking and teen pregnancy.
But living in South Africa these worries are secondary compared to what now keeps me up at night. As parents, the law and powers that be have let us down by failing to create a safe environment that protects us and our children. The freedoms that were fought for in the struggle, have been denied us by criminals who prey on our communities daily – denying us the freedom to enjoy a life without fear.
I have turned into a paranoid parent who looks at everyone with suspicion. No-one is exempt from my distrust. At home I worry whether my nanny can take care of my children without physically abusing them. Around the complex I fear that the maintenance men could harm them. At school my distrust shifts to teachers and fellow pupils. Playing in the park no longer feels safe lest someone tries to abduct or buy one of them. Shopping malls are potential havens for paedophiles and kidnappers. Sleepovers at friends are allowed with such trepidation for who knows what the sexual preference of the host father is? Family is not excused either, for how many times have we read of the uncle that fiddles or in even more disgusting situations, the father that sexually molests their child.
As a parent how do you not give in to all these fears and yet remain vigilant enough in a place where every single situation is potentially dangerous? I wish I knew. Personally I have learnt to trust my gut, and every day try to teach the kids to always be alert , learn to say no and report suspicious behaviour. Helpers and nannies always come recommended with references and we have forged strong friendships with our neighbours who help keep an eye on the children when we are not around. At any given time we know where everyone is and what they are doing…(long may it last). We are teaching the kids to defend themselves physically and over and above all of this, we pray and ask God to protect us every day.
All this might sound extreme but this is the reality of our situation. Ideally I want to wake up in a country where my children need not fear every stranger that comes near them. I want to raise my children in a place where being hospitable and kind will not lead to their harm. I want a day where the village that is supposed to help raise my children is not full of predators that will rape and murder them.
Sadly for us South Africa is not that place and today is not that day.