The gods are looking the other way while we men fail

Most of us know him simply as Makhathini and never bother to find out his first name.

Most of us know him simply as Makhathini and never bother to find out his first name.

We give him plastic smiles or even ignore him when we encounter him at the reception area each day.

Lucas Makhathini is a colleague in the security department at Sowetan's offices in Industria West.

A humble and friendly man is Makhathini, but this week a call from him made me sit up and regard him closely.

"I am worried," he said quietly, yet firmly enough to make me listen up.

"We as men have abandoned our traditional values, sheared off the African roots that earned us the respect of our women, children and nation," Makhathini said.

Our discourse lasted about five minutes but it was incisive and very educative.

Makhathini said he was especially aggrieved by the fact that black men attend funerals to parade their wealth in the form of the cars they drive or the suits they wear. They have little to do with mourning or comforting the bereaved families.

"It is disheartening to see men rush off to their cars after the last rites, instead of filling the grave as is custom.

"In traditional societies men knew that it was their duty to fill the grave at a funeral. Today you see bereaved families hiring graders - an additional expense - to put the soil into the grave, while the men watch as women patiently sing hymns."

He observed that the country was going through a rough patch in many ways. He said rampant crime and misguided behaviour by the youth, among other examples, were caused by the dearth in exemplary leadership qualities of black men.

Makhathini is right.

In Africa we believe that bad things happen for a reason.

As Makhathini puts it, the gods must be looking the other way while we fail as men to take the lead the best way our forebears taught us.

I think my colleague is appealing to the spirit rather than the mind, to the soul and the will to do the right thing.

Indeed the gods are angry, and, as Makhathini says, it is by rejecting age-old values such as respecting the dead that the ancestors' ire is drawn.

The attainment of ubuntu, says Makhathini, begins with the respect of self.

"Yes, self-respect engenders the regard for others. As such, men in urban areas should emulate those in rural communities who still cling to their cultural roots."

In the rural communities a bereaved family feels really comforted at the end of the day because of the respect and warmth shown by neighbours and other mourners.

There the men know their role: to bury one of their own with dignity. The women pool resources and feed mourners in the days leading up to the funeral.

Few are buried as paupers in such communities - which are largely poverty-stricken - because the spirit of ubuntu still prevails.

The absence of this spirit is the cause of Makhathini's fears that we will see the end of black culture and African tradition that had been practised throughout the centuries.