Belt-wielding warrior shows tough love is still needed to straighten up unruly kids

Fred Khumalo Watching You
The sight of pupils drinking alcohol while walking township streets has become all too familiar. The writer applauds one grown-up who decided to do something about it./BAFANA MAHLANGU
The sight of pupils drinking alcohol while walking township streets has become all too familiar. The writer applauds one grown-up who decided to do something about it./BAFANA MAHLANGU

Visiting a friend in Alexandra at the weekend, I witnessed a scene that not only startled me but also took me back to my childhood.

Around 1pm, having parked the car a distance away from my friend's house, I saw a group of children walking down the street, passing a Black Label quart from one to the next, and shouting obscenities.

The eldest among these children must have been 14. I had to slow down, and look around to see if this was not, perhaps, some crazy theatrical presentation in commemoration of June 16.

Some grown-ups passing by also paused, shook their heads and walked on. Suddenly there appeared a middle-aged man from one of the yards. He grabbed one of the kids by the wrist and shouted at him, "Aren't you Skipper's son? Does your father know you drink alcohol and behave like a piece of ...?"

He removed his belt and let it do the talking. Stunned, the other inebriated children scattered.

Having delivered some stinging blows with his belt, and still gripping the kid by his wrist, the man looked around. Possibly to assure onlookers that he was not some sociopath, he said, "I know this child's father. Now I am taking him home, so his parents can see him."

An elderly woman congratulated the belt-wielding warrior, saying, "Thank you, my child. It's about time these kids were taught a lesson."

The scene playing itself out on that street struck a chord with me. In the township of my childhood, outside Durban in the 1970s and 1980s, a grown-up had a right to do exactly what that man did. If he saw children misbehaving he could reach out to the nearest peach tree, from which he would remove a swish (branch).

With relish, he would administer the swish to the miscreant. Screaming and asking for mercy, the child would then be dragged to his parents' home where the swish-wielding stranger would explain to them what he had done to their child.

In most cases, the parents would thank the stranger for the intervention before taking the child inside the house so they could continue where the stranger had left off.

As a result, a grown-up was a figure of authority on our streets. He could tell children to stop racing bicycles at a dangerous intersection, and they would listen. He would not hesitate to attack glue-sniffing children. They would run away, screaming. A young person wouldn't smoke in front of a grown-up.

Though this was a township, the adage "It takes a village to raise a child" was applicable. And it worked.

When I was in my teens, there were grown-ups I hated as they had "sold" me on numerous occasions to my parents. Only when I'd grown into a man did I realise that these grown-ups had been acting in my best interests.

One day I swallowed my pride and went to their house to thank them. Naturally, the couple didn't know what I was referring to. They'd made those interventions not because they wanted to be thanked and acknowledged. In the absence of my biological parents, who were at work, I was their child who needed to be put on the straight and narrow. Finish and klaar.

But let's admit, in this day and age, it's tricky. In terms of the law, which frowns upon physical intervention, it becomes difficult for a parent to discipline his own child, let alone a stranger's. However, the incident showed me there are still pockets of goodwill in the community, and that what Americans refer to as "tough love" can still work.