We shouldn't rush to condemn mom accused of poisoning kids

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Zinhle Maditla, the 24-year-old mother accused of killing her four children, has been orderedby the court to undergo psychiatric evaluation.
Zinhle Maditla, the 24-year-old mother accused of killing her four children, has been orderedby the court to undergo psychiatric evaluation.
Image: Thulani Mbele

It was a poignant moment to see President Cyril Ramaphosa asking men at the Moses Mabhida Stadium to stand up as a sign of their commitment towards the eradication of gender-based violence in our country. It was brave of the president to make this call.

It is never easy for political leaders to confront the elephant in the room because in doing so, one stands to lose much-needed votes.

It could not have been an easy thing to do on his part, especially in a province that is known to be traditional, cultural and patriarchal.

I reflected on what Ramaphosa did when I read the sad story of Zinhle Maditla, who allegedly poisoned four of her kids.

I wondered how many of us would have made the call for the fathers of these children to be put in the dock for abandonment. Why don't we hear anything about them?

Why did they abandon these kids? Is it because they know that we have normalised absent fathers?

Is it because they know that there will be no consequences they will have to deal with or stigma attached to their abominable actions? That they will continue with their lives and the outrage would only be directed towards Maditla?

My heart goes out to Maditla for what must have been a difficult life with four children from different fathers who seem to have been absent from their lives.

Maditla must have had a raw deal from all of us. We often believe that ubuntu makes us different from other nations.

But guess what, when the rubber hits the tarmac, where is that ubuntu? Nowhere!

Our outrage, while understandable, is misdirected, if not hypocritical, I would argue.

Surely, the residents of Klarinet, where Maditla comes from, cannot tell me that they were not able to pick up that something was terribly wrong with her life.

What did that community do? What did the church in that community do?

Nothing, if you ask me.

All they did, like the rest of us, was to condemn, vilify and pass judgement on how horrible Maditla was as a mother.

None of us said anything about her abandonment.

We did not fail Maditla alone, but with her children.

Maditla's uncle Kevin Balance said: "She used to call my wife and spoke about how she was struggling and how she felt like a failure."

He goes on to say "she needed help, she cried out, but not physically. We were too blind to see the signs. People are living with depression. We should talk more about it, make people aware of it but most importantly, work towards being a support system."

I fully agree with the uncle but that support system remains a mere pipe dream in our society. We are the perfect embodiment of the saying "everyone for himself and God for us all".

I find clinical psychologist Dr Kgamadi Kometsi's words soothing, when he says: "In most cases, for something as hectic as that to happen, one would have needed to lose contact with reality because doing something like that while in full contact with reality would be completely overwhelming for a normal person."

He goes on to say "we need to gain an understanding of what is happening in our society that is resulting in these kinds of acts. A multi-disciplinary approach is needed where churches, community leaders and healthcare professionals join hands to provide the assistance that is needed."

It is so true and there is also no doubting that the absence of a father in a child's life has debilitating consequences.

Finally, we should all thank Ramaphosa for making a clarion call for all of us men to stand up and be counted. It can't be business as usual. Maditla and the four kids needed the support, love and encouragement of their father/s.

Next time you are tempted to blame Maditla for this tragedy, ask yourself: "Why am I silent on the role the different fathers should have and must have played?"

May their souls rest in peace.

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