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Psychology in the African home

My family are experts on female child behavioural patterns

A dad limits the movements of his rebellious teenage daughter in a fun and inventive way
A dad limits the movements of his rebellious teenage daughter in a fun and inventive way
Image: 123RF

 It’s 2009, I am 16 in grade 11 and I know everything! I have a sharp and witty tongue; quick responses and you really can’t say anything to which I will not respond.  

I can bet my monies on the fact that parenting me during those years was nothing short of nightmarish. I remember my dad reprimanding me about the length of some of my garments. On this one day, he said the skirt I was wearing was uncomfortably short, to which I responded, “if short skirts make you uncomfortable, dad, the logical thing is for you not to wear them as to avoid discomfort”. I remember the sheer defeat engulfing his eyes and face.  

Retrospectively, there are many incidences I can recall where my attitude must have come across as Luciferian in nature but hey – I was a teenage girl. My dad would limit my movements in fun and inventive ways – tasking me with reading lengthy historical and literary books. One holiday, he promised me R500 under the condition that I read Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom in seven days.  

I remember spending every waking moment reading the book, while simultaneously creating and updating my glossary – a vocabulary building technique learned from my primary school librarian Chrissie le Roux (nee Gray).  

At the time, my friends would link up at the mall, movies or even ‘chill sessions’. This always made my dad uncomfortable – of course I didn’t know this then. I suspect if he had been candid – he would have been met with resistance. It is my nature.  

Upon extensive review, after the fact, I can safely say he essentially pulled off a psychological hat trick because: 1) he found ways to keep me indoors and out of trouble; 2) got me engaged in a hobby that would only ever prove useful; 3) he avoided a headache induced by exchanging words with me! In all truthfulness, he hacked the psychology of a teenage girl and let her think she was winning. Brilliant! 

My recollection of my adolescence reminds me of a notion I arrived at while visiting my maternal home over youth day weekend. Actually, let me not take the credit, my grandmother was part and parcel. Walk with me...

Sholto Dolamo and his daughter Zipho in Rockville, Soweto
Sholto Dolamo and his daughter Zipho in Rockville, Soweto

My grandmother, 77, shared a childhood memory with me where she concluded that “abantu bakudala babeyazi psychology” (elderly people were aware of psychological programming). She told the story of how she struggled with enuresis as a child. It was always a source of great embarrassment for her. She would often wake up and change before everybody else – even though she was the youngest and her older siblings paid her no mind.  

She shared memories of visiting her maternal grandmother, umama ka maGxubane (maGxubane’s mother) also known as maMpinga. At the time maMpinga lived in Ndakini Village, Mqanduli. Upon arrival, maMpinga would insist that my grandmother slumber beside her. In the morning, my grandmother would wake up disappointed again that she couldn’t control her bladder, but she had a superhero.  

MaMpinga would help her change and at breakfast, with the rest of the family, she would announce that she woke to dry sheets – although she and her granddaughter, my grandmother, knew that to be untrue. She and her granddaughter would exchange smirks and it was their little secret.  

My grandmother is convinced that her grandmother’s actions were a hack on her psychology as a little girl, who carried a great deal of shame over something she couldn’t control. 

Madlamini, my gran, and I had an in-depth conversation on the sophisticated nature of maMpinga’s psychological devices. My grandmother emphasised that her gran, maMpinga, had no formal education but it was clear that she understood the psychological state, wants and needs of a 6-year-old girl carrying shame.  

Madlamini and I joked that we were almost certain that maMpinga had possibly lived her entire lifetime without having ever heard the word (psychology), unlike my dad. This, however, didn’t mean that she, maMpinga, was clueless and unknowing of the subject matter and its devices. Au contraire actually.  

Based on some of the other stories, madlamini told me about her grandmother, and her thinking – it is clear that intomb’endala (the old lady) had a firm grasp on principles of self- esteem and other behavioral modification tools like operant conditioning. Brilliant really when I think about it.

MaMpinga and Modikeng (my father) are experts on female child/ adolescent behavioral psychology – in my most humble opinion. I think like many wise elders, they really applied themselves to the varying challenges unique to their subject i.e., and my grandmother and I. Dlamini and I were and still are extremely fortunate to have had such knowledgeable people.  

We often only hear stories of toxic, inconsiderate black homes where our mental and psychological states are ill-considered or just unchartered territory. I just offered you a varying positive perspective – you’re welcome!  

One more thing, think about some of the psychological devices used in parenting and raring you... some of those tools are incredibly sophisticated, aren’t they?  


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