South Africa is a good candidate for Supernanny. You know, that British TV show where the no-nonsense nanny whips dysfunctional families and bratty kids into shape in a matter of days. Usually it is the parents' fault that the kids are little terrors.
South Africa is no different. Soon we will be negotiating with toddlers… and it will be of our own doing.
"I wannanother sweetie! I want! I WANT!"
"No darling. I'm giving you to the count of three to let go of your sister's hair. If you don't do what I say, I'm going to be really mad…"
"No, don't wanna…"
"Right! One… two… two-and-a-half… two-and-three-quarters…"
"Keep counting lady, I'm gonna make this household ungovernable. I want a packet of sweets. Every day. And I'm not going to wear my nappy. Ever. And if little sis even thinks about smiling cutely during this conversation, I'm going to flush her Teletubbie down the toilet. And then I'm going to smash up my Lego set and you are gonna to have to buy me a new one."
Sound familiar? Well, it should. Recently the Congress of South African Students threw a teenage version of this tantrum. Their demands: scrap preliminary exams and "compensate" learners by automatically awarding them the 25 percent that the exams would have contributed to their final matric mark.
Outrageous! Who do these young whippersnappers think they are? Good students, apparently. The problem is not that they are not learning anything; the problem is that we, as a nation, are teaching them the wrong lessons.
When teachers take to the streets, disrupt classes and put their students' futures at risk, we are teaching them that education is not important.
When strikers barricade hospitals and let vulnerable little babies die, we are teaching them that life is not valuable.
When the army or police force abandons their protective duties and takes to the streets, we are teaching them that discipline is overrated.
When honourable public servants are coerced into joining the strike, we are teaching them that in the face of solidarity or a few extra bucks, principles are meaningless.
And when violence is used to convey frustration and anger, we are teaching them that this is the only way to express dissatisfaction.
Perhaps most importantly, we are entrenching a culture of entitlement. In a country where a significant portion of the population is unemployed, having a job is actually something of a privilege. Sure, abuse needs to be addressed, but the fact that there is now a recognised annual 'strike season' suggests that striking has simply become part of the bargaining process – no initial offer is ever going to be good enough.
We are training our youth to expect hand-outs without nurturing in them the critical thinking skills that will enable them to see that, in the long run, hand-outs disadvantage rather than advantage them. We have taught them about their rights, but forgot to include the footnote on the responsibilities which accompany these rights.
Can we lay some of the blame for our dysfunctional family at apartheid's door? Almost certainly. But only idiots do not learn from the lessons of the past. And that includes the idiots who throw their hands up in the air and bemoan the state of the nation without making any effort to change it. Unless we provide an alternative – a better version of parenting – we bear equal responsibility for the failure of our nation's children.
We can hardly expect our youth to behave like mature, responsible adults if we act like a bunch of petulant children.
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