In the past week I have had the opportunity to talk to two parents whose sons are struggling with drug addiction. The first, a widow, talked about how her son had dropped out of university in South Africa and was back with her here in Zimbabwe.
She described painfully her attempts at rehabilitating him. She has been doing what the experts recommend. He has been in and out of rehab but each time he returns home he quickly relapses into the addiction. She says she has now concluded that the drugs her son uses are just too readily available. Her son only has to sneak out of the house for a few minutes and he comes back high. She has given up on resending him to rehab and to see specialists because the rehabilitation facilities are always full and now to get her son in any of them she has to bribe some officials.
In the home he has caused lots of attendant problems. To feed his habit he has been stealing from his mother. First, he stole the utensils that were not frequently in use, so it took time for her to notice that he was nicking stuff. When those ran out he went for the electric gadgets. He would steal customers’ and visitors’ mobile phones at the shop she ran. Then he went for her money. He did it so cleverly that it was difficult at first to pin the thefts on him but as time went on it became clear he was the culpriti. The police were not too helpful just advising her to send him to rehab; they actually took him there on several occasions.
She has tried faith healers in vain and is about to give up.
The second parent is a middle-aged man whose son got hooked on drugs and also dropped out of a local university. His behavior was similar to that described above. But the dad took a totally unorthodox route. He used corporal punishment! Whenever his son came home high he would give him a thorough hiding. Whenever the son sneaked out of the house, he would hunt him down and give another thorough beating. He is a big man and the son had no chance of fighting back. Afraid of the constant beating he stayed home and now he is a nice little fellow.
Many people have said poor parenting is at the heart of the drug problem. It is difficult of course to raise children, especially adolescent sons, as a single mother.
That may explain the widow’s frustration and helplessness. In the second instance the father was a tough individual who brooked no nonsense.
Our schools have softened their approach to discipline because it is now illegal to apply corporal punishment on pupils. People now misbehave openly because they are sure their teachers won’t beat them up. The children’s parents too have gone soft and won’t punish their children. But because of this we are raising a lost generation. In the old days, misbehaving children in the urban areas were sent to “Samukange”. This was a gentleman appointed by the authorities to discipline deviant children. “Samukange means the one who roasts something”. He gave the errant children, especially boys, what were called “cuts” which were in fact whiplashes using a hippo-hide sjambok. No boy ever wished to visit Samukange twice!
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In African culture corporal punishment was always part of child rearing. There was an outcry when government banned it in schools. There should be a fresh debate on whether corporal punishment should be permitted again. Some of the kids begin taking drugs at the tender age of 10. It just takes a strong-willed parent to beat up the child and the child would return into line.