A father should never abdicate his responsibility

I visited a funny place called Lumbadzi last week. Funny, because it is purportedly located in the city of Lilongwe although it is technically in Dowa district. Because of its proximity to Kamuzu International Airport (KIA), it enjoys the oversight of the City of Lilongwe. Residents of Lumbadzi, for example, draw their water from Lilongwe Water Board facilities.

The boundary between Lilongwe and Dowa districts is the Lumbadzi River. It is interesting that those that work at KIA, which is on the Lilongwe side of the river, actually, live in Dowa technically.

While I was at Lumbadzi, I met a boy who was selling bundles of firewood. Each bundle contained two or three sticks, and was selling for K25. He carried his firewood on a bicycle.

For more reasons than one, a certain curiosity descended upon me when I met the boy. The first reason was that this innocent soul was helping to degrade the environment, as it was more likely than not that the trees he was harvesting were never replaced. Secondly, and, perhaps more seriously, it was about 9 o’clock in the morning when I met the boy—time he should have been at school. I quizzed him a little.

“Where do you live, young man?” I enquired.

“Kaputalambwe Village, Sir.”

“Do you go to school?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Are you selling this firewood for yourself or for somebody else?’

“My mother asked me to come.”

“You mum, and not your dad?”

“Yes, my mum. My dad is always busy moulding bricks.”

“Who sends you to school?”

“My mum.”

A mother sends a child to school while the father is busy pursuing something else. That is the tragedy of the matrilineal system of family organisation, locally known as chikamwini. Fathers are detached from their children and do not feel any obligation to give the necessary guidance to them to prepare a nice foundation for their future. After all, the reasoning goes, the children are somebody else’s Mbumba (clansmen/women). I call such fathers ‘absentee fathers’.

Patrilineal societies fare much better in this respect, which is why Northerners patronise academic institutions in far greater numbers than do their counterparts from the Central and Southern regions.

A deliberate effort needs to be made to address this wide spread problem. I am looking forward to the day one chief will rise and declare—Kachindamoto style—that all children in his/her area will have to attend school.

Hats off to Inkosi Kachindamoto of Dedza for taking the bold step to annul child marriages in her area. Let somebody borrow a leaf from her and declare their area a one hundred percent school-going area. It can be done.

Fathers who do not bother to send their children to school should be made to atone for their inaction. That way, the society will inculcate in every man the responsibility to send his children to school and keep them there. This is more the father’s responsibility than the mother’s, and it is certainly not the responsibility of the maternal uncles.

Institutions such as gulewamkulu can be used to good effect in this respect. In the past, gulewamkulu would prevent children from going to school because of the animosity that existed between it and the church. Almost all schools were mission schools then and, therefore, going to school meant associating oneself with the church, which gulewamkulu practitioners loathed. Today, the situation is very different. There are many government and private schools all over the country. Gulewamkulu can mobilise people to send children to school and mop up all those who stay away, urging them, by force if necessary, to attend school on a regular basis.

That way boys like the one I met at Lumbadzi would stay at school all the time. If they want, they can still sell their wares, but not while school is in session. They can do so in the afternoon after knocking off from school. It baffles me that this boy did not wait until the afternoon of that Friday before cycling to Lumbadzi Trading Centre to sell his firewood.

Kaputalambwe Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkukula, Lilongwe is just one village of the many thousands where fathers have abdicated their responsibility to send their children to school. Let my readers search within their areas and determine how they fare in terms of parents, under the father’s leadership, taking up this noble responsibility.

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