Analysis: CATHERINE MUMBA
THE upsurge of young men engaging themselves in gang activities is worrying and requires serious attention.We first heard of the Sons of the Devil who kept people indoors during last year’s Christmas in Kitwe and later the Tokota boys in the same town.
Mongu also has had its own share of the Dark City boys plus many other gangs which have just not been in the news yet.
What has stood out about these gangs is that the young men involved are extremely violent, fearless and wild.
For example, the video that circulated of the Tokota boys attacking a 16-year-old boy who they later sodomised was so distressing and unbelievable that there could be such cruelty among young men.
The boy was badly traumatised and I am pretty sure that it will be difficult for him to get over that particular incident.
After the arrest of the Tokota boys, it was obvious that most people in Kitwe were relieved as it was evident from how much they celebrated when the boys were being moved to and from court by police.
However, I have been left thinking on how best this growing brutality among our young men could be addressed.
And in my point of view, I feel families have a big role to play in addressing this problem and preventing more boys from engaging in gang activities.
I know that sometimes families have less control on the decisions of a person when they reach a certain age, but I believe we could try to contribute something to their character by taking some measures when we still have authority over them.
Why do I say so? I have noticed that most families pay extra attention to every stage of the growth of a girl child more than they do to the males.
This is mainly because males are considered to be stronger and capable of taking care of themselves compared to females, who are seen to be fragile and vulnerable to many things.
For example, most families react badly when their girls go home late compared to the boys. As usual, the sentiments passed are usually that ‘he is a boy after all so he can take care of himself’.
As a result, most boys begin to engage in various activities without their families even having a clue. Before they realise it, they are living with a complete stranger under their roof.
I remember getting on a bus recently with a woman who was sharing with her friend how her 17-year-old grade 10 son started abusing alcohol and hanging out with some gang without her noticing.
“He used to get home late so I thought he was having group studies with his friends and I didn’t bother to ask until I was called at his school to be told that he has been drinking, missing classes and bullying fellow students with his squad.
“I swear I almost thought his teacher was fabricating stories until he harshly responded to her in my presence saying it was his life and he would not quit alcohol for education,” the woman said.
So everything was happening under her roof without her noticing that something had changed about her son.
Boys, like the girl child, should not be left to groom themselves in the name of them being male and strong.
Like it is for the girl child, families should also take keen interest in what is going on in the lives of their boys because once they are lost to some activities, it is hard to get them back on track.
I have also seen some people encouraging their boys to always use their muscles whenever someone provokes them on grounds that a strong man should always fight to defend himself.
As simple as this statement may sound, it carries a lot of weight and could contribute to a boy growing into a violent person because the first thing that will cross their mind when they are provoked is to fight to prove their manhood.
We have to start teaching boys from a tender age that they do not have to engage in fights to prove their status because gangs usually comprise individuals who feel they are the strongest in a particular area.
All the fighting and attacking is only aimed at proving themselves and satisfying their ego.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should also take keen interest in helping to raise men of integrity.
We cannot afford to have a generation of violent and disrespectful young men.
Today, we are seeing the challenge of early child marriage among girls being addressed as can be seen from the increasing numbers of those in school.
This is because NGOs, families, Government and families stood up to find the root cause of the problem and started providing solutions as well as implementing them.
I believe we can do the same about the young men and their engagement in illicit activities.
Let us not neglect the boys. If it means coming up with social clubs in schools and communities specifically aimed at helping to nurture young men of integrity who will someday be fathers and leaders at various levels, let it be done.
As someone who comes from a township, I know how difficult it is to move after 20:00 hours because various gangs of boys would have taken over the roads.
Try to offend them and they will demonstrate just how much they are in charge. And the worst part is that most of them have dropped out of school.
The only activities they are actively involved in are drinking, chasing after girls and brutalising those that fall prey to them.
We need to treat the issue of gang activities as an urgent problem whose solution should be found soon. Otherwise, we will soon see an increase in the number of young men in our correctional facilities.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail correspondent.
Analysis: CATHERINE MUMBA