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Sindiwe Magona on writing 'When the Village Sleeps'

09 May 2021 - 00:00 By Sindiwe Magona

Call it divine guidance, a nudge from  the ancestors, but my conscience would not let me be.

Years ago I read an article in The Echo (a local community newspaper) about a teen mom who said she'd deliberately maimed her unborn child for the higher grant that deformed babies receive.

My emotions swirled and went from pure horror to blame but, eventually, I realised that blame is not action and what was called for was action - on behalf of the children of this nation, our children. They are ours in community for we are the village into which they are born innocent.

What has happened to us, where we end up with a 13-year-old who plans pregnancy and subsequently maims her baby? We have to think hard about the kind of society we are, where such a terrible thing happens - with our eyes wide open. We lead the world in fetal alcohol syndrome cases, with which we have lived for decades. Where are the alarm bells?

"This is a growing trend in the townships," the social worker interviewing the young mother stated, concluding the article.

What surprised me was the acceptance of poverty as unchangeable. What we do, as society, is not enough. The child grant does not begin to address the causes of the dire straits our children live in.

Poverty is not new, neither is the begetting and raising of children. The problem is convincing those stuck in poverty and the unwitting and/or cunning enablers, academics and politicians who fail to see there is no help when the person has no agency. There is no help when the person remains stuck in the same hellhole. Society ought to help the poor become nonpoor.

So back to my book: the novel raises the alarm that should have been rung long, long ago.

There are light-hearted moments in the story, despite its desultory message; when the maimed girl turns the table on those who berate and humiliate her, and leaves them less whole than the "deformed" they so want to belittle.

When the Village Sleeps by Sindiwe Magona is published by Picador Africa, R290