Traditionally, Batswana are friendly and communal people who make it a point that they know the people with whom they exist in a certain location or community.
Many visitors from Europe and America have often been surprised by the way Batswana stop to greet others when they meet on the streets, in a queue in the bank or when boarding a bus or combi.
In the past, it was common place for children to be sent to ask for a bowl of sugar or a pinch of salt from the neighbours when the family supply had run out.
But this tradition is slowly fading away in urban areas, where the “mind your own business” mentality has encroached. Our communal tradition is slowly fading away, especially in urban areas, where households are fortified with electric gates and screen walls.
People do not bother to find out who their neighbours are. It is not surprising to find a normal Motswana not knowing the name of his or her neighbour, even though they have been living next to each other for a couple of years.
In some cases, this has proven to be a recipe for disaster, because, there are always problems in life. At one point or another, one might need help. But one cannot seek assistance from people whom one never greets.
James Kapeko was a vibrant five-year-old who lived with his mother in the upmarket Block 5 location in Gaborone. Even though they had recently moved to Block 5, James usually played with his new found friends after school.
But that was not known to his mother, for he made sure that he bathed and kept himself busy with his play station an hour before his mother came home from work.
You see, his mother had told him not to play with the dirty neighbours.
One day, in the middle of the night, little James got seriously ill and needed medical attention. His mother did not own a car, so she called a cab. Needles to say, the cab took long, and James’ situation worsened as the mother waited for the cab to arrive. Eventually, when they got to the hospital, little James was certified dead.
The neighbours had to swallow their pride to visit the bereaved family, even though the mother was not very friendly. It eventually came out that James would not have died if the cab had not taken long.
One of the neighbours asked James’ mother why she did not seek assistance from them, as they had cars and would have gladly transported James to hospital.
Her answer was simply that because she did not know them. The neighbours were left aghast.
A similar event took place in Tlokweng, where another unfriendly woman left her house in the morning and came back in the evening to find that thieves had taken all her belongings.
Thieves just backed a truck into her yard in broad daylight and loaded all her furniture and food and left. The neighbours, who did not want to be seen to be prying, did not bother to ask the thieves any questions, and they kept to their business. They later explained that the thieves were the woman’s friends. After all, “she never spoke to us”. They could not be faulted.
The Bible teaches us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It is also one of the pillars of our national Vision 2016 to be a compassionate, just and caring nation.
What better way to do that than to start with the one that lives closest to you?
Back in the good old days we all knew the people living next door or upstairs. When a new neighbour moved in, they would often be welcomed with tea or cookies, or they would come over and introduce themselves. But with our modern, hectic lifestyles, chats over the garden fence are often things of the past. Many of us rarely talk to our neighbours.
Kagiso Mswela, a 30-year-old bachelor who lives in a rented BHC house in Block Seven says although he sees his neighbours quite often, they are not familiar with each other and never communicate. Though he acknowledges the fact that it could be helpful to get acquainted with his neighbours, Mswela says he does not think he will go over and introduce himself any time soon because he does not want to be bothered.
“Once I go there, those people might start interfering with my personal life, besides I am not really the one for petty talk,” he says.
In an interview with Sunday Standard, Superintendent Bonnie Bareki of Gaborone West Police Station said it is very important to know and have constant communication with one’s next-door neighbours. He says they encourage people to form neighbourhood watch groups in order to join hands in the fight against crime.
“We always advice people to inform their neighbours whenever they travel, so they can care for their houses when they are gone. The number of reports we have lately been receiving from people whose houses get broken into during broad daylight is a cause for concern. In most cases these things are taken in full view of the neighbours,” he said.
According to Bareki, in all these cases the perpetrators get away as there is always no information for them to make follow ups.
“When we ask the neighbours they always say they just saw a truck loading stuff and were under the impression that the owner was moving houses,” he said.
All this could have been avoided if people learned to live with each other.