It takes a village to raise a child

2011-05-07 11:37

Nine million children without dads in South Africa.

Thirty percent of African children without a present father.

The statistics presented in a recent research report have sparked fierce debate.

On radio and TV, at taxi ranks and in newspapers, we are throwing our hands up and saying: “What ­happened?!”

But are we really shocked? Isn’t it that we, in true SA style, have grown used to pushing uncomfortable facts under the carpet?

I am not shocked that many ­fathers are not present.

I am shocked at how accustomed we have become to this fact.

It is clear that too many men are not playing their role in the African family. Why are we ­absent? First of all, let us admit that some of us are hardly present in our own lives, let alone someone else’s.

Millions of African men are indeed incredible father figures and role models, but we need to find out why so many others are not.

Knowing that an African world view cannot even exist without acknowledging the family as the foundation, how can it be that so many of us are not protecting it?

A great portion of the answer lies in our political history.

The economy of a forced ­migrant labour system, perpetuated and refined over many generations, made it quite unusual to grow up with both parents. It prevented parents from modelling a life for their children.

Growing up and not knowing much more than the fact that you do not want to replicate the family situation you were born into, makes for an unbalanced outlook on life.

Then there is the pressure to make an income and of not being able to. Not enough attention is given to understanding what men go through when they cannot provide, even the basics.

So the numbers of absent ­fathers is not an indication of how useless men are, but how ­redundant they have become. The political economy has set the stage for a cultural crisis – the ­fatherless society.

A cultural crisis should be ­resolved with a cultural approach. Drawing from – and upgrading – African wisdom can give us practical guidelines to solve an escalating crisis. Boys and girls will understand their purpose and how to carry themselves through rites of passage.

Motherhood and fatherhood cannot be entered ­into without close guidance from elders. As the saying goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.” That village must be us. All of us. Not feminists or masculinists, but “familyists”.

» Buntu is executive director of Ebukhosini Solutions and founder of Shabaka – Men of Afrika

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