All in the family

2012-09-01 10:25

In response to President Jacob Zuma’s Green Paper on families, City Press staffers provide some insight about what family means to them.

Percy Mabandu

I come from a place where the idea of family takes on a fluid sense about who it includes and excludes.

So when I use the phrase “we are family” or “these are my people”, I’m talking about more than just my blood relations.

I was a child in the early 1990s and late 1980s when my mother sold booze for subsistence.

Our patrons included Bophuthatswana police officers in uniforms, along with anti-establishment toyi-toyi enthusiasts of the time.
However, the old lady managed to equalise these disparate clans into a harmonious unity with a genial embrace over jazz, laughter and drinks.

There were also the Zimbabwean merchant women who visited in alternating groups every fortnight. They slept in the back room shack and shared everything in our home – from meals to memories.

They became family too.

Just as were all the blood cousins, uncles and aunts who arrived regularly to seek counsel from their eldest sister or aunt.

She happened to be mother to my two sisters and I, though that title was not exclusively her own either.

My aunt, her younger sister, shared the role. Her son is my brother too, and the word cousin feels foreign in our circle.

Hence, family is defined as a process of connectedness, not a ticket to exclusive affections.

That’s why our newborns are also taught to keep that bracket open to strangers too.

It’s like poet Saul Williams once wrote: “Talk to strangers when family fails / And friends lead you astray ... And when you finally take the time / To see what they’re about ... Perhaps you’ll find them lonely or their wisdom trips you out.”

Nicki Gules

I have one of those cookie-cutter sort of families that those working on government’s conservative green paper would view as normal – admirable, even. We are a husband and wife who have been married for eight years. We have a daughter and a son, both born in wedlock. On the surface, the perfect little nuclear family.

The green paper speaks of “strengthening marriages”; supporting families; and helping families provide for the “socialisation, nurturing, care and protection” of children.

I think those who compiled it should come and spend some time at my house.

They will then see how the state can really help families like mine, and how we are not so normal – despite the fact that we would dearly like to be.

For starters, my husband, an immigrant, only received his ID book from the Department of Home Affairs three months ago, after they lost his permanent residence application three times and our marriage certificate twice.

 I was forced to beg the director-general for help.

As a result, my frustrated husband has been unable to find decent work, obtain a driver’s licence or open a bank account, which means that playing the traditional role of provider and head of the home has remained an impossible dream.

In addition, life has become increasingly difficult for single-income families like ours, as government squeezes the middle classes until their eyes bulge. A little more sympathy from the tax man would be welcome.

Instead of trotting out their patriarchal clap-trap, perhaps those in charge should look at how they can really support those of us desperately trying to keep our families together.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

‘Are you really her brother?” asked her colleague, “I thought you said you only had sisters,” she continued.

“He’s my cousin-brother,” she responded detecting incredulity in her colleague’s face.

“Our mothers are sisters,” my uhhhm ... cousin-sister responded.

Cousin-brother. Cousin-sister.

Why can’t it be one or the other?

On the surface it sounds like bad grammar or, at best, a quaint black South Africanism.

Like in many black South African families, your mother’s sisters kids or your father’s brothers kids are not first cousins but direct brothers or sisters.

 To accommodate this anomaly in a multi-cultural society, black people forced the term cousin-brother or cousin-sister into the contemporary lexicon.

In my world, family transcends grammar. Sharing an ancestoris a starting point but not the end of the story. Being a brother or a sister, a mother or a father, an aunt or an uncle is more a role than a place on a family tree.

It is an ever-present outlet of empathy and duty to care about each other’s fortunes or misfortunes.

I would not have it any other way.

I grew up around cousin-sisters and cousin-brothers.

To call them mere cousins feels like distancing myself from them.

Many milestones have been made memorable by the effortless machinery of my brothers and sisters. And to think I cannot tell you how exactly we are all related. Not that I am in doubt.
Our parents told us we are, so we are, and I am so blessed.

Natasha Joseph

There’s a photograph on my desk that shows my family and I at a friend’s wedding.

My younger sister and I are standing behind our parents, our arms slung affectionately around their shoulders.

We look like a “normal” nuclear family – the sort which the Green Paper on Families believes is under threat and which needs better support and protection.

As with any “normal” family, there are quirks. My father is wearing a yarmulke, a Jewish skullcap, in the photograph. That’s because he’s Jewish. My mother, however, is not.

My parents had to battle with religious intolerance from all sides when they decided to put love above obligation.

I am fiercely proud of them for fighting, and for teaching my sister and I tolerance.

That’s my blood family.

Then there’s my chosen family. I am not only an older sibling and a first-born child.

I am also a gay woman in a committed relationship with my partner.

Sally, and our mad dog, are my family, too.

The green paper fleetingly refers to us as an “emerging” family, as though there aren’t tens of thousands of stable same-sex partnerships across South Africa already, many of whom are raising children in happy, loving environments.

The whole green paper is subtly charged with conservatism and emits more than a whiff of organised religion.

But I thought I lived in a secular society ...

I’m scared this is just the latest salvo to be fired in a war on “the other” – another step on the road backwards to cloying conservatism.

I’m proud of my chosen family, and my blood family is proud of me. It would be good if that were all that mattered, but now my government thinks it has a place in my home – and that frightens me.

Carien du Plessis

Milliam the bead seller with nine kids had a good laugh last week when I told her I have no kids.

Her colleague chirped in to explain that this is a consequence of me being unmarried.

My situation seemed almost incomprehensible to these strong women of rural stock who were probably just a little older than me.

It was no use even trying to explain how much I love my career and my independencefar more than would be fair to any child.

Besides, I’ve never had a particular desire to have kids of my own.

The biological clock never ticked for me.

Single, childless career women were my role models, not because I grew up in an unhappy family (in fact, we’d make the authors of government’s green paper on families proud), but because my parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be.

I got married in my 20s, but divorced after four years. Now, aged 38, I live alone in my own flat – the way I always imagined I would.

My parents and my

two sisters (who each have a husband and kids) are near, and I visit them often.

Seeing my little nephews and nieces growing up has made me realise the responsibility we adults have to bring up children in a loving and stimulating environment.

This doesn’t necessarily mean getting married and having kids of our own, the way the green paper intimates.

But I am considering fostering or adopting kids when I’m older or done chasing stories as a journalist.

For now, I enjoy playing aunt and paying for the education of a child whose single mother earns too little to do it herself.

Babalwa Shota

Boy, am I glad I’m not a member of South Africa’s First Family.

I imagine if President Jacob Zuma was my father, I’d be a terrible disappointment to him.

I come from a family of five women. One is married, one is divorced and three have never worn a gold band. We are what our father of the nation calls ... wait for it ... a “distortion”. I know, right?

It almost feels like we should be chased down the village path by a stick-wielding morality brigade. At least we all have children, some of us multiple children from multiple partners. Gasp!

Never mind that, my two much-older, unmarried brothers have produced enough children between them to form a full soccer squad. They are men, it’s their right ... right?

I doubt the honourable Mr Zuma minds us girls having babies, though, since according to him “kids are important to a woman ­because they actually give an extra training to a woman ...”

Pull back my hair extensions while I barf.

This old man, who has more than 20 children and multiple wives, does not seem to grasp the irony of the Green Paper on Families released last week.

 How does this throwback of a paper advocating a nuclear family structure resonate with him? It sure as heck doesn’t talk to me.

There may be way too many single women in my family, but you’ll never meet a ballsier bunch than my sisters.

We once went after a man who had hurt one of us with sjamboks and knobkieries.

We love and support each other, our children are brothers and sisters instead of cousins, and mess with one at your own peril.

I think it’s about time the president wakes up to reality.

Gayle Edmunds  

Princesses in poofy pink dresses are more than capable of saving themselves and the arrival of a prince will not materially change their lives – so go the lessons in our house. It’s tough naysaying Disney, so I’m just grateful my toddler is pre-literate and can’t read Jacob Zuma’s medieval comments on women and motherhood.

Love, marriage and baby carriage is not the end game of life, and fathers are not cash machines.

Though the ones in our family pay their share – in time and money. I come from what is emotively called “a broken home”, which provides me with spare parents and extra support.

My stepmother is a regular visitor to our home, though my dear dad is dead, and I have a slew of step-relatives that I like a lot.

I was primarily raised by my mother, who smashed through her fair share of glass ceilings in her 40s.

Now 70, she still works.

She lives with my husband and I, helping us raise a person who understands that she is responsible for her own financial wellbeing, has full control over her reproductive rights and, above all, can say “no” often and loudly whenever it’s called for.

We had only one child so that we could afford this – in time and money.

I did not get married so I could spend my time shopping, but to have a partner in life.

Contentment comes from within, not from fulfilling a role handed down by a patriarchal society.

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