How to Spread it: Making useful dads

2014-11-23 15:00

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No child wants to grow up without a father figure, but not every man has the capacity to raise a child. This is Meshack Kekana’s philosophy, especially since he came from a background where his father was present but not active.

He understands the need to have someone to look up to and admire, which is why he founded Dads in the Picture.

Kekana describes himself as a man who grew up in a society with many challenges and disconnection between age groups, societies and communities. He was born in Soweto in the early 1970s. After the 1976 uprising, he was uprooted to Hammanskraal, where he lived with his grandparents for a chance of a better future and education.

Once he became successful, he decided to give back to his community. In 2009, he went to his old high school and asked what it needed.

“I wanted to find out what they were struggling with. At my high school, Hans Kekana, the teachers were collecting 5c coins and asked for mine.

“They said this was to buy sanitary towels for the girls.

“Only then did they expose me to the challenges the girls were facing. These are girls who are heading up homes, who are sometimes neglected and abused.”

After giving his 5c, Kekana would order packs of sanitary pads, soap, wash towels, toothpaste and toothbrushes for the next few years.

“This made a huge difference in their lives,” he says.

He organised a career day to which he invited his friends – who are entrepreneurs, businessmen and financial consultants – to give career advice to the pupils. He also went back to his primary school as it needed help with setting up a computer lab (Kekana is a systems analyst).

But the father of five, who has always been passionate about family, had another calling – which is why he started Dads in the Picture, “an organisation of like-minded fathers who saw a need for fathers to play an active role in the lives of children”, and which promotes and encourages active and positive parenting among fathers.

“For me, family is everyone who raised me and has added some value to my life. I have a big family, including aunts, brothers and uncles, and they have always supported me.

“Growing up in such a big family was great, but there were difficult times when my cousin, who was the same age as me, was taken away by his father and would have new clothes when he returned. My father was in the picture, but he was never active,” he says.

Kekana had come to realise the sense of community he had grown up in was no more.

“No one cares about whether children are in class at particular times. People say things like the youth are a ‘lost generation’ or ‘men are useless’.

“But I question whether men were ever useful. The homes in rural areas were built by women. Men have never been in the picture.

“He was out looking for work as a migrant labourer. This is not new, but now we need to change it.”

For Kekana, there is a need to teach men how to actually “be” in their children’s lives.

“How can a man, who has never been fathered, father someone else? Women can raise boys and girls to be successful but they cannot teach a boy to be a man. They cannot teach a girl to respect a man, especially if there is no man in the house.”

The organisation is about helping men learn how to take care of their families – to be responsible.

Kekana does this through meetings with men where they can be open about their difficulties and relationships with their wives and children.

“We talk about all sorts of things and it’s great because, as men, we tend to listen more to other men than anyone else – except our mothers, of course.

“Everybody is talking to the women, no one is talking to the men.”

Dads in the Picture is trying to make an impact in all provinces, but because of a lack of funding and backing, this has become difficult.

“We want to move into areas like the townships, which need us the most, but it is difficult to do the travelling and build the networks.

“Everyone involved has a full-time job and we do our work out of our own pockets,” says Kekana.

This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust and the African Grantmakers Network.To support a cause, visit

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