Wishing You a (Sad) South African Youth and Father's Day

2017-06-19 12:12

Picture: ibtimes

The Village Idiot

By now, we have all been exposed to different sides of South Africa: socioeconomic and political. At times it grabs you by the heel when you least expect it. No high walls, cancelled TV license or DSTV subscriptions, isolation or state of nirvana can completely shut our eyes off to our surrounding. No one is bombarding anyone with sad news or propaganda. Our country just isn't in the best form. Believe it or not, we are all linked somehow. I guess it only makes sense that a village raises every child roaming its streets. After all, the "village idiot" will first burn down the immediate village before terrorizing the surrounding areas and eventually the town. Where is the father when all of this is going down? Whose child is it anyway?

SASSA: I'm your Father

How many youth can safely say they are lucky to have both parents living with them in the same house? We have heard stories of how stressful raising children was during the apartheid era, for the people of colour. Families were constantly separated and split up in certain areas. Political fights, increasing financial demands (migrant labour) and  Group Areas Act relocations were to blame. Some parents were murdered or detained. It is not difficult to understand why or how things were rough for families back then. Fast-forward to the present: how many youngsters are still affected by the past? That's a tricky one. Everyone blames someone for what they are encountering daily. A guy who grew up without a father figure may not necessarily step up and improve the situation. On the flip side, another guy with a similar upbringing may vow to give his children a better life he never had. So, who is fooling who?

Without pointing fingers or insulting anyone's manhood, let's take a look at some figures. The General Household Survey of 2016 released by Stats SA shows the following percentages that can be linked to parenting and socio-economic status:

  • an increase in RDP dwellings (13,5%)
  • an increase in female-headed households in RDP dwellings (16,9% vs 11% in male-headed households)
  • an increase in households dependent on social grants (from 12,7% in 2003 to 29,7% in 2016)
  • an increase in households receiving more than one grant (from 29,9% in 2003 to 44,8% in 2016)

Although these figures are not representative of the whole of SA, they paint a fraction of a picture. There are more female-headed RDP households in that survey. Females are usually prioritized for RDPs and that might partially explain why they (females) were more than men in those dwellings. Child support grants are also increasing to an extent that some jokingly call SASSA (South African Social Security Agency) the father of the nation. Could it be that the biological fathers are either absent or unemployed? How many men still alive are staying with and looking after their children?

Where is the Father

In 2009, The General Household Survey showed a shockingly low percentage of children living with both parents. Only 34% of children were living with both biological parents. It gets more complicated. Here's the other part of the story:

  • 31% lived with their mothers
  • 3% lived with theirs fathers 
  • 24% lived with neither biological parents
  • most children were not orphaned (78%)
  • half of all children who live without co-resident parents have both parents living elsewhere

Picture: Demography of South Africa’s children

Of the orphaned children, 14% were paternal orphans (mothers still alive); 3% maternal orphans and 5% double orphans. The majority of orphans are paternal orphans in South Africa. However, 4% of some children classified as paternal orphans were actually reported as unknown. We have two issues here. Men are dying earlier in general compared to women. Secondly, mothers are either reluctant to disclose or unsure of who the father of their children is. I think one can conclude that a young South African, somewhere, couldn't take father's day seriously as the father is presumed dead. And the "dead father" was probably not even concerned (if he knows), still isn't, of their child. Statistically speaking, rural black African men are the most absent fathers in South Africa.

Picture: Demography of
South Africa’s children

Some arrangements are made for visits and child support between parents. The 2013 study done by authors from Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg, and Sonke Gender Justice (So We Are ATM Fathers) explored how often non-resident fathers saw their children, comparing rural and urban areas. The study also explores the relationship between seeing vs supporting a child.

Picture:SO WE ARE
ATM FATHERS

Picture:SO WE ARE
ATM FATHERS

Alternative Parenting

About 85,4% of children who do not live with their biological parents live with grandparents. With the increasing HIV incidence, child-only households (child-headed households) in 2009 were 49 000. Half of the children in child-only households were over 14 years of age, with most being above 10 years (83%). The latest figures would be different. One hopes that with foster care services and other social services support visits, these figures will be decreased. Unfortunately, young people above 18 years of age are excluded from the classification. If unemployed and still dreaming of an academic future, these young people may not have a choice but play house.

Obstacles

Some researchers have shown that a father's absence in a family can lead to poor educational performance, school dropouts, early entry into labour market, teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse. This was also cited in the 2013 UJ study (So We Are ATM Fathers). The 2013 Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) policy brief on "Promoting young fathers’ positive involvement in their children’s lives" highlights barriers to parenting that most of us will agree with: financial, cultural and relational. As a misconception, some men still believe that fatherhood is about materialistic things and being a provider. Although it is true that one should ideally be financially stable to start a family, parenting involves a much bigger responsibility. One would expect African cultural practices and restrictions amongst our people to limit single parent families and increasing pregnancy rates. The fear of paying for "damages"(in case one's girlfriend gets pregnancy)  and/or lobola (ilobolo) doesn't seem to be helping. Some guys will rather flee after a lady gets pregnant than wait for the right time to reproduce.

Father's Day for Caring Absent Fathers

The 2013 UJ study (So We Are ATM Fathers) summarized what fathers perceived as consequences of being an absent father:

  • feeling like a failure, especially because of being unable to provide financially
  • it hurts when your child does not use your surname
  • depression and/or suicide
  • child does not call me dad
  • feelings of helplessness and powerlessness in terms of being denied access to their children

Youth Day without Fathers

The fathers from the above-mentioned study thought the results of an absent father on the child were:

  • lack of manners and respect
  • lack of guidance
  • involvement in crime, alcohol and drugs
  • child may not receive maintenance
  • the child being used as a weapon against the other parent
  • the child is not himself around the father
  • disconnection from sources of good fortune, well-being and cultural identity

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