Eighteen-year-old Precious Mkansi has never seen her father. “I don’t have a relationship with my father, and I never had one because I don’t know him,” she said. “I don’t even have a clue what he looks like.” Precious’s single mother raised her, along with her five older siblings in Sigagula, a community near the border of South Africa’s Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. Her parents separated when she was six months old, and never again did Precious’s father look back. He took a second wife and decided to abandon them and their mom completely.
Precious is just one of many children in South Africa to grow up without the presence and love of their fathers. In fact, according to the results of a survey conducted by Statistics South Africa and released in July 2005, 39% of children in South Africa are living with their mothers in the absence of their fathers, 42% of which are black African. In addition, Limpopo Province is above the national average, with close to half of its child population living with their mothers and not their fathers. These figures show the vast absence of fathers in the domestic lives of African children, but what do they mean? What are the reasons so many fathers abandon their offspring and the affects on the children?
Many sociologists attribute the lack of fathers to the change attitudes towards marriage. Although marriage used to be valued and appreciated, in today’s society, it seems no longer to be a viable option. One reason, many give, is that people nowadays are afraid of commitment, so they choose to live together without getting married. And like Precious’s parents, the couples that do manage to tie the knot often end up getting divorced. Many times husbands have affairs and have more children outside of the marriage.? As a consequence, many children—born to wed or unwed mothers—are left without fathers in their lives.
Another factor that contributes to children having nonexistent or distant relationships with their fathers is migration. Many men, particularly in rural communities, travel far to work because of a shortage of jobs. Traditionally,? the man’s role has been that of moneymaker, while women have grown closer to their children because they have been the ones holding families together.
Precious feels her childhood was not easy because her father was never in her life. The fact that she saw how happy her friends were when their fathers were around didn’t make things better. “It was very lonely growing up without my father,” she confessed, as she took a stick and started scratching the ground. “I missed him more when my friends started to brag about what nice things their fathers were going to buy them when they came back home from work. I asked myself why mine wasn’t coming home to buy me nice things as well, why my own father didn’t love me.”
As a child who didn’t understand why her father wasn’t involved in her life, she was confused and frustrated. Precious decided on a plan of action to get to the truth about her father’s whereabouts. She constantly asked her mom about him, but her mother held back. The less her mother told her, the more Precious nagged. Eventually, the mother got angry and promised to punish her. “Yes, it was maybe painful for her to hear me asking about my father, but she had no right to be angry. I was only a child who needed to understand the situation,” Precious added. “But now I understand that raising us by herself was not easy because she had to play the role of both a mom and dad. And I wasn’t helping the situation by reminding her of the man who put her in that position in the first place.”
As the years passed with no sign of her father, Precious got used to not having a father. She managed to convince herself that maybe he was not worthy of her love after all as his absence had brought unpleasant changes in her life. “My life could have turned out differently if he had been around. He would have tried to push for my education. But since he didn’t do all that, I don’t care anymore, and I never want to see him. My life is complete without him now.”
The lack of a father also causes complications for many young girls, who become promiscuous in an attempt to fill the emptiness and affection they couldn’t get from their own fathers. Instead, these girls end up with a baby, repeating the pattern of raising children without a father.
Young men are affected differently by the lack of a father. Like Precious, Thulani Mathebula, 16, from Tintswalo was also raised by his mother. His mother had an affair with a married man, and Thulani was the fruit that came out of the relationship. He explained that soon after his father learned that Thulani’s mother was pregnant, the man disappeared. Thulani has been paying everyday for his mother’s mistake. “It was hard growing up without a father,” he said. “My mother raised me well, but a boy needs a father in his life.? There are some things that I can’t do with my mom or talk her about, and only a man can understand. Because he wasn’t around, I had to quickly grow up and become the man of the house.”
Although Thulani had a difficult childhood, he has turned out to be a responsible teenager. Others are not so lucky, lack of role models leads to some young men towards violence and abuse. “Some of the children who grow up without fathers in their lives don’t have respect and lack discipline,” said Mrs. Mhaule, principal at Funjwa Primary School. “They don’t get to learn everything from a single parent because she alone cannot manage to do everything by herself. That’s why so may of them turn out to be criminals in our society. They lack proper guidance from a male figure.” ?Thulani added. “Men think they can just go around making babies and not thinking about the consequences of their actions, thinking maybe if they walk away, the problem will disappear. It will not, and they must stop it right now because we are the ones to suffer.”
Mothers who raise their children alone understand their frustrations at not having a male figure in their lives, but feel that men don’t think about how their actions affect others. “It’s easy for men to walk away from their own children because they didn’t carry the child for nine months,” said Vanessa Mathebula, a single mother of two from Tintswalo. “Men don’t care about their kids. They have never felt the pain of giving birth.”
Many men, married or single, in South Africa seem not to think about the consequences of having unprotected sex and fostering children they cannot or are not willing to take care of. According to many men, there are perfectly good reasons behind them not being present in their children’s lives. “Women are to blame for this because if you get separated from the mother of your children and meet a new woman, she doesn’t want you to support the children you already have. She wants everything to go to her own children! You agree to everything she tells you because the love is new, and you don’t want to upset her, no matter how much you want to get involved in your children’s lives,” said Kenneth Masinga.
Although he has two children from different women and understands the need for a child to have a father—since he in fact grew up with one—Masinga admits that he has never played a role in any of their lives because of his love affairs. “A child needs a father’s love to grow up. And love is not all about money, but because we are stupid enough not to realize that, we walk away from our children with the greatest ease.”