Phindile Chauke
2 minute read
11 Nov 2013
7:00 am

Multiple factors to blame for absent dads

Phindile Chauke

The widespread absence of fathers in the lives of South African children living in poor urban areas is related to historical, social, economic and cultural factors.

School Children at Imperial Primary School in Eastridge, Mitchell's Plain (Cape Town, South Africa). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Henry Trotter).

This is according to research findings released by the Centre for Social Development in South Africa at the University of Johannesburg, in partnership with advocacy group Sonke Gender Justice Network.

The research found that, far from being an isolated pheno-menon, widespread absence of fathers was often influenced by ideological factors such as materialist constructions of fatherhood and masculinity, socio-economic and cultural factors such as the cost of customary practices like lobolo and “damages”.

Other reasons cited as the cause for fathers distancing themselves from their children included inflexible opinions about masculinity and gender roles, unemployment, predominant construction of fathers as ATMs and challenges of moving in to new relationships after a divorce or break-up.

However, the consequences of the absence of the fathers on the children included them being socially isolated with no cultural identity.

Meshack Nkhulu, father of five and founder of Dads in the Picture, an organisation aimed at encouraging fathers to be involved in their children’s lives, said he personally grew up with an absent father, who did not even pay damages to his mother’s family.

Having recognised the negative impact this had on him, he has taken it upon himself to rehabilitate others, while he also took a leaf from the process in a bid to break the cycle of absentism.

“I have two children I don’t live with, but I have made a commitment to see them often. I don’t think fathers can justify their absence; they can only give excuses,” he said.

The study found one father out of two was absent from his child’s life. Sonke’s Hayley Thomson de-Boor said: “Positive father presence means reducing the burden placed upon mothers.”

The recent research targeted 34 fathers aged between 22 and 54 in Alexandra, Tembisa, Doornkop and Devland in Gauteng, using focus group discussions as the main method of data

collection.