By Nontando Mposo
His father, a miner, was often away from home for most of his childhood. His family dynamic was not unique in his hometown in the Eastern Cape, as most of his friends were being raised in similar situations. Their mothers stayed at home while their fathers worked in the big cities, such as Cape Town and Joburg.
Ndongeni only saw his father for a few weeks a year. “During the holidays,” he says.
Having two other siblings meant his mother, Elizabeth Ndongeni, had her hands full and could not give them the individual attention they needed. Growing up without a father figure meant Ndongeni was left to face issues, such as bullying, without his father’s guidance.
“Even though I had both my parents, my father was absent from home most of the time. I experienced a lot of bullying at school and wished my father was there to offer me support. I could have easily ended up in a life of crime because I had no constant father figure to look up to on how I should behave as a man,” says the 28-year-old.
“We grew up believing the stereotype that only mothers have to take the responsibility of raising their children, but that shouldn’t be the case.”
South Africa has a high rate of absent fathers, with only one-third of preschool children living at home with both their parents. Research by the South African Institute of Race Relations (Statistics SA 2011) indicates that the “typical” child is raised by a mother and has an absent but living father. The research further states that although HIV/Aids is a major contributor to the number of single-parent households, the increase in the number and proportion of absent, living fathers is a worrying trend.
Ndongeni is committed to change this status quo, together with a group of fathers from Gugulethu, Khayelitsha, Delft and neighbouring areas.
Called Fathers on the Move, the group of 27 is made up of fathers and men who have committed themselves to being role models. The initiative is a joint venture between youth development NPO Salesian Life Choices, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Médecins Sans Frontières(MSF).
As part of the Salesian Life Choices’ Family Affairs programme, the group meets once a month and focuses on parenting skills and one-on-one psychosocial support. Fathers on the Move regularly takes part in outreach programmes, visiting local schools to offer its talents in art, story-telling and music, and to spread the message of the importance of hands-on male role models in their communities.
The managing director of Salesian Life, Sofia Neves, says most of the young people they work with wish their fathers had been more present and active in their childhood.
“We understand the essential role that fathers play in the lives of their children. The majority of youth we work with tell us how hurt, angry and disappointed they are with their absent fathers. We saw the partnership with MSF as an opportunity to bring our existent family intervention to groups of men,” says Neves.
Although Ndongeni is not ready to be a father as yet, he is learning to be a positive role model for his three-year-old niece Athini Ndongeni.
We meet them at the Dora Tamana Educare Centre in Khayelitsha where he recently painted a mural in their playroom. “I am not ready to become a father yet. When I am, I want to do it right, with a stable home for my children. I don’t want my children to go through what I went through,” says Ndongeni.
For father of three, Simo Sithandathu, 33, of Khayelitsha, being part of the Fathers on the Move group is a way of influencing change in his community.
“I want to change the way fathers or males are portrayed in our communities. Most people see us as rapists, abusers and robbers. This is a way for us to show the other side, of responsible figures who want the best for their children and families,” he says.
Salesian Life Choices programme facilitator Noluthando Kwayimani says that running an all-male group was a challenge at first as most of the men were not so keen on opening up about their feelings.
“The fathers are a diverse group who have regular political, cultural and religious clashes. What brings them together is their willingness to commit. There are a lot of fathers like them out there who don’t know how to communicate, with not only their children, but their partners as well,” says Kwayimani
Another programme facilitator, Desiree du Preez, reiterates the importance of opening proper communication channels. “Communication is important, as well as self-development, giving the fathers the confidence to parent their children,” she says.
And Ndongeni plans on having those communication channels wide open when he raises his own children one day.
“I want them to be able to talk to me about anything, so I can advise and motivate them. Even when you are no longer in a relationship with the mother of your child, it doesn’t give you a right to neglect your child.
“Life is a cycle. When you take care of your child, they will take care of their children and so on,” he says.
To find similar groups in your area, see:
Sonke Gender Justice Network – http://www.genderjustice.org.za.
MenCare – http://www.men-care.org.
Front Page Father – http://www.frontpagefather.co.za.
Search for “LOVEFatherhood” on Twitter or Facebook.
* The number of fathers who are absent and living increased between 1996 and 2009, from 42 percent to 48 percent. Over the same period the proportion of fathers who were present decreased from 49 percent to 36 percent.
* African children under 15 years had the lowest proportion of present fathers in 2009, at 30 percent, compared to 53 percent for coloured children, 85 percent for Indians and 83 percent for whites.
* Proportion of female urban single parents in each race group: African (79 percent), coloured (84 percent), Indian (64 percent) and white (69 percent).