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Fatherlessness is part of SA's DNA

Sello Maake Ka-Ncube’s Abobaba seeks to unite children with their fathers. However, the fathers have often proven to be violent, and emotionally and financially neglectful
Thu, Mar 25, 2021

Often, when we consider the impact of apartheid policies, the one element left out of the conversation is the desecration of family. Historically, requiring black people to be absent from their homes to seek work, while dehumanising them, was central in breaking down South African communities.

Fatherlessness in South Africa does not exist in a silo. Mzansi Wethu's Abobaba offers some insight into the various reasons behind fatherlessness, the impacts thereof and the legacy it has created.

Hosted by Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, the series engages absent fathers who are interested in re-establishing relationships with their children. On the show, the nature of the deterioration between father and child is often rooted in physical, emotional and/or drug abuse.

Generally, it is the mother who has primary custody of the child in question while the father argues that he wishes to be more present in the child's life.

The format is that Maake Ka-Ncube visits the fathers who are self-confessed absent dads. After they share their stories, mothers share their experiences of the men who fathered their children. Once this happens, there's a sit-down between both parties to attempt to begin the process of reaching a resolution that achieves the goal of uniting father and child.

The most common narrative among the fathers featured on the show is an equally distant relationship with their own fathers. Interestingly, however, all of them keenly recall how uncomfortable they were as youth with the status of their relationships with their fathers and eventually repeated the same behaviour.

Abobaba opens with the story of Tebogo, father to Bokamoso. The breakdown in his ability to access his child happened when he drew a knife on the mother of his child, Kelebogile, after she denied him access to the child when he showed up unannounced at her home. Thereafter, his temper and inability to financially and emotionally support the child resulted in Bokamoso not wanting to visit him, according to Kelebogile.

As their story unfolds, it begs the question, should fathers who have displayed violent behaviour be able to access their children? Should mothers on the receiving end of that violence have to forgive and share custody with a man they are weary of, more so a man the child does not want to be around? Where is the boundary?

Another common occurrence throughout the series is how fathers expect access to their children whenever they want. There is, seemingly, a reluctance to adhere to scheduled visitations and firm custody agreements. It is obvious that the fathers on the show, in many instances, cannot maintain custody or serve as primary caregivers to the children they want to access. Even more apparent – they cannot financially support these children.

Granted, this isn't the case across the board. Take the story of Petrus, who can financially support his children and believes, "it's not fair that I have to pay child support and be denied access". According to him, he stopped paying child support when the relationship between him and the mother of his child, Motshewa, ended.

She says she felt misused by the Petrus's family while they lived together. However, she also notes that his parenting skills left little to be desired, particularly for spanking their daughter Buhle when she was only two years old.

Motshewa has remarried and her husband is the only father that Buhle has known since she was two, which creates tension because while her husband isn't the biological father, he is Buhle's father. In a case like this, the question lies in whether or not biology trumps nurturing. More so, for Motshewa, the idea of subjecting their family to Petrus's alleged inconsistencies is far from ideal.

Now, outright emotionally abusive and threatening is Matome. This is a clear instance of emotional and physical abuse rooted in his desire to control the mother of his child. According to him, he loved Ofelia "too much" and when the relationship ended he used tactics like threatening her life in attempts to win her back.

Now that the relationship is concluded, Ofelia has entered into a new relationship, wherein her partner is present and active in the child's life. Matome has taken to threatening and harassing Ofelia's new boyfriend, going as far as saying, "I told him that whatever he buys for the child I'm going to burn it and send him proof."

This is rich because he has not paid 'damages' nor maintenance for the child being raised and supported by Ofelia's mother and boyfriend. In this instance, while there may be things left off camera, Ofelia has expressed that once 'damages' are paid and Matome refrains from threatening her boyfriend, she'd be amenable to arranging visitations and coming to a custodial agreement.

This may not seem like a tall order, however, Matome walks off camera in his refusal to further engage that there is another father figure in his child's life. From how it appears on camera, he sought to control Ofelia, during and after their relationship.

These stories indicate that fatherlessness does not exist in a silo. Fathers are men, men who are still privileged and entitled, as patriarchy would have them believe. When the mothers of these children do not conform or submit to them, therein lies the root of their behaviour towards their children, or perhaps where their absenteeism is derived.

Interestingly, the mothers are often beseeched to allow fathers access to their children in the name of the belief that children need their fathers, from a practical and traditional perspective. More so, many of the fathers have the disposition of patriarchs, particularly around what a man is and is not. Yet these fathers don't follow the customs that inform their manhood as exhibited in their refusal or reluctance to pay damages and or child support.

In truth, we live in a world that is neither fair nor just. As such, where do we leave room for forgiveness, particularly where the mothers with abusive and oftentimes ill-prepared partners are concerned? This calls into question the concept of redemption and which behaviours constitute redemption, if there is room for the concept at all.

Nevertheless, at the end of the argument between mother and father, there is a child who may or may not want a relationship with both parents. The purpose of Abobaba and Maake Ka-Ncube's approach is to unite children with their fathers, above all else.